The beginning of a new year is a great time for resolutions. Better than resolutions, however, are simple but specific changes you can make right now that will help you make this a more productive year.
1. Think small, not big.
We like to talk about big goals and big dreams. That's not a bad thing, but when we only look at the big picture, we can miss out on the small actions that we need to take on a daily basis.
You can work up your energy and motivation, and make a few great big leaps forward. However, it's far more effective to cultivate the habit of small but consistent progress.
Think of making regular bits of progress rather than huge surges toward your goal. You can't maintain the focus and energy required for those all-out effort. You can, however, maintain a tiny, daily habit or a weekly step forward. Break big goals into smaller goals, and then into tiny actions that you build into your daily routine.
2. Limit your to-do list.
An overgrown to-do list requires you to spend your valuable time sorting, prioritizing, and shuffling tasks instead of getting important work done.
It's okay to admit your limits. The sooner you do, the sooner you can start completing tasks instead of simply moving and managing tasks.
Limit your daily list to one to three important tasks that you must complete. You will gain immediate clarity. You know what you're supposed to do, and you can focus on it and let other things fade out. There will always be unplanned tasks and questions that come up in your day. You will have to handle those, but then you can go right back to the important tasks on your list without any hesitation.
3. Use your calendar, planner, and/or task management system daily.
Your system can only help you if you use it regularly. All those task lists, scheduled events, meetings, ongoing team projects, work communications and updates should stay in your system, not in your head.
Multiple daily check-ins allow you to see, review, and update what you need to without giving yourself those mental burdens. Make it a ritual for morning, noon, and night. Let your system do to remembering, organizing and reminding, and free your brain to do the work.
4. Set up a system for your recurring tasks.
Whether it's planning out work schedules or assigning project responsibilities or creating content, every time you complete a recurring task you go through the same steps, and usually in the same order.
A simple system enables you to get through the task faster and ensures that you don't miss any important steps. Your system might be as simple as a checklist, or it might be more complex and involve supplies, a schedule, or written steps that remind you what to do and how to do it.
Bonus: once you systematize a task or event, you can easily train someone else to take it on.
5. Choose your interruptions.
We think of interruptions as things we can't control: invasive people, important phone calls, unavoidable requests. It's the daily deluge of the urgent, and most of us just handle it as best we can and try to get our work done at the same time.
Change that, this year, by spending 15 minutes thinking about which interruptions are valid and worthwhile. An important phone call from your boss or client might be a priority no matter what else you have going on; but a schedule change, a product review, or a client email might not. You have to decide, and once you do, put those valid interruptions on a list and keep it in plain sight.
When the interruptions come, and they will, check them with the list. If an interruption is not on the list, remember that you have opted out of it; all that is left is to convey that message, kindly but clearly, to the source of the interruption. That may mean closing your door, turning off notifications, moving to a quiet space away from other people, excusing yourself from a conversation, or asking to schedule a phone call for a later time.
When you take control of your interruptions, you also take control of your productivity. Make the simple changes now that will allow you to be at your most productive this year.