Trends in productivity come and go just as trends do in fashion or in blogging. Not only do our personal productivity habits change, but so does the general viewpoint on techniques at large. Take multitasking, for example: one minute multitasking is lauded as the way to survive in the modern, technological world, and the next it’s being condemned as ineffective as well as bad for us. Do I multitask? Yes. Did I once sing its praises? You betcha. Do I sometimes lament how multitasking kills my efficiency? Yes, that too.
The key is, in productivity, just as most areas of life, everything in moderation. Sending an email while brushing your teeth every now and then isn’t going to turn you into some soul-sucking, non-productivity robot who screws up the most basic of tasks because of your trying to do two things at once. What matters is how you make your productivity habits work for you.
After five years of post secondary schooling, I was confident that I had my productivity routines mapped for maximum results. Always a morning person, I would wake by seven and have a cup of coffee, while reading through my blog feed; go to class and work on papers in between breaks (while I scarfed down a chocolate chip bagel); I’d draft some blog posts when I had a spare minute; rush off to print things before my evening class in the computer lab; nights were reserved for paper power-writing; and I’d get up the next morning to do it all again. It worked for me then, but alas, things have changed.
I’m no longer a college student, and at the most basic level, my routine has changed. I don’t have endless downtime in between classes. I don’t have a flexible schedule and weekdays off to run errands. While I cherish the predictability of knowing that I will work every day at the same time, it also means that I have to fight the rest of the world in line at the supermarket on Saturdays. I’ve fought to keep my old productivity habits, misguidedly thinking, “They worked for me before!”, but the truth of the matter is that they just don’t anymore. My schedule has changed, what I need from my productivity routine has changed, and I need to change my habits to reflect these new goals.
While I would’ve liked to put off my Giant Productivity Overhaul until summer, where I could sit down and build it from the ground up “properly”, I simply didn’t have the time. I needed a change pronto and doing it in the moment, while not the most elegant, was a necessity. A lot of these have grown out of my new role as a teacher, and help to keep me sane while at work, with the added bonus of trickling into my personal habits as well.
Set a Schedule
I teach three sections of 10th grade English before my 45-minute long prep period, and afterward I teach two sections of AP Literature and Composition. As much as I want to walk in the door in the morning and work on what I need to for AP, it doesn’t make sense when that’s not what’s first on my plate. And so I save my AP work for my prep period and schedule 10th grade-related tasks for my morning prep time. It’s hard to compartmentalize my thoughts, but I try to press pause on all things AP unless they’re an absolute necessity.
Likewise, when it comes to blogging, I try to schedule my time so I know what I should be working on and when. If thirteen tasks are laid out in front of me from to blog posts to partnerships, newsletters to NovelTea, I get overwhelmed and start to shut down. Instead, I schedule. Thursdays are NovelTea days, since I need to queue the discussions questions for Friday anyway. The weekend is for catching up on reading and filming/editing YouTube videos, and so on.
Your homework: Set a “schedule” for your tasks too by planning what tasks you plan to tackle on which days. Are Sundays your cleaning day? If you work from home, dedicate your mornings to creating new blog content, and your afternoons to site maintenance (including maintaining relationships and commenting on other blogs, etc.).
Revisit Your To-Do List
I used to have fifteen different to-do lists that all basically said the same thing. These days I still have multiple lists, but they’re much more organized: one is for work, and one is for personal/home-related tasks.
But the organization doesn’t end there.
My lists are then split into two: bigger, long-term projects, and small, short-term tasks. With the help of Strange & Charmed’s weekly layout for my Filofax, I have a space to name my top three tasks each day, which helps to keep me focused on the most important things that I need to accomplish.
On the other hand, with my limited down-time at work, I also have a need for little things that need to be done at a particular time. I have to make copies for the afternoon class’s lesson. I have to email a parent. I have to input the grades for the last assignment. I have to go pick up more staples from the supply room. They’re not the most important things I have to do, but they still need done even though they aren’t “big picture”.
Your homework: Revamp your own to-do lists, making a short- and long-term list, or split your current list into work and home, or home and blog.
Multitasking might be the proverbial productivity devil, but I still find it beneficial when used correctly. Trying to respond to an email while in a lecture, for instance, doesn’t let you devote your brain to both tasks very well, since they’re both pretty involved processes. Keep your combined tasks simple. Rather than do two things that require you to listen intently and respond, do things that are easier to pair and less involved.
My weekly ritual is to do the ironing while catching up on my DVRed television shows (or, in last week’s case, the Oscars). I call my dad on my way home from work. I’ll bake cookies while marathoning Frasier on Netflix. Kill two birds with one stone when you can. Just make sure you can do both and aren’t trying to multitask the impossible.
Your homework: List two tasks that you can combine that won’t break your concentration.
Set a Space
Having my own desk once again reinforced what I already knew: I need a space that is not home in which to work. Even when I’m in my home office, the temptation of video games in the next room or string cheese downstairs in the fridge leaves me feeling distracted. With a set workspace, however, I simply get stuff done.
That said, rather than bring work home I stay after an extra hour or so to get done what I need to, and save the little tasks that I know I can manage for home.
This works great in combination with the “combine tasks” idea above; if I know I’m meeting a friend for a sushi date after work, there’s no point in driving home the opposite direction just to turn around an hour later. By staying at work, I’m rolling with the work-groove I already established that day, and don’t have to interrupt my already productive self.
Your homework: Where is your ideal workspace? Do you have to go elsewhere, like a coffee shop, to get work done? Or does your home office suffice? How can you organize your home work space to make it more distraction free?
Seize the Little Moments
When all else fails, my personal mantra is to “seize the little moments”. Years spent commuting to school left me with many a spare moment on campus in which I would find a power outlet, plug in my computer, and get to work. Nowadays, smartphones make working on virtually anything while on the go easy as pie, but the notion relies on you taking advantage of those in-between moments!
Five or ten minutes may not seem like much, but I’ve learned as a teacher that sometimes that’s all you have! Certainly, I could sit and twiddle my thumbs until my next class walks in the door, but it’s amazing what you can actually get done in a short amount of time (and it doesn’t require running around like a maniac, believe it or not!)
Sometimes I find myself with ten minutes left after lunch, and use the time to fire off a quick email to the office, or print off a student paper in my inbox. Commercial breaks are perfect for running around the room with a Swiffer duster, or packing my lunch for the next day.I’ll even bring my laptop down to the copier to get some work done while waiting for my 65 packets on MLA citation to print out.
Little moments are everywhere, and if you can get one thing crossed off of your to-do list, it’s time well spent.
Your homework: Think of one thing you can do in the next commercial break, or the next time your in the waiting room at the dentist.
Other Helpful Tips
- Prioritize: Prioritizing is still important. Organized to-do lists mean nothing to me if I’m picking up aforementioned staples when I should be inputting grades because THEY’RE DUE IN TWO HOURS!
- Do It Now: Why put off something that will take you a few minutes to do? I’ve been operating under The Two-minute Rule myself: if it’s something I can do in under two minutes, I do it. Right then and there, no questions asked. Empty the dishwasher. Unpack my lunch bag. Hang up my clothes from the day. Even send that quick, “Thanks but no thanks” email. In the grand scheme of things, most tasks don’t take that long and procrastinating just wastes more time that you don’t have.
- Create a landing zone: Or in my case, a clipboard. I put all of the handouts, answer keys, passes, etc. that I’ll need for the day on one clipboard. The clipboard is portable for the days that my classes end up in the library, and also keeps all shapes and sizes of paper in one place. This way I’m not wasting time digging around for those three papers I need to pass back to absent students, or search for my sticky note of things that we need to do today. Maybe you use a tray on your desk, or create a landing zone or pile of ‘Things To Get Done’, but make it easily accessible and go through it often to keep it up to date.
- Make it a party. A fellow teacher-friend and I make plans to head to the local coffee shop once a weekend and spend an hour or two working on upcoming lessons in each other’s company. Not only do we get to bounce ideas off of one another, but we get the added bonus of looking like doofuses if we waste away work time by playing dumb games in a public space. And there are croissants. Always croissants. It’s nice to have a buddy to run questions past, and it’s also nice to have a designated work space and concrete timeframe set. We don’t want to be holed up in Starbucks all day, so we’ll set a goal to have ‘x’ done by the time we leave, and hold one another accountable. Don’t forget to reward yourself for a session well-spent with a cookie or chai latte to go!
I’ve created new habits, I’ve revised some old ones, I’ve discovered some small tips, and I’ve found a new groove that allows me to maximize my efficiency and get stuff done when I need to. Finding a system that works for you can be a tough process of trial-and-error, but I hope this guide will give you some ideas of habits you can adopt to make yourself that much more productive (and feel like you’ve gained an extra hour in your day! Isn’t that what we all want?)
How have you maximized your productivity? Share your tips with us in the comments!