I’ll just start by being honest: I went through a series of weeks at the beginning of this year where I wasn’t getting anything done. The slump didn’t last all that long but while I was inside of it, feeling like I was just treading water but not making an impact, it felt eternal. My time felt spread too thin. I felt chaotic whenever I would go over what needed to be done in my mind. I wasn’t making progress and I was getting sucked up by distractions.
I was wasting time on social media. I wasn’t writing. I was doing a series of menial tasks and making no real advancement towards projects that actually mattered to me. But in the last few weeks, everything changed.
I’m a sucker for productivity hacks. I live for them. However, I am learning that everyone operates differently. What works for me may not work well for you. Regardless, I think we all need some systems in our lives. Systems stabilize. Systems clear out the chaos. Systems help us get stuff done.
I believe we are living in an interesting time where people talk (really loudly) about life and living life but aren’t actually doing it. I feel like we’ve become spectators. Some of us have stopped doing the work. We’ve lost hours to social media and it’s time to claim back that precious time. At the end of the day, I believe the most valuable resource I have at my fingertips is time. I plan to use it wisely. I plan to be a doer, not getting to the end of my life and having to say, “I watched too many people live. I never thought to put down the phone and own my life instead.”
You being here matters. You get a designated load that has your name on it. You get the chance to leave your fingerprints on the lives of people and projects. But no one will know if you never wake up and live. No one will bother to write an article about you or thank you for your service if all you ever do is sit back and scroll. I’m not trying to be harsh, I’m just needing to be honest.
One system I’ve been implementing every Sunday is taking an hour or so to map my week out and make a massive to-do list. This happens before I do anything else.
It looks like this:
What the colors mean:
Yellow highlights: There are a few tasks I will highlight in yellow before I go over them in orange. The yellow tells me something: this is a task you are planning to get done today. It helps me to see what takes priority on a Monday or a Thursday. It’s a bit of a roadmap in a sea of tasks.
Orange highlights: Plain and simple, orange means completed. I get so much satisfaction out of getting to check something off the list.
What gets listed:
It’s basic. There’s no huge science to it. I only include what is necessary for that week and I do not allow myself to overflow into the next set of pages. My whole week exists on two pages and it allows me to believe I can conquer what is to come.
Tasks & projects:
I write down all my work-based and personal tasks that are necessary enough to make the to-do list. I dump my brain out onto the pages of a bullet journal (yes, I am obsessed) and I get to it. Sometimes I miss things that needed to be added to the list but if the task is something that can happen the following week then I slot it away for next week’s workload.
Where to be:
I keep a running list of places where I need to be throughout the week. Mind you, I use a monthly calendar on a daily basis. I don’t leave home without it. I am proud to say I am still functioning with a monthly paper planner in an iPhone world! This monthly planner is my roadmap for the week but the “where to be” section of my list preps me to show up for these events, meetings, and occasions.
If you introvert hard like me then it can seem like getting over a mountain just to jump on a phone meeting. The homebody inside of me wants to stay in my creative zone all day and talk to absolutely no one. Being able to highlight these meetings off my list upon completion helps me breathe knowing I showed up and made it happen when I wanted to stay in sweatpants all day.
I can guarantee that no self-care would happen if I didn’t add it to the bottom of my weekly lists. I list simple things like a workout, a study session with my Bible, and personal tasks that are good for my heart. Last week I challenged myself to mail two love letters to people in my life. This week I’ve been tracking all the foods I’ve been consuming to get extra protein into my diet.
I used to struggle with self-care because it seemed selfish to me. I now believe self-care is the opposite of being selfish. When you take care of yourself, you are able to take better care of others. By getting a workout in, studying my Bible in the morning, and checking a number of water bottles off my list, I can give people the best version of myself. Taking care of yourself matters. Don’t be afraid to make it a priority.
A note to the hustlers with anxiety:
I feel you. And this productivity system of mine was largely created because of all the anxiety I deal with throughout a given week. Yes, I face anxiety but I refuse to let that anxiety hold me back from all this week has to offer me. What this system does, more than anything else, is give me a map. I need a map. Otherwise, I tread water. I fill the air with self-deprecating words about myself. I fail before I even begin.
I can honestly say that since beginning this system, my productivity has doubled. I’ve yet to have an unproductive workday with this list in front of me.
Some tips to get you feeling productive:
What you likely don’t need right now: It’s very likely that you don’t need another planner. I love planners and I love supporting planner companies. But I used to be a chronic planner purchaser. I would buy a planner whenever I felt like I wasn’t being productive enough. I would blame my old planner and think the solution was a new planner. Turns out, the planner wasn’t the key to the productivity. The key to productivity is simply putting your head down and doing the work. Easier said than done, right?
Start before the week begins: I’ve reoriented my weekends in the last few months. Sunday used to be my day of ultimate rest but I’ve recently shifted that day to Saturday. Saturday is my actual sabbath where I don’t do any work, don’t bother checking email or being “on.” I relax. I eat brunch. I sip my coffee slowly (after sleeping in). I spend time with Lane and friends.
It’s honestly my own fault that Sunday became more of a workday. A few months ago, I was failing to write the Monday Morning Email in advance and it ended up being a Sunday night task. I don’t recommend waiting until the last-minute but establishing Saturday as my Sabbath has freed me up to do a little work on Sunday. That might seem crazy but a) I love my work and I am happy to do it any day of the week and b) I really love getting a head start on a Sunday evening. It relieves the pressure that so often comes with a Monday.
Diversify the tasks: I write it all down. Everything. Writing down only the big tasks can be overwhelming and writing down just the little ones seems trivial. When I look at my list, I am able to choose. I can choose to dive into a big task I know I want to tackle or I can start getting into the workflow by tackling something little. I don’t scale my tasks in order of importance. If it makes the list then that means it is important to try and accomplish the task that week.
People, Plans & Projects: This is what matters most to me. I wrote a blog about it last year if you want to know more about how I manage my priorities in these 3 areas!
Eat the frog: My friend Christina told me about this method and it really is a game changer. Look at your own to-do list (if you’ve got one). Locate the task that is the most important but also the one you’re most likely to procrastinate on. That’s your frog. Your frog is the thing that NEEDS to get done and may even take only 10 minutes to do but you’ve been dreading it. Don’t delay any longer. Do that thing. Make it happen. I try to “eat the frog” every week, early in the week. It helps me look forward to the tasks on my to-do list rather than dreading the things I have to do that week.
Airplane mode: This is a huge key to having a productive week. Be willing to turn off the noise to plug-in and be productive. Social media is great but does it really make you more productive? When was the last time watching other people live their “best lives” helped you go out there and tackle Monday? I use airplane mode heavily throughout my weeks. Social media can wait.
I am very productive: Ever get to the end of the week and feel like you’ve done nothing? This hack helps you defeat that feeling. I can look back on the last few weeks and see all I’ve done, all I’ve accomplished, and all I’ve managed to steward well. It’s pure proof that I am productive, moving forward, and making little dents in my corner of the world.
I am planning to let this system evolve and change in the next few weeks so let me know in the comments if this was helpful or you want me to write more about these productivity hacks and systems. I am always happy to share my process as I grow and learn!