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How to Get Things Done Efficiently: Prioritizing, Planning & Flow

Ever felt like there aren’t enough hours in a day? From the Pharaohs of Egypt who aimed sky-high (literally!) to Renaissance masters like Leonardo da Vinci with their quirky to-do lists, humans have been on a relentless quest to make the most of their time. Welcome to the age-old game of “Getting Things Done”!

Whether you’re looking to conquer your never-ending to-do list or simply squeeze more out of your day, you’re in for a treat.

This blog post will unravel the secrets of productivity. So, let’s hurry up and learn how to get things done!

The Art Of Getting Things Done

From ancient wisdom to modern methods: the universal desire to conquer the to-do list.

The desire to be productive isn’t a modern invention. Millennia ago, the ancient Egyptians didn’t have digital calendars, yet they managed to build the pyramids without a single project management software! Fast forward a few centuries, and while the tools have changed, the desire remains the same.

The Art Of Getting Things Done: woman learning how to get things done

Consider this fun fact: Did you know that, in Renaissance Italy, the great artist Leonardo da Vinci kept a notebook of to-dos that included tasks like “Study the movement of woodpeckers” and “Describe the tongue of a woodpecker“? While not exactly everyday tasks for most of us, it underscores an age-old point: Lists help bring order to our thoughts.

And here we are, in the 21st century. While we might not be documenting bird anatomy, we’ve got our own set of challenges. Interestingly, a 2022 study revealed that the average person is productive for only 2 hours and 53 minutes during an 8-hour workday. This underscores that mastering time management remains an ever-present challenge.

From stone tablets to digital tablets, it’s clear: The tools and techniques may change, but our drive to get stuff done? That’s timeless.

How To Get Things Done: 9 Must-Known Tips

Feeling overwhelmed? It’s okay, we’ve all been there. But here’s the good news: With some time-tested strategies and a sprinkle of modern-day know-how, you can power through your tasks with style and a smile!

1. Make Friends with Lists

Ah, the humble to-do list! As old as time, and yet still one of the best tools in your productivity toolkit. Jotting down tasks clears the mental clutter, giving you clarity on what lies ahead.

Pink Desk and To Do List

Did you know that the mere act of writing down a task can free your mind from the nagging feeling of something left undone? That’s the Zeigarnik Effect at work!

Pro tip: Jazz it up! Why stick to plain old black and white when you can color-code? Rainbow tasks, anyone?

2. Tackle the Elephant First (Or… Eat That Frog!)

Inspired by Brian Tracy’s book, “Eat That Frog!”, the idea is to face your most challenging task first, thus making the rest of the day’s relevant tasks seem easier by comparison. Much like eating a frog (figuratively, of course!), once it’s done, everything else is more palatable.

Think about it: The relief of having the hardest task done provides momentum for the rest of the day.

Mindset shift: Instead of dreading the big task, view it as the mountain you conquer every morning. The right mindset will make a big difference!

3. Timer to the Rescue!

The Pomodoro Technique isn’t just a trend, it’s grounded in science. Our brains work best in focused bursts with breaks in between, allowing for improved concentration and cognitive function.

During a “Pomodoro” you only focus on relevant tasks. Avoid distractions, no social media, no phone calls – just stay focused! After your fourth Pomodoro, taking a longer break (like 15-30 minutes) can refresh you even more.

Red Clock Timer

Apps like “Be Focused” or “TomatoTimer” provide the structure of the technique with a fun, game-like interface.

Challenge: Try the technique for a week. Track your progress. You might just find you’re getting more done in less time.

4. Declutter the Mess, Declutter the Mind

A clear space often equates to a clear mind. Studies have found a direct correlation between a tidy workspace and increased productivity. The act of decluttering can be therapeutic, helping reduce anxiety and paving the way for clearer thinking.

A minimalist approach isn’t about having less but making room for more of what matters.

Action Step: Take 10 minutes at the end of each day to clear your workspace. It makes starting work the next day more inviting!

5. Break It Down – The Power of Mini Goals

Chunking tasks makes them less daunting. Our brains love the dopamine hit from achieving goals, no matter how small.

The Power of Mini Goals

But here’s the thing: By segmenting your tasks, you’re making the mountain climbable, one step at a time.

Quick Tip: For larger tasks, using a method like the “Swiss Cheese Approach” can help. It involves poking holes in the task by doing small parts of it whenever you can.

6. A Little Bribery Never Hurt

The principle of reward after effort is as old as humanity itself. By establishing a reward system, you’re essentially programming your brain to associate hard work with positive outcomes. The anticipation of a reward can activate the pleasure centers in our brain, making us more motivated to pursue the task at hand.

My Tip: Set up a reward chart. For every big task you conquer, give yourself a point. Ten points? Treat yourself!

7. Tech It Out

Technology can be both a boon and a bane. The trick is to ensure that it serves you, rather than derails you.

Set aside a day or even a few hours to explore new tools that can aid your productivity. Dive into tools like “Notion” for organization, or “Cold Turkey” to block distracting sites. Make technology your ally, not your adversary. Why manually do stuff when there’s an app for that?

Notion Project Management Tool

Challenge: Consider setting boundaries with tech, like screen-free hours or designated times to check emails.

8. Let’s Talk Energy

Our bodies and minds are intrinsically linked. The food we eat can directly impact our cognitive functions and energy levels.

Did you know? Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like walnuts and flaxseeds, have been shown to enhance brain function and improve focus. Also don’t forget that hydration is key! The brain is about 75% water, so even slight dehydration can impair attention and long-term memory.

Quick Tip: Keep a water bottle at your desk. Set reminders to take a sip every 30 minutes.

Accountability Call

9. Partner in Crime

Accountability amplifies commitment. Sharing your goals can make them feel more tangible and real, making you more likely to stick to them.

Idea: Hold weekly check-ins with your accountability partner to discuss progress, hurdles, and strategies. Sharing different perspectives can offer invaluable insights.

Quick Pit Stop: The GTD Essentials

As we talk about how to be more productive, it’s impossible not to give a nod to the GTD system developed by the productivity consultant David Allen. This method has redefined how many of us look at tasks and productivity. Let’s quickly unpack the essentials.

GTD Lite: A Brief Overview

David Allen’s GTD methodology is not just another to-do list technique; it’s an entire shift in how we approach work and life. At the heart of the GTD system is the need for a few essential tools, both physical and digital: an inbox, a trash can, a filing system for reference material, several task lists, and a calendar (be it paper-based or digital). Think of these as the backbone, supporting the flow of tasks and information.

With these tools in hand, GTD aims to move us to a state of stress-free productivity, where our mental space is calm, clear, and ready to take on tasks effectively.

Here’s a distilled version of the GTD workflow:

  • Capture: Anything that grabs your attention? Write it down. Whether it’s in a notebook or a digital tool, the essence is to trust the system you pick.
  • Clarify: Is the captured item actionable? If yes, decide the next step. If it isn’t, is it a future task? Perhaps discard it or archive it for reference.
  • Organize: Place things where they should be. Could be to-do lists, calendars, or specific folders.
  • Reflect: Periodically review and update. Are you on track with your goals? Are future tasks now relevant?
  • Engage: Act on the tasks based on their urgency and relevance.

The Two-Minute Rule

A gem from the GTD system, the Two-Minute Rule is straightforward: If you can complete a task in less than two minutes, then do it immediately. Why? Because it’s relatively easy to focus on something for such a short period of time.

This approach prevents those seemingly insignificant tasks from piling up. A quick email here, jotting an idea there, or organizing your desk—by tackling these small tasks, you can achieve a sense of accomplishment and pave the way for taking on bigger challenges.

More Productivity Methods

While the GTD method emphasizes creating a trusted system for your tasks, there are plenty of other productivity strategies that can help you sail through your to-dos. Each method has its own unique strengths and can cater to various work styles and preferences. Let’s discover a few more.

Time Blocking Brilliance

Think of time blocking as setting up your day or week ahead. Instead of wandering aimlessly through your day, you structure it with purpose and intent by assigning a given time to each actionable step. That helps you to get things down and staying focused even when you feel overwhelmed. Most people don’t realize how much it can help optimize your time and energy when you apply this on a daily basis!

As a serial entrepreneur, I use the time-blocking technique for all my business tasks but I also found it to be super helpful for personal projects. It also helps me get clarity on the amount of time it takes me to get certain things done and for me, that is part of conscious living!

Here’s the scoop:

  • The Plan: Break your day into chunks. Maybe morning for your most important task, afternoon for meetings, and evening for personal projects.
  • The Execution: Dedicate each block to a particular task or activity. This means when it’s “writing time” from 10 AM to 12 PM, you are only focusing on this one task. It’s like setting up mini-goals to achieve a successful outcome by the end of the day. Trust me, it will make you feel good!
  • Flexibility: Remember, it’s not about rigidly sticking to the blocks but using them as a guide. Life happens, and it’s okay to shuffle things around! Do a weekly review to see how you can improve your process. And don’t forget to take regular breaks!

The Eisenhower Matrix: Decoding Task Priority

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” His matrix makes you ponder over your project list and decide what really merits your attention.

Picture a square divided into four quadrants:

  • Quadrant 1 (Urgent & Important): Things that require immediate attention. E.g., Crisis situations, and last-minute deadlines.
  • Quadrant 2 (Not Urgent but Important): Tasks that matter in the long run. E.g., Planning, and relationship-building.
  • Quadrant 3 (Urgent but Not Important): Tasks to delegate. E.g., Some meetings, certain emails.
  • Quadrant 4 (Neither Urgent nor Important): Distractions to minimize or eliminate. E.g., Mindless web browsing, and endless social media scrolling.
Eisenhower Matrix Template

Focus on Quadrants 1 and 2, delegate 3, and try to cut down on 4. Voila! Task priority decoded.

Kanban Flow: A Visual Guide to Task Management

If you’re a visual learner, get ready to fall in love with Kanban! Originating from Japan, this method is all about visualizing work and its flow. Using columns and cards provides a clear picture of tasks in different stages of completion.

Here’s a snapshot:

  • Columns: Typical ones include “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done.” Feel free to customize based on your needs.
  • Cards: Each card represents a task. It starts in the “To Do” column and moves right as you progress.
  • Flow: The idea is to have a smooth flow of cards from left to right, ensuring that tasks don’t get stuck in any one phase for too long.
Productivity Tools: Kanban Board Template

Whether you’re using a physical board with sticky notes or a digital tool like Trello, the Kanban method offers a dynamic way to manage tasks, ensuring you always have a bird eye view of your work.

Incorporate a weekly review of whichever method you employ. By regularly checking in on your system, you ensure that it remains a trusted system, helping you stay on top of tasks and projects.

Overcoming the Dreaded Procrastination Monster

We’ve all been there, staring at a task, knowing it’s important stuff, yet finding every possible excuse not to do it. The dishes suddenly seem very appealing, or that YouTube video that just can’t wait.

Yep, that’s the Procrastination Monster at play. But fear not, fellow time manager!

Here’s a handy guide to understanding this creature and sending it back to the depths it came.

Messy Table with a lot of to do post its

Identifying the Culprit

To fight the enemy, we must first understand it. So, why do we procrastinate?

  • Fear of Failure: If we don’t start, we can’t fail, right? Wrong. This mindset just keeps us stuck.
  • Perfectionism: Waiting for that “perfect” moment or until we have all the information can lead to indefinite delays.
  • Lack of Motivation: Sometimes, the task is plain boring. It’s hard to get excited about taxes or cleaning out the garage.
  • Decisional Procrastination: When we’re unsure of the best route to take, sometimes we take no route at all.
  • Feeling Overwhelmed: When there’s too much on our plate, it’s easier to ignore it and hope it goes away (hint: it usually doesn’t).

Recognizing why you’re dilly-dallying is half the battle.

Strategies to Keep Procrastination at Bay

Alright, armed with knowledge, let’s dive into strategies to outsmart this pesky foe:

  • Break Tasks into Bite-sized Chunks: Instead of “write a book”, how about “write 200 words”? Easier to digest and less intimidating.
  • The 5-Minute Rule: Commit to just five minutes on a task. Often, starting is the hardest part, and once you begin, it’s easier to continue.
  • Set Clear Deadlines: Even for tasks that don’t inherently have them. And stick to them!
  • Visualize the End Goal: Imagine how you’ll feel when the task is done. Relieved? Happy? Both are great motivators.
  • Accountability Partner: Remember the ‘Partner in Crime’ from earlier? Having someone to check in with can be a major boost.
  • Minimize Distractions: Clean workspace? Check. Phone on Do Not Disturb? Check. Browser tabs not related to the task? Closed!

The trick is not to aim for a life devoid of procrastination (is that even possible?), but to minimize its impact and not let it dominate your productive hours.

Now, the next time you find yourself aimlessly wandering around the house avoiding that task, come back to this guide. The Procrastination Monster is fierce, but with the right strategies, you’re fiercer!

Conclusion: Embracing Your Productivity Journey

Navigating productivity can be overwhelming, even with all these amazing ideas and techniques out there. I hope you learned that there are many many different ways to achieve your goals. Your journey is personal, and what works wonders for one person might be another’s stumbling block. Test out methods, refine your strategies, and always be open to adapting.

Learn from every experience, whether it’s a success or a lesson in disguise. When you stay open-minded and flexible, you’ll find the rhythm that resonates best with your unique style. Here’s to your continued growth and embracing each step of your journey of getting things done. Work smarter, not harder!

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