At the risk of contributing to the “new year, new you” clamor that surrounds us this time of year, here are five evergreen ways that you can boost your productivity and get more stuff done (regardless of what month it is).
Make your bed.
I’ve never had strong opinions about making the bed. Sure, it’s nice to crawl into, but if I’m in a hurry to get ready in the morning (I usually am), it’s the first thing to fall off my list. Or it used to be, at least. After hearing a friend say *several times* how much making her bed impacts her morning, I was curious to try it out.
After just a couple of days, I felt like a changed person. I started crossing off more small tasks before I left for work, like watering houseplants and unloading the dishwasher. I felt energized and ready to take on the day. An added bonus: This shift made my evenings more relaxing, too. With fewer chores waiting for me when I got home, I could read a few chapters of a book or call a friend just to catch up, without feeling guilty.
In a commencement speech to University of Texas graduates, Admiral William H. McRaven talks about this phenomenon:
“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
It’s a little thing, but it’s something. No matter what’s on your calendar for the day, you have control over how it starts, and that’s powerful.
Redesign your workday.
Before I came to FireWorks, I worked for a company that held “rallies” every morning before the workday started. We’d go over upcoming deadlines, company news, and the day’s schedule. The content of these meetings was really valuable, but I often found myself feeling restless and agitated.
As it turns out, because of my chronotype, these meetings fell right at the start of one of my peak productivity times. Chronotypes are genetic and they describe your body’s “natural sleep habits and energy patterns.” Learning about your type (I’m a bear) can tell you when to caffeinate, exercise, schedule meetings, and more. Essentially, it’s like a personality test that also tells you how to run your life, which is super fascinating.
Sitting in those morning rallies felt too passive for me when by my brain wanted to hunker down and get stuff done. Now I try to schedule meetings in the early afternoon, when I’ve already crossed off my biggest tasks for the day and I’m eager to collaborate and brainstorm.
Pay attention to your cues: When do you have laser-like focus? When do you lose energy? When can you churn out an amazing brainstorming session? It won’t always work out perfectly, but if you can make a few small tweaks to your schedule, you’ll find yourself accomplishing tasks faster, creating better work, and enjoying your days more. If you want to dig into this research more and learn how you can make your days more efficient, I can’t recommend this book enough. And my guess is that if you’re a working parent, business owner, or you’re trying to get that side hustle off the ground, you need all the minutes back in your day you can get.
Make better lists.
If you know me, you’ve probably heard me say “There’s no way I’ll remember it if I don’t write it down.” This would be cause for concern if I didn’t have such a great note-taking system.
For all you list-making critics, bear with me. Personally, I’m a lifelong list lover, so I know the difference between a list that actually helps you and one that’s just no good. Chances are, if you hate lists, you’re just not using them to your greatest advantage. In that vein, when I learned about dot/bullet journaling a couple of years ago, it was a game-changer.
Instead of writing to-do lists, goals, and reminders on the back of receipts, post it notes, or just crossing my fingers, I’d remember things without writing them down. I keep everything in one handy notebook. It basically runs my life now.
Here’s an intro to the method. You’ll notice that tasks and meetings don’t get physically crossed off or scribbled out, so it’s easy to go back and reference old information. I primarily use this system for daily checklists and jotting down notes in real time, but it’s flexible enough to be used for the big stuff in life, too. Are you switching up your exercise habits in the new year? Focusing on self-care? Launching a new business and need a way to keep track of the hundreds of little to-dos that pop up along the way (hey, us too!)? Whatever goals you’re setting, bullet journaling has you covered.
It can be overwhelming to change habits, even those as banal as writing things down, so I encourage you to start small! Here’s how:
- Pull out a sheet of paper. I like dot grid paper, but anything will do just fine.
- Do a brain dump of all your meetings (⛋), the tasks you want to accomplish (●), and any notes or things on your mind (—) today.
- Breathe a sigh of relief at seeing everything in one place.
- Get to work! Go about your day as usual, checking in from time to time to (X) through completed tasks, add thoughts as they come, etc.
- At the end of the day, put a (>) next to anything left undone that got migrated to the next day.
- Repeat tomorrow!
Dot journaling is all about owning and organizing your life, so just do what works for you and don’t worry about doing things the “right” way.
Join a coworking space.
Mind if we toot our own horn for a sec? A study conducted by Deskmag shows that since joining a coworking space, 74% of people report being more productive. Reasons for this trend abound…
We say this all the time, but collaboration is what coworking is all about. If your skillset isn’t perfectly suited to something you’re working on, instead of scratching your head and sinking hours into figuring it out, you can ask one of your dozens of fellow members to weigh in. It just could happen that the copywriter/accountant/designer you need sits two desks over from you. Doesn’t that just sound like community at its finest?
The other side of collaboration is accountability. We’re here to check in with each other, cheer each other on, and hold each other’s feet to the fire, meaning you’re less likely to scroll endlessly through Instagram while taking a “mental break” (we kid, we kid). But when you’re surrounded by other entrepreneurs who care about you personally and seeing your business thrive, you’ll be more motivated to tackle the hard thing you’ve been putting off and you’ll have people there to celebrate when it’s done.
Lastly, when you work out of a coworking space instead of your home office/kitchen/living room, there are fewer distractions to tend to. There are no kids getting home from school, laundry buzzers going off, or dog pawing at your leg to be taken outside. What’s more, you’ll actually be able to leave work at work. Having a separation between your work and personal life means that when you’re at work, you can be totally engaged and present, knowing you’ll be able to take a step back and recharge when you leave.
Remember to rest.
It may seem counterintuitive to end a roundup of productivity tips telling you not to be productive sometimes, but it’s probably the most important thing on this list.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to be “on” all the time and that your only value comes from your output. Power down, go for a walk, call your mom, take a yoga class over your lunch break. Do what you need to feel refreshed and inspired; after all, your best work never happens when you’re drained and running on fumes.
If you’re looking for a tribe of people to work and play alongside in the new year, we might just be the space for you. Booking a tour of FireWorks is the first step towards kick-starting your productivity in 2019 (scratch that, making your bed is first).