If you clicked on this article because you were you thinking, “I’ve been lazy, I haven’t gotten enough done recently, I need to do better …” Here’s your warning: This article will not cover how to “be better”. Thanks to the help of Productivity Coach Melissa Gratias, we recently found out you can’t be more productive unless you show kindness to your current self. So instead of saying all the things you should be doing, say, “thank you, me” for opening up this article to learn.
Being productive is a long-term strategy, not a short-term fix. In fact, Gratias told us it’s often the most successful people who feel the least productive. Usually overworked or overwhelmed, her clients seeking help often have a tendency for perfectionism. Sound familiar? Well, whatever your personality may be, the tips below will help you build a realistic and reusable foundation as you work toward your goals.
Melissa Gratias, PhD
For more than 20 years, Gratias has coached and consulted for multinational, billion-dollar companies as well as individual solopreneurs to help improve productivity. She creates workable systems so people can accomplish their professional goals in less time and with less stress.
1. Start With a Happy File
A personal goal or work project can feel daunting to start, especially if you’re lacking motivation. An easier way to begin is starting with self-reflection. “Remind yourself how much you’ve already accomplished first because it’s a fantastic motivator,” Gratias shared. But how? Start saving (even printing!) those emails where your boss compliments your work. Got a nice text from someone about you? Save it. How about a performance review that says you’re an asset to the team? Or a love note from your partner? Take these “happy files” and store them somewhere you can easily refer back to on a regular basis. “Your file can look like anything—my notes are printed out on my closet door and I look at it every morning,” Gratias said. Not a bad way to start the day!
2. Create Progress Timelines, Not Numerical Lists
Now, we’re not saying a daily to-do list isn’t helpful or to throw out your daily planner because this next piece of advice can work for daily tasks. Here, we’re learning how to manage our energy and make the most of milestones. “It’s about filling the gap between where you are and where you want to be, when you work the best,” Gratias said. Let’s learn how to do it:
- Start by mapping out how long this goal or project will take. Look at the calendar, then write in the start and end dates.
- Determine small milestones that you need to fill in along the way. Think tactically: If your goal is to get a new job by December 2022, your first milestone may be to update your resume by end of June 2022. The next one in early July may be to have the resume peer reviewed. If you have multiple work projects, determine when you can actually work on them instead of just writing down that you have to do them.
- Now, most importantly, when you go to pick these task dates, consider your energy: What hours and days are you more likely to get this done? If you’re better at writing in the morning, block off that time to get any written correspondence or writing assignments done. If you are working on a passion project, can you commit to 30 minutes every Tuesday evening after work? Most importantly, don’t schedule yourself to do something on a Friday afternoon if most Friday afternoons you’re checked out or tired. Consider holidays, birthdays, etc. Ask yourself when you can realistically get something completed by.
“Avoid setting yourself up to fail. Schedule tasks for when you have the most energy, not during your low-energy moments,” Gratias said. She added an important reminder: “You want the best for yourself, and you’ll thank yourself for being proactive.”
3. Use a Buddy System
Buddy, pal, friend—call them what you want, but it’s time to pick someone to hold you accountable for meeting your goals. Why? We’re more likely to succeed if we’ve committed to someone else, but the “who” is key. Gratias shared the perfect combination, and research proves her theory:
“We crave connection, so I love recommending the buddy system. But choose someone who has a different skillset than you—someone who can challenge you. The best combination is someone you trust, look up to, and isn’t very similar in personality or skillset.” This allows you to see multiple perspectives and gain insight on how others manage their time.
You can reciprocate the ask, too. Most likely, this person has a goal they’re working toward too. Set up time where you can check in on each other’s progress. The more you check in, the more times you have to say, “I’m doing it” or “I’m not” and track your progress accordingly.
4. Use Task Management Tools Effectively
It’s easy to buy the cutest planner or weekly calendar, but don’t forget: We’re on a mission to be productive for the long term. This is why Gratias suggested a digital application for task management. “You want to be able to use it wherever you are, so it can be challenging if it’s on a Post-it.”
Now you’re wondering, what tools should I use? “Use what you have or at least start with the free versions”, Gratias said. She likes Outlook Tasks and Trello, but it doesn’t matter which one you use—just as long as you are tracking your progress and creating milestones instead of long lists. If you’re looking for more options, we suggest Evernote.
5. Don’t Work to Solve Problems You Don’t Have
We already know comparing ourselves to social media accounts can negatively affect us. So when it comes to comparing what you should be doing or how to do it, it’s important to ask yourself, “Do I really need to change?” “Productivity is knowing what not to do,” Gratais said. “If you don’t need a morning smoothie, don’t feel like you need to make one …if you’re only making your bed 80% of the time, that’s fine!” You don’t need to add things to your plate (literally and figuratively) just because someone else is on TikTok. “That Girl” followers, I’m looking at you. Start small, be realistic, and don’t forget to use your life as the main point of view.
Here, again, it’s important to follow your energy patterns and to design a system that makes sense for your lifestyle. In the long run, you’re setting yourself up for success, and that’s worth celebrating.