There’s never enough hours in the day. I wish I had more time!
Do you find yourself saying some version of the above roughly a thousand times during the day (give or take)?
While more hours in the day might be nice, it’s not necessarily lack of time that stops us from completing tasks and accomplishing our goals.
Sometimes, what’s stopping us is our mindset. For instance, do you think you have to do everything yourself? Do you feel like you need to say yes to every email, meeting, and opportunity? Are you waiting for the right time to start a meaningful project?
Sometimes, what’s stopping us is a practical barrier, such as not knowing how long a task actually takes or not working during our peak productive time (which differs for every person).
Thankfully, these aren’t insurmountable obstacles. They can be adjusted, revised, and overcome, and you can do that right now. Below, are nine expert strategies to try.
Use small pockets of time. “The best way to be more productive is to stop waiting for the right time,” said Debra Eckerling, the author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals. Eckerling works with individuals and businesses to set goals and manage projects.
Working in increments—right now—can help you make significant progress and actually complete tasks. For example, if your goal is to publish a blog post once a week, Eckerling said, you might write a draft on Monday; revise it on Tuesday; review it and add images and links on Wednesday; and publish and promote it on Thursday.
Track your time. Do you know how long it takes you to respond to email? Or finish writing that report? Or complete a first draft of your article? According to productivity writer Marija Kojic, “if you know how you’re currently spending time, you’ll know exactly how you can make improvements with your time to be more productive in the future.”
Kojic shared this example: After tracking your time, you discover that every day you’re spending 3 hours deleting email and replying to every email you receive. Which means that that’s at least 2 hours you could be allocating to your priorities instead.
Delegate and automate. Matt Bodnar, a strategy expert and creator and host of The Science of Success Podcast, stressed the importance of saving our creativity and decision-making power for important and high-impact tasks (which will be different for everyone). First, he suggested taking an inventory of your own life (here’s how he does it) and identifying the tasks and activities that are wasting your time and energy. Then consider how you can delegate or automate them.
For instance, Bodnar has a virtual assistant who schedules most of his meetings, completes his expense reports, and books his travel. These seemingly small things add up. As he noted, “Even freeing up 5 hours per week (one hour per day) of wasted admin time can be massive. That’s 20 hours per month. That’s the equivalent of a 40-hour work week every 2 months added into your calendar.”
For his podcast, Bodnar focuses solely on recording interviews—he automates everything else, including guest outreach, audio production, episode posting, and graphic design.
Protect your priorities. Identify what’s most important to you. What constitutes as your big goals, your deep work? Once you know, it’s vital to honor those priorities and decline anything that isn’t aligned with them, said Bodnar.
Of course, you might feel bad for saying no. However, “if you really want to achieve the big priorities in your life, you sometimes have to let people get upset or feel like you ignored them, you have to refuse opportunities, and you have to turn down meetings that aren’t important.” Because what’s more important to you—getting to inbox zero or working on a meaningful project?
Connect to your “why” on a deeper level. Why are you working toward the goal you’re working toward? What will you gain when you achieve that goal? Speaker and coach Jessi Beyer suggested responding to these questions and then taking it further to create an emotional connection.
For instance, on a surface level, your why for needing to complete a certain project to be eligible for a promotion or raise is getting that promotion or raise. But upon further reflection, the emotional connection is more stability for your family, more money for your daughter’s college fund, and better hours so you can actually make it to your kids’ sports games and performances.
“Tying your ‘why’ into something that is so dear to you will make it even more powerful as a motivator,” Beyer said.
She also stressed the importance of focusing on “internal satisfaction” versus “external recognition.” “You can’t control how people think or act, and your motivation will fail when all you have is the pipe dream of making someone else like you.”
Once you know your deeper why, write it down, and keep it somewhere visible.
Make an appointment with yourself. It’s much easier to keep an appointment with someone else than it is to honor our own commitments. But don’t let that stop you from doing it anyway. Eckerling recommended looking over your schedule and blocking out time or creating “appointments” for focused work. A standing appointment is even better, she said.
When you’re finished with your focused session, jot down what you accomplished, she said. “That way, at the end of each week or month, you can look back and see your progress. When you see how much you’ve accomplished, it will inspire you to be even more productive.”
Follow the 2-minute rule. “If it takes less than 2 minutes, just do it now,” said Alexis Haselberger, a time management and productivity coach working with individuals and teams to help them increase productivity and decrease stress. She shared these examples: RSVP to an invite as soon as you receive it; scan or shred a piece of paper that comes across your desk.
Another variant of the 2-minute rule is to commit to working on a difficult task you’ve been avoiding for just 2 minutes, said Kojic. This comes from Newton’s First Law: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion.” The idea is that if you start working on a task, you’ll likely continue working on it (well past 2 minutes), because you’re already in motion, Kojic said.
Create a visual reminder of your goals. This serves as a reminder of what you’re working toward, according to Eckerling. She noted that your reminder might be a slogan: “something short, snappy, and memorable, based on your personal or project mission,” such as “share my story” or “go for it.” Or it might be an empowering lyric. Eckerling likes “I ain’t settlin” from the song “Settlin” by Sugarland.
Your reminder also can be an image of something you want to create. Whatever you choose, put it up in your office or on your computer background, or anywhere you look every day.
“[S]eeing that what you are working towards is possible is both inspiring and motivating.”
Identify your peak time. When possible, handle your toughest projects during your peak time, according to Eileen Roth, a productivity expert and author of the book Organizing for Dummies. To discover your peak time, she suggested paying attention to when you feel your best for 3 to 4 days:
- When you wake up, do you feel “charged”? Do you accomplish more in the mornings but feel like you’re dragging in the afternoon? If so, you’re a morning person.
- If you easily accomplish more after lunch, then you’re an afternoon person.
- If you’re most productive at night and you work a 9 to 5, pick your second-best time.
Another option, Roth said, is to have a “Quiet Hour,” and put a sign on your office door or cubicle wall to tell colleagues to come back in an hour. “You could save 5 hours a week this way, and probably get more done than you do all week…”
Roth also suggested moving meetings to your non-peak hours, if possible. And if you have to work during a non-peak time, start with easier, more routine, or less creative parts of a project, such as research or data entry, she said. This helps you gain momentum and keep going.
While we can’t have more hours in the day, we can get strategic and focus on our priorities. And you can start right now.