When you’re working do you ever see squirrels?
You know how it goes. You’re writing, trying to focus on the task at hand, and then oh, look, a squirrel… You're never going to be able to work at maximum productivity with those little devils running around.
Sometimes squirrels come in the form of Facebook, the news, a game on your phone, dust bunnies (bunny-squirrels?) on your bookshelf. They crop up out of nowhere and eat your time!
We’ve all run into time-eating squirrels. They cause us to procrastinate and later stress out. We might lie to ourselves and think, “oh I do my best work under pressure.” Guess what. You don’t. None of us do.
The secret to maximizing productivity doesn't come from putting yourself under pressure. There’s healthy pressure, sure, but when we put off tasks wander unfocused through our day and then scrambled to finish a job, that’s unhealthy pressure. It means we’re not deliberate. We’re stressed. We’re wasting time and achieving less. We’re working harder, not smarter.
Guys, I don’t know about you, but I’m all about working smarter.
When we maximize our productivity, we get work completed in a FRACTION of the normal time. They say the average person is only truly productive for about three hours in an eight-hour work day. When I heard this stat, it made me sad. Think about it—five hours a day are spent away from your kids, husband and free-time, locked away in your office chasing squirrels.
Life is way too short, people! It’s too short to waste five hours getting nothing accomplished. So, if you’re ready to become uber productive and get those squirrels away, you need some help, and I know just what you need.
Are YOU ready to take back your time? Here is my #1 secret to maximizing productivity!
I’ll be honest, my secret isn’t really my secret. It’s not revolutionary. You’ve probably heard of it before. The reason I’m such a fanatic about this productivity secret is because it works. REALLY. REALLY. WELL.
Are you ready?
That’s it. That’s the secret to maximizing productivity. You’ve probably heard people refer to it before and discuss blocking out their schedule or working in time-blocks. The weird part is, so many of us know about this secret and yet, so few people actually do it (which is crazy, because it’s completely effective).
How to Use Time-Blocking
If you’re wondering how to time-block, it’s easy! Time-blocking essentially means working in chunks of time where you’re focused on a single task. Your blocks don’t need to be huge – in fact, shorter blocks are more effective (no risk of creative burnout).
When you’re working in a block, you work on one task. 20-30-minute blocks are often quite effective (work a few blocks back-to-back for bigger jobs). If you finish early—which you may discover happens frequently when you’re completely focused—note the time difference between actual and projected time. The next time you need to block out for a similar project, you’ll know to adjust it accordingly.
Do your toughest job first.
Prioritize your tasks, doing the most important job in your first or most productive block. If you’re super-sharp from 10-12, use those hours to tackle your toughest job. During the time, shut off your email and turn off your phone. Ignore all outside distractions while you get it finished.
Moms who work from home might find their best time is during naps, playtime or the kid’s favorite TV program. Use the time to your advantage. Rather than attempting to distractedly fit in projects while you juggle “mom-jobs,” (and feel divided) give your mom-jobs your full attention. It’s amazing how thirty minutes of focused, quality playtime with your little ones alleviates your guilt when the kids watch Paw Patrol as you get in thirty minutes of focused work.
Work in chunks.
Not every job can completed in 20 or 30 minutes. It’s not realistic to even expect yourself to rush it out. In fact, it won’t be your best work anyway. If you need to book several blocks back-to-back, it’s totally fine. Do give yourself a 1-2-minute breather when you complete a block though. Working in 10 time blocks of 30-minutes each, is still working for 5-hours straight. Take a bathroom break! Get a drink of water! Breathe! Without breaks your work will suffer.
The idea of working in blocks is during those times, you simply don’t chase after distracting squirrels. Email, for example, is one of those squirrels that comes up often. We may think a message will only take three minutes to reply, so we switch over to our email program (feeling like we’re super-multi-taskers). What happens? We start going back-and-forth, discover four other emails to reply to, and before we know it an hour has passed.
When you time-block you should focus only on the single task during the block. If it’s cleaning the bathroom, clean the bathroom. If it’s a spreadsheet, stay focused on the sheet!
Set a timer.
As you get used to time-blocking, you may even want to set a timer. When the timer goes off, move to the next block. If you’ve got another project scheduled, save, move on and block out more time to finish the project later.
A timer isn’t necessary but sometimes we tend to get lost in our tasks. Alternatively, we might get distracted by checking the time regularly to see how much has passed (and how much more we need to focus on). Keep your head down and focus on the task at hand. Just know that the timer will go off when your time block is done and you can move it! Don't create unnecessary anxiety by trying to cram as much work in before your time is up.
Just keep going & get it done.
Sometimes when I write, I feel stuck. My wheels spin on certain topics or I’m not quite “feelin’ it” in the moment. If you follow the time-blocking method, you may collide with a mental block. When these mental hurdles arise, the best way to deal with it is to just do it.
So, it might not be your best, most impassioned work. That’s okay. Go back later and edit it, refine it or do a better job. This applies to all kinds of tasks you aren’t in the mood for. Maybe you don’t feel like going for a walk during your exercise block.
When this happens, I make a deal with myself. I tell myself, I’m going to put on my gym clothes, shoes and walk for five-minutes. If I do all those steps and I still cannot, then fine. I’ll throw in the towel and move to the next item on my list.
You know what? Almost every single time, after five-minutes I keep going. It’s like a mental trick. (Can you use reverse psychology on yourself?) My brain goes, “Well, I guess if we’re already this far, we might as well finish.”
Start and it will get easier.
Time-blocking is one of those productivity hacks that gets easier once you start. If it sounds daunting, give it a shot on the weekend or when you’re doing a job around the house. Time-block cleaning your house or organizing your cupboards. Set a timer to complete one room and really focus on it for 30-minutes. When the time’s up move to the next. Give yourself a “finish” block at the end, if you need to revisit any areas.
Once you realize what a game-changer time-blocking is, you’ll get hooked. It’s one of those “secrets to maximizing productivity” that all the successful professionals use that any of us can adopt. It’s a satisfying way to tackle a project and rock it. You’ll look back and feel amazed at how much you accomplished. It’s an incredibly motivating feeling.
Bonus Secret to Maximizing Productivity: Keeping a Planner Can Help
My favorite time-blocking tool is my planner. I use the Living Well Planner, which is designed perfectly for the time-blocking method. You book out your day in chunks. Take your to-do list, and break down each item into blocks. Schedule the task right in your planner.
Using your planner is an extremely visual way to manage your time. You see exactly how those productive hours will help you achieve more. You’ll ditch the feeling of tasks hanging over your head, like you’re frantically rushing to get everything done. A planner gives you the ability to lay out exactly what you need to do and block out your plan to get there. Best of all, you’ll keep your eye on the prize: all the free time you’ll see on your schedule once you’ve blocked out your task list. It’s very motivating.
During your free time, you’ll completely relax. There’s no time-squirrels haunting you. Everything has a spot on your schedule. You’re not supposed to do any job other than the one in front of you in the block…and if that so happens to be playing a game with your kids, or reading a book, well, awesome!
So, don’t let the squirrels distract you and eat up your time.
Take back your schedule to free up time for life’s important stuff—having fun! What would you do with more free time? What’s your secret to maximizing productivity?