Do you start every new year like I do, with a long list of things you want to accomplish in the following twelve months? Wouldn’t you love to look back on the passing year next December, having actually completed a large portion of that list? What follows are nineteen habits that can help those dreams become a reality.
We tend to over-estimate the time required to do a dreaded task, and under-estimate the amount of work we can accomplish in incremental units. Stop putting it off and just do it. (James 4:17)
Make a schedule.
This needn’t be rigid and inflexible, just a barebones game plan for your day, a general idea of what you plan to do and when you plan to do it. As Alan Lakein so sensibly observed, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” (Proverbs 16:9)
Never skip the most important meal of the day, as it will provide the energy you need to greet the day’s responsibilities with vim and vigor. Be sure to include complex carbohydrates, for staying power that will carry you till lunchtime. (John 21:12)
Aerobic exercise increases your energy reserves, so get your heart pumping. You’ll expend a little effort upfront, but you’ll build your endurance and ward off fatigue in the long run. (1 Timothy 4:8)
Don’t pack your schedule so full that you leave yourself no time to rest and reflect and recharge. Such times of relaxation are vital to our health and well-being, which is the whole concept behind Sabbath observation. Margin also leaves room for unexpected interruptions and unforeseen emergencies. (Exodus 34:21)
Review your goals.
Zig Ziglar once said, “Don’t count the stuff you do, do the stuff that counts.” Make sure the goals you’re pursuing line up with your core priorities and values. Remind yourself of these things often, and stay focused on what’s really important. (Philippians 3:13-14)
If you’re a morning person, get up early and tackle important tasks then. If you do better in the evening after little ones are in bed and the house is quiet, then be a productive night owl. When your energy starts to sag, take a break (or take a nap). Go for a jog, grab a cup of tea, or catch forty winks, then return to work with renewed vitality and clear thinking. (Proverbs 31:15-18)
Perfectionism is often at odds with productivity. In fact, sometimes perfectionism can be downright paralyzing. I’m all for pursuing excellence, but some of our responsibilities warrant less attention to detail than others. We must tend to trivial tasks quickly and efficiently if we want to have the time and energy we’ll need to do our most important work well. (Matthew 23:23)
Put On Some Music.
For physical labor, tune into something upbeat and energizing; if you’re doing mental work, try something calming and classical. Listening to music in the OR improves surgeons’ job performance, and the same principle may hold true for you. (2 Chronicles 5:13)
Forgive those who wrong you.
Don’t harbor bitterness or nurse grudges. You’ll waste a lot of valuable time perseverating over past offenses. Fully forgive offenders: just let it go and move on. (Colossians 3:13)
Turn off the T.V.
The average American watches five hours of television a day. If you fall into that category, flip the switch. You can pack a lot of productivity into five hours a day. When you’re on your deathbed, I guarantee you won’t be lamenting, “Why, oh why, didn’t I ever watch that last season of Survivor?” (Psalm 101:3)
I don’t know about you, but I find it terribly distracting when I’m trying to work to receive a constant stream of bells, whistles, dings, and other alerts notifying me about new emails, texts, tweets, and Facebook messages. I make a lot more progress on my writing when I turn off the wireless connection to do it. Likewise, anytime I need to focus on a task at hand (like schooling my children) with minimal interruptions, I leave my iPhone on my nightstand, my laptop on my desk, and let the answering machine deal with any calls that come across the land line. (Hebrews 12:1)
Got a problem? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. If something isn’t working, try a new approach. Don’t just keep doing what you’ve always done, expecting better results next time. (Wasn’t that Einstein’s definition of insanity?) What are you trying to accomplish? How can you make it happen? Unleash your creativity. Dream big. Then come up with a plan to accomplish those dreams. (Proverbs 16:1)
Set a timer.
Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work that needs to be done? Break it down into manageable chunks. Set a timer for ten (or twenty or thirty) minutes, delve in with gusto, and see how much you can knock out before the buzzer sounds. (Proverbs 13:4)
If looming deadlines stress you out, pace yourself. Start early and give yourself plenty of time to finish the task without rushing. My sister has successfully used this strategy since grade school, and I’ve seldom ever seen her flustered. (Luke 14:28-30)
If you work well under pressure, capitalize on that fact. Tack as many extras onto your “to do” list as you can think of, then race the clock to see how many you can finish before time is up. I do this whenever we host a party. My “must do’s” (send invites, clean house, prepare food) are invariably followed by a slew of “want to’s” (paint kitchen, redo landscaping, sew curtains, clean attic). I never finish everything on the extended list before the guests arrive, but I usually accomplish far more than those few items on my short list. (Philippians 4:13, Ephesians 3:20-21)
Sometimes doing two things at once is smart and efficient: If you have a long daily commute, it makes good sense to listen audio-books or language tapes while driving. If you’re facing a long wait at the doctor’s office, by all means bring along a book to read or some knitting to do or some papers to grade. At other times, however, multi-tasking is foolish, dangerous, or just plain rude: Texting while driving? Not smart. Checking stocks in the middle of church services? Don’t do it. Perusing Facebook during family dinners? Think again. Pocket your phone and connect with the people seated around your table instead. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)
Show kindness and consideration to everyone. Be as helpful to others as possible. Be generous with your time and money. It may sound counterintuitive, but showing uncommon courtesy is not only right and good from an ethical standpoint, it is also smart and savvy from an efficiency standpoint. Sure, it requires a little extra time and effort upfront, but it pays off in the long run. When you are terse and rude and cold toward others, not only are they disinclined to help you, but they’ll often work actively against you. You will be thwarted at every step, and everything you try to accomplish will be undermined by your own insolence. By contrast, when you are warm and caring and helpful toward others, that kindness will neither go unnoticed nor unrewarded. What goes around, comes around. We reap what we sow. (Proverbs 19:17; 2 Corinthians 9:6)
Say a prayer.
Although I’m ending my list with this, prayer should really be our starting point. Martin Luther’s approach to an unusually busy day was not to skimp on his quiet time with the Lord, but to extend it: “I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.” He knew his only hope for accomplishing everything on his agenda was divine empowerment. I don’t think in all my life I’ve ever spent three continuous hours on my knees, but I can testify that my days do go more smoothly, and far more gets done by the end of them, when I begin my mornings with Bible study and prayer. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Those are my tips for being more productive. What helpful hints would you add to this list?