As a former executive assistant, team lead, marketing manager and as a current parent, entrepreneur, almost-spouse, I have managed my own schedule and that of many others. I’ve even handled my children’s gigs just the same as every other parent. So, I have come away with what options work to ensure and increase productivity and have pinpointed why people stop producing at all. Surprise! Like anything else: fear drives our inability to take action…for a variety of reasons: fear of failure, fear of overwhelm, fear of being unable to start what we finish, fear of success, fear of finding our goal takes too much time, fear of feeling insignificant…and we could go on. Instead, here, in brief are the five best ways used to crush that calendar.
1. Schedule Everything. I even wrote an article on scheduling sex. Scheduling everything in your life, which includes both your business and your personal life, is like abstaining from intimacy. Instead of safeguarding against pregnancy, you’re safeguarding your to-do list from gathering dust. This is the only way to ensure everything of importance in your life will get done—unless you are a ceaseless machine, which as humans…we aren’t. We are schedulers at our house, not as rigid as some, but every weekend we talk about what the goals will be… Since we are preparing for a wedding in about a week, this weekend, we are cleaning up the yard, shampooing the carpets and getting ahead in work. My fiance and I chat regularly about what we each need from the other, so if there is any work overlap (and when you’re an entrepreneur, there always is), we can address it. This includes who is doing laundry and when, taking the car for an oil change and any shopping we have to do. Some might feel this approach is a tad uninspired…especially if you are circling “couple time” in a glaring red circle on the calendar, but I think it’s the opposite. Scheduling time with each other is a clear demonstration that you are committed to spending time with your SO. The same mindset applies to your clients. Before I accept a project, I make sure I know I have the time to complete it. This means pushing tasks back sometimes, but if an opportunity is meant to be, the time frame is not going to influence it too much. Here’s a tip: use your Google calendar for everything. It syncs to my iPhone and then I can invite my family to their eye appointments, remind them of their after-school commitments, etc. and vice versa. Bonus: those you share the appointments with will remind you! As in: even your teenagers pick up the mantle.
2. Initiatives that give back the most. It might be obvious, but we gravitate toward completing the items on our to-do list that are meant to promise us the biggest returns. Not just from a revenue-perspective either, but in terms of what will offer us the most time to work on other things—paying the electric bill to keep the lights on, for example. Stacking your list on the basis of necessity first, ensures no larger item will get away from you, and this is a great plan of attack, but in order for this method to work, you must write down, record, enter into your Notes, whatever system you prefer, that you need to repair the screw on that step, that you need to get the dog in for his rabies shot, you need to change the linens on the bed. So, keep tackling, but as you move along, sprinkle in some of the smaller must-dos. For instance, when you are reheating your coffee mid-morning (because who ever gets to suck down a hot cup?) unload the top rack of the dishwasher. While you are waiting for lunch to cook, finish the unloading and loading. Did you know, when you really hustle on the dishes, you can get them down in like five minutes…and while you’re waiting for something else? #hellomultitasker
3. What my son’s doctor told me. The doling out of small treats. We had finally found a competent and sympathetic therapist to treat my son’s ADHD, and we all learned a lot from him. Doctor Bob, such a fabulous name, and such a fabulous organizer. Doctor Bob has ADHD himself, and so there is no better expert for my kid on how to organize his life than a person who has wrestled with it in his own. It was from Doctor Bob that we learned a really cool trick, that for most who use it, guaranteesgreater efficiency and productivity. You work from a list and you can complete the tasks in any order you like, but the key to this plan is that as soon as you complete one small item, or several smaller ones, you get to reward yourself! So, for my kid, that might take the form of a half an hour playing his fave video game, or watching an episode of Stranger Things. For me, it might be that I get to have an uninterrupted cup of coffee as I absorb one episode of Homicide Hunter. LOL. Whatever it is, you get to treat yourself! People are incentivized to complete tasks when the promise at the other end of the starting point is compelling, bright and a little indulgent. You would be surprised how quickly your aims get checked off and how, as you go along, you don’t feel enslaved to that damn list!
4. Get at the small things first. We are using this system to steadily pay off bills. In 2014, we accrued major medical expenses and this, coupled with the fact I had to reinvent the way I earned my paychecks, put us far behind in our finances. I think it was Suze Orman who said it, whose half of a message I caught as I was getting ready for work one day (pre-illness), but her words never left me…knock off the small things on your list and the more you accomplish, the more empowered you will feel to keep going. The smaller medical bills and credit cards, for $300-400 were paid off first and those larger ones, we put on an automated withdrawal payment plan. Now we are down to only a handful of debtors. The same holds true for how you run your business. If you use this strategy, everything doesn’t need to be recorded on a list. Just do it! Unless you are in danger of forgetting to send an email, to schedule an appointment, just get chores of lesser importance out of the way before you even create your list. What you are left with is what really needs to be done, and this gives you a greater appreciation for what your workload actually looks like and when you know that, you can plan your timelines with greater accuracy.
5. Eat the elephant one bite at a time. My eldest boy, on his own now, had never responded to our recommendations that he should make a list and write things down when he was in high school, and now I know why…that system was never going to work for him. And you can’t implement any kind of methodology that goes against how you best work and expect it to be effective! He is a mellow person by nature and has always been that way. Quite honestly, I wish I could loosen up to be a little more like him. What he found this year in college was that he needed to assign a certain amount of time to his homework and other academic tasks and he needed to do this every day without fail. Structuring his time in this manner means he does not become overwhelmed. Because when a person is overwhelmed, they may freeze up when faced with what they are supposed to do. Instead of seeing your projects and to-dos as a longer journey, one that winds around eclipsed scenery, promising interminable labor, focus on the leg of the journey. Okay, I don’t have to run 26 miles today. I just need to make it four. This is much easier to digest for people who may get overwrought, who may feel anxious at the prospect of “hustling” and my kid has found it a feasible alternative that is helping him to achieve his goals.
The massive takeaway? That you keep ticking things off, that you accept your list will never be completed; it is never-ending. Instead of attacking it voraciously, with the expectation that one day you’ll be staring at a blank sheet of paper or screen, accept that you will need to chip away at it every day. Things will get done and if they don’t, no one is going to die over it…stay positive about what you have undertaken! A sunny attitude is a huge gauge as to your likelihood you will succeed in a sustainable fashion. Productivity is a lot like dieting. Falling off the wagon one day doesn’t mean you give up on your bigger picture. It means you get right back on and try again! This is the secret of achievement…literally, just doing it, just making progress and never stopping until you get to that finish line.
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