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Planning for Productivity

Often times, the concept of “productivity” is drilled into our heads. From young, we’re taught to be productive students, then productive workers, and eventually we’re told to strive for productivity in all aspects of life.

“Be efficient”, “don’t waste your time”, “make the most of your day” – these are all phrases and quotes that are instructed to us over and over again. But what is efficiency? What, exactly, is the idea of making the most of our day? What encompasses the notion of #GettingThingsDone? How do we draw a line between being productive and overworking ourselves? Being productive is not equivalent to always being busy and trying to complete unfinished tasks. Constantly being in action and not allowing for breaks is not the way to be productive.

However, we often misunderstand this. Instead of getting more done, we overwork ourselves and get less done instead. Tasks disintegrate into chaos and they throw your stability off-kilter. The more your life seems like its delving into chaos and disarray, the more difficult it can be to get on track and figure out a manageable way to conduct your workflow. Work then takes longer to get done and may even have to be re-attempted.

Working endlessly without intention or purpose is the downfall of productivity planning. The distinction between “let me finish up most of my work today” and “let me finish up 5 specific tasks today” can lead to a huge difference in how your perceive and manage your work – the way your intention is directed is the can make or break your productivity schedule.

Productivity – unfortunately – doesn’t happen as long as we wil it to happen. Rather, the only thing we can do to be productive is to plan for it. Adulthood has many surprises in for us; one of that is that to get work done you need to get pre-work done. Sounds like a scam, I know, but it actually does wonders in helping your everyday work routine.

By planning and considering your tasks in 5 different aspects, you are bound to see a great improvement in how productive you’re becoming.

Time Management

It goes without saying that time management planning plays a big role in ensuring productivity and efficiency. Good time management can lead to more work being done in a shorter period of time, along with a more balanced lifestyle. This cna result in lower levels of stress, higher satisfaction levels and a calmer demeanor.

Conscious time management is the key to planning. The first step in understanding how to manage your time is to figure out when you are in the most optimal condition. Are you a morning person? A night person? Are you someone who works on the weekends? Are you someone who has multiple things to attend to all the time? By understanding how and when you’re most attentive, you can delegate tasks accordingly. Leave the complicated, attention-seeking tasks for when you’re most alert. As a morning person, an hour right after waking up might be the best time for you to get the difficult proposals or reports done. As you start to wind down throughout the day, you can relegate to easier tasks, like drafting emails or planning meetings, before calling it a day and relaxing at night. As a night person, you could reverse this process and slowly build up to increasingly demanding tasks. Of course, this would mean that the larger part of the morning would be for your own personal schedule.

The important part of time management is to put a time limit on tasks. Make sure that you work within your limits. Occassionally going beyond your limits is no cause of concern; however, if it happens often, it could be a sign to re-plan your schedule.

By planning your time, you’re able to foresee the day or week that you have ahead of you, and that can often help in making your work seem less daunting.

Investing in Physical/Digital Resources

A few years back, I used to rely solely on the power of my memory to get tasks done. My mind used to be a constant flurry of “get A done, get B done, oh no, now I have C to do, okay get C done as well, ah, A needs more work, okay go back and work on A again,” and so on. I didn’t realise that it was a problem because that was just how I worked, but after switching to physical planners (and conscientiously getting into the habit of planning and jotting down my tasks), I was a changed person.

By investing in a planner, or a reminder book, or a blown-up calendar – whatever works for you, honestly – you are able to visualise your schedule and timetable. Getting into the habit of jotting down everything that you have to, big or small, goes a long way in ridding you of the mental stress that comes with trying to remember everything and complete it all. When you remove that as a source of stress, you have much more mental capacity to focus on your work.

Additionally, by listing down all the tasks that you have to do lets you prioritise tasks in terms of how taxing they are, when they need to be done by, and how long it might take you to get them done. Instead of all the jumbled planning that happens in your head, you are able to physically plan out and rely on that every time you need to. It’s also easier to slot in tasks that need to be re-done or last-minute events because you’re able to quickly notice empty pockets of time or re-arrange tasks.

By planning your activities, you’re also able to carve out time for yourself, your friends and your families. Without something that allows you to see your schedule, it’s not uncommon to get carried away and pack your days, leaving you with unbalanced days.

Envision: Big to Small

Envision big, then zoom into the small. Have a huge project coming up? Look at it as a whole, then break it up into smaller tasks that you can delegate to different days. This keeps you on track steadily and you’re never too far behind. Even if life gets in your way sometimes, you’re not completely behind and nowhere near done.

By breaking up bigger tasks into smaller ones, it also gives you the opportunity for more positive feedback. If you get smaller tasks done, your “done” list gets longer. Seeing more and more jobs get done is a way that you feel proud and appreciative of yourself. This drives you further and longer in getting your work done.

Instead of getting daunted or overwhelmed by the work ahead of you, breaking it into smaller parts leads to higher efficiency. It keeps you consistent and it keeps you motivated.

Don’t Shy Away from Personal Time

If you’re a workaholic like me, I know you’d have the tendency to plan your schedule around work. Step away from that. Plan your schedule around your mental health and happiness.

Pen in time for personal breaks. Set aside hours or days with friends and family. Organise your time around what keeps you satisfied and content, not what keeps you strained and overworked. This is especially important if you’re someone who works from home. Ensure that you give yourself time to get away from work, and don’t let the lines of work and home mix more than they should. Don’t shy away from breaks – both short and long.

Short breaks at work have many benefits. They don’t let you get bored. If you’ve set aside half an hour to reply to emails, having a break after encourages you to stick to your half-hour time and prevents you from wasting any time dilly-dallying. When you know there’s a pause ahead of you, there’s less inertia in operating well at the current moment. Breaks also help you to retain information. When you relax after working, you finally have the time to reflect on what you’ve been doing and process the content further. It’s often why many people have the best ideas when they’re lounging around or are taking an off-day from work.

Long breaks, on the other hand, are just as important. Don’t run away from a weekend or a few days away from work. These days often give you the space to reevaluate your goals and reduce your stress. This in turn leads to a smoother workflow once you’re back in your (home-)office.

Let Go of (Unimportant) Goals

You can’t plan once and let go. Planning requires consistent reevaluation and reorganising of your goals and workflow. As such, it should come as no surprise that your goals can change, and therefore so would your plans.

From short-term, daily goals to long-term, yearly goals: they’re all prone to change. There’s no harm in rescheduling your priorities to serve these goals. There’s also no shame in letting go of goals. Be it the fact that you might have too much on your plate, or just that you are a changed person with a changed mindset, I think we are too afraid of “giving up”. Yet, there is no shame in “giving up” goals that no long serve a purpose to you. Why waste your time and energy on something that no longer relates to you? In its stead, you could redirect that effort on an activity that deserves more of your attention, or on you and your loved ones. If you’re sure that a certain goal is no longer what you’re striving for, don’t hesitate in letting go of it.

The key in planning for productivity is understanding yourself. What do you want to achieve? What are the things you are striving for? What’s important to you? Once you recognise your needs and wants, then you’ll able to build an optimal schedule that serves said needs and wants. You’ll also know how much time and effort you want to dedicate to your different agendas.

It’s also important to remember that you are important as well. Don’t forget to cater to yourself in your planning. When you remember and take care of yourself, you are in a better state of mind to be available to the different people and projects around you. Manage your time while prioritising you and the people important to you. Center yourself while planning, and be confident in saying no and reprioritising when needed.