Some days we all just need to reset. Whether it’s a new day or a new semester, here are five steps for setting yourself up for a productive day.
Step 1: Make a detailed list
The best way of organizing all your different tasks is writing them down! Start by taking a piece of paper and a pencil and writing down all your to-dos. By doing this, you can begin to see all your different tasks in comparison to one another before organizing them into the three ‘hows’.
What are the three ‘hows’? They are…
- How big
- How important
- How realistic
These three ‘hows’ are the keys to organizing your to-do list in a productive way. The first how, how big, breaks down the size of each task. For example, preparing a presentation is a lot larger of a task to accomplish than taking out the garbage. By recognizing that preparing your presentation (or a task of equal size) is larger and comprised of multiple smaller steps, you can begin to break down larger tasks into smaller, less intimidating ones. This can help make larger tasks seem less daunting and make it easier to get started. That presentation can be written instead as multiple steps, such as write out the order of the presentation, write up each section (which can also be written as each section equaling separate tasks), create a visual graphic, and practice giving your speech. Now that you have broken down all your larger task into manageable smaller ones, they each feel less intimidating. This helps decrease the time spent worrying about how you can accomplish larger tasks, and turn that time into productive time spent working.
The second how, how important, can help you prioritize your list of different tasks. If your a student, like me, you might have reviewing material for a test or reply to emails on your to-do list. If your test is tomorrow, studying obviously takes priority. By organizing your task on your to-do list from those of highest priority to lowest priority, you can see the path of how you will get your work done clearly before beginning. This allows the time you spend wondering what you should be working on to now be filled with moving on to the next item on your list. This way, you can accomplish more tasks in less time.
Finally, the third ‘how’, how realistic, help you filter ideas from actions. If you’re anything like me you have a ton of different ideas you want to accomplish, but only time for so many of them. Whether it’s reading a new book, or learning a new language, ideas have to be balanced with tasks that have to be accomplished (like homework, laundry, etc.). Therefore, keeping a separate list for necessary to-dos and a different list for your wishful to-dos can keep you more focused and organized. This way, you can have those ideas stored for when that magical “free time” roles around and you can pull out your to-do bucket list.
Step 3: Conquer your list step-by-step
Now that you have an organized to-do list, it’s time to get working! Just start at the top and work your way down. If the number of tasks you want to complete looks overwhelming, break down your time (like you did with your tasks). Set a timer for 15-20 minutes and tell yourself you will focus on working for that amount of time. Make sure you promise yourself a 5-10 minute break in return! Once you get used to breaking down your work into shifts, you can try out the Pomodoro productivity technique. This way you can feel energized and refreshed when working on your list of tasks. Also, setting aside specific time (or blocks of time) for getting your work done can be a great way of balancing working and relaxing.
Step 4: Celebrate each accomplishment
Speaking of working and relaxing, these two acts are each other’s balance. In order to feel refreshed and excited about what you’re working on, you need to take breaks from it. So make sure to take time to step away from your work and celebrate the effort you put into it. For example, after working for 20 minutes, you take time to step away and relax for 10 minutes in order to enjoy the break you have earned. By learning to separate work and relaxation, you can be more focused on each when it’s there time, and feel more focused on the current one at hand.
Step 5: Keep work enjoyable and avoid overwhelming yourself
Work doesn’t have to be awful. While there is always that class we just “have to take” or that project “we just have to do” a lot of what we put our time into is by choice. For example, if you don’t like the material covered in the homework you have to complete, consider changing majors to a path that sparks your interest. If you don’t like how you spend your free time, consider changing what extracurriculars you are involved in to ones that you enjoy. Making sure that you love what you are working on (and then remembering to keep the amount you take on at a reasonable level) can be the best way of making what you do more enjoyable and meaningful.