Tell me if you can relate: You look up. It’s 4:45. “Wow, the day flew by,” you think. But somehow, even though you’ve been busy all day, you can’t really put your finger on what exactly you spent the past 8 hours doing! Is there anything worse than the sinking feeling that comes with looking up at 5:00 and knowing that you accomplished nothing of significance that day?
As a wife, mom, and a business owner, I feel like my projects and tasks never end. And once upon a time, not having a system for managing my tasks so that the top-priority ones were done first meant I spent the day trapped in mindless to-do’s.
There is no glory in being busy-but-not-productive, so I knew I had to make some changes. Once I put some structure behind how I approach my daily tasks, I found myself actually gettin’ sh*t DONE and off my list, which moved my projects forward much faster.
Here is my super-simple, 4-step strategy to help you knock out your to-do list, boost your productivity, and walk away from each day knowing you actually got something done and moved yourself forward.
Here is my super-simple, 4-step strategy to help you knock out your to-do list, boost your productivity, and walk away from each day knowing you actually got stuff done!Click To Tweet
Step 1: Create a detailed to-do list with project steps
Start with a good ol’ to-do list. (Don’t worry, we’re gonna jazz it up here in just a minute). Try your best to list everything out. And if you have a project that has multiple steps, it’s really crucial that you list out as many of those detailed steps as possible. This is especially true if doing step B can’t happen until you do step A, or if somebody else can’t move their part of the project forward until you do your part. Listing out details also helps you generate a realistic understanding of how long a project will take so that (*spoiler alert) you’ll know how much time you need to block off to complete it.
Step 2: Plot that to do list on an urgent/important matrix
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
-Dwight Eisenhower* (Originally said by an unidentified former college president)
First of all, have you heard of the urgent/important matrix? And if so, are you using it? For those of you who are not familiar, this matrix is often attributed to President Eisenhower, as it is thought to be how he organized his priorities and his workload. And I must admit that this little matrix has completely changed the way I tackle my day!
In order to create one of your own, you will need to start with a coordinate (X,Y) axis. First, break out a sheet of paper or the next blank page in your bullet journal. Draw your axes (X is left-and-right, Y is up-and-down. I know you remembered from high school, but… you know… just in case!) You should have four quadrants. Next, label the left side of the X-axis “Urgent,” and the right side “Not Urgent.” Next, label the bottom of the Y-axis “Not Important,” and the top “Important.” (See below if you need a visual!)
Now, plot your tasks in each appropriate quadrant.
Step 3 – Time-block your day with the urgent/important tasks, followed by not urgent/important tasks
It should go without saying, but you’ll want to tackle your most urgent and important tasks first. Use your daily calendar to block out time in your day to work on that quadrant first. Do you have more than 3 or 4 tasks in this quadrant? Pro tip: use the chart above to reevaluate if everything in this quadrant actually belongs there. Even though it may feel that way, everything is not urgent and important. What HAS to get done right away? Which tasks need to happen before your co-worker or counterpart can do their part? Is there anything that you can delegate to others? Think critically about these tasks and their priority, and then set aside the time in your day to tackle them.
Step 4 – Leave a little room for the unexpected
A task taking longer than you anticipated? A client suddenly has something else on fire that you have to stop and do right that second? You’ll want to leave some breathing room in your calendar to account for these unexpected surprises. Because let’s face it: once you get in a good working groove, something is bound to pop up and interrupt the flow.
Buuuuuut, now that you have your urgent/important matrix, you’ll know exactly where to put that unexpected task when it arises. If that task is truly more urgent and important than what you’re currently working on, leaving a little breathing room in your schedule will give you time for those types of emergencies. And, if by chance you fly through all of your “must-do” tasks at record speed, then you can use that extra time you saved for emergencies and work on tasks in the next quadrant – not urgent but also important tasks.
Bonus Tip: Batch process your email
Being a slave to your email is the fastest way to get your day off track and throw your productivity out of the window. Turn your emails notifications and popups off for anywhere from 1-3 hours at a time (or longer, if possible!). And let your team and clients know that if they need to reach you urgently, email is not the way to do it. You can be reached by phone for emergencies. Batch processing emails will allow you to focus on the task at hand and spend consecutive, interrupted hours getting work done. The emails will be there when you’re ready for a break. Check and respond to them then.
Ordinary people think merely of spending time. Great people think of using it. – Arthur Schopenhauer
Some people glorify the notion of being busy. But you, dear friend, are not that person. Gone are the days where you write an already-completed “to-do” on your list just so you can check the box and feel a little better about yourself. (I see you! I used to do that too!) Use these tips to move your most important tasks forward, and you’ll see the results in no time!
I’ve probably tried almost every productivity method that exists, and while I’ve already shared a few of my favorite productivity methods, I promise to keep sharing my favorite tips and tricks on how to boost your productivity in future posts.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts! What are your favorite go-to productivity methods? I’d love for you to let me know in the comments! And of course, if you know of someone for whom this information could be useful, I always appreciate your sharing. Remember, sharing is caring!
Cheers to the journey!