Lately, I find myself feeling sorry for myself quite a lot. I’m not usually a crybaby, but recently I’ve found myself trying to work, my laptop on my lap, while my thoughts keep wandering to the picturesque beaches of the Riviera outside my window, the shaded, quiet streets of Nice waiting for me to walk them, the sweet post-lunch cocktails calling my name. So, naturally, I find it hard to concentrate on my job. It’s summertime! I’m supposed to let my hair down and be at the beach; not sitting here, in a relatively dark room, with only my laptop to keep me company.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I love working with words. But just every once in a while, especially in summertime, I wish I could throw my laptop out the window and never open it again.
So I did what I do best: I went online, and found some tricks to help me be more productive in these challenging days.
The Eisenhower Matrix method has come up with one of the more frightening ways to be more productive. Eisenhower’s strategy asks that you prioritize your tasks into four categories: urgent and important; important but not urgent; urgent but not important (which you can delegate); and neither urgent nor important.
Basically, you begin by doing what’s urgent and important, and move down the list. Sounds extremely reasonable, doesn’t’ it? But most times, I tend to over-think it, and then try to forget about the whole thing by starting on the first item of my uncategorized list. Kelli Smith offers a way to overcome the panic: easily digestible tasks, tiny to-dos you can complete in ten minutes. Run through them first to jump-start your productivity, and then move on to more complex tasks.
One of the more efficient ways I know of bringing some order into my wandering thoughts is to create a list of tasks. In fact, I make my own to-do list every morning. Some days I check off all the items like a superhero, while in others, the list just sits there, waiting for a better tomorrow. I never thought there was something I could do to improve on this method, but then I read this nice post by Charlie Gilkey on how to create a to-do list that will spur you into action.
My favorite is writing a verb-noun construct, which usually tells you what needs to be done to what. For example, instead of writing “Tony and Doug”, write: “Schedule a conference call with Tony and Doug”, so that you don’t have to guess what needs to be done. It’s clear from the get-go.
The 10-Minute Test
Spend enough time on the web, and you can literally devote entire days to reading tips on how to be more productive. Ironic, isn’t it. Bestselling author David Kadavy offers a simple technique to filter information: sit for ten minutes, and concentrate on what you have to do. Don’t get up or deviate from your task for anything – coffee, the bathroom, Facebook. Just focus on what needs to be done.
During these ten minutes, you’ll figure out what was hardest for you: when exactly were you distracted? Did other tasks pop into your head? Were you able to overcome these distractions and focus on the task at hand? In other words, this test will reveal the blind spots in your productivity.