Ever feel like you’ve wasted the entire day and haven’t gotten a single thing done? You’re not alone. Most people feel like days go by without an ounce of productivity, but it’s easy to break that habit by setting priorities and sticking to them.
The trick is to come up with a list of what you have to do and ranking their priority. It’s okay if you don’t get everything done in one day, but prioritizing the things that have to be done and doing the most difficult at the start makes it more likely to complete those tasks. Here, Dr. Mac Powell provides a step-by-step guide on how to carry that out.
Make a List
The first step towards organizing your life is making an actual list. On paper or your phone, it doesn’t matter, but you need to keep track of the things you need to accomplish, how important they are, and when they should be completed. If there are larger tasks, break them up into smaller, more manageable steps. Looking at them initially can be a bit daunting, but breaking it down will change your perspective on it. This will make it easier to do and make you more likely to want to carry it out.
While carrying out your tasks, it’s a good idea to keep another list nearby where you can write down your distractions. These are all the little thoughts that pop into your head when you’re working, like “oh, I can’t forget we’re almost out of milk!” That way, you can forget about it and get back to the task at hand without worrying you’re going to forget about the milk.
Once you’ve written down what needs to be done, it’s essential to figure out what’s important and what’s not. Otherwise, you run the risk of taking care of frivolous things, while the time-sensitive and highly important ones get forgotten.
Ranking your things by their importance means you’ll be able to keep track of what should be done first. Either write your tasks in the order of importance with top-priority tasks at the top and less important tasks towards the bottom, or color coordinate with highlighters, highlighting high priority in pink or red, medium priority in orange, and light priority in yellow.
Do the Hard Ones First
This is the most challenging, but most critical element of gaining productivity. We start the day with a lot more energy than at the end, which is why you absolutely MUST do the hardest most difficult tasks first. It’s difficult and it’s not fun. But, if you try this for a week, you’ll be surprised by what it can teach you: that no task is too difficult, and that once the hardest task is out of the way, the remaining tasks seem much easier. Try it!
If you find yourself losing interest or feeling bogged down, take a short break. Pushing through can do more harm than good, as you are less likely to do a good, quality job and your productivity levels will decrease.
Taking a break can help you freshen up, and when you return to the task, you’ll be more motivated.
Cross Off Items on Your List
It may just be a small thing, but crossing off an item is both satisfying and motivates you to do more.
Multitasking may seem like you’ll get done sooner, but focusing on one thing at a time means you’ll finish more quickly and you’ll do a better job.
Learn to Say No
Instead of taking on every responsibility given to you, learn to say no to unnecessary things. That way, you’ll be able to focus on what’s important.
About Dr. Mac Powell:
Dr. Mac Powell was president of three universities and actively contributes to the strategic direction of higher education. He served as chair of the American Council of Education’s Commission on Educational Attainment and Innovation, and he is a former commissioner on the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior Commission, a graduate of the WASC Assessment Leadership Academy, chair of the Council of Applied Master’s Programs in Psychology, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Performance Psychology.