Unless something truly catastrophic and unexpected happens, in one more day, we will have successfully completed another trip around the sun. Per the norm, people around the world are beginning to reflect on another year passed. While most people are marking yet another amazing calendar year complete, it’s easy to get caught up on some minor details that keep this year from being the best ever. Maybe your favorite pants are fitting a little tighter than they once did, you didn’t pay as much on those student loans as you had hoped, or you didn’t make enough to buy that Ferrari you promised yourself.
Whatever the case, making New Year’s resolutions is an activity millions around the world partake in. Those very resolutions are also broken and forgotten by most just weeks or days into the new year. It never fails and there is a perfect explanation why. Many people want to fix a problem without first addressing the real issues at hand.
For instance, losing weight is by and large one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. Instead of just generalizing the resolution as trying to lose weight or going to the gym, begin by asking yourself why it is that you are overweight or unhappy with your weight. Is it the food you eat? Is it the lack of exercise? Is it both? If you do not understand the root of the problem, get a grasp on the situation, and manage your expectations (namely that weight loss typically does not happen overnight), you will likely see a lack of progress and find yourself in the same rut year after year.
This is what happens when you use a generalized solution to a generalized problem.
If I were to say I wanted to be more productive this coming year, I can’t just be more productive on a whim. I have to do specific things that will make me more productive.
So if you, like me, are setting some New Year’s resolutions and want to be more productive next year, here are five awesome ways to make that happen.
1. Take time each week for digital housecleaning
Adding items you want to get done to your to-do list may seem like a no-brainer, but it is actually one of the biggest fall-off areas for me. If I get behind on adding items to my to-do list, I eventually fall into this funk where I don’t get as much done and where I am far more lenient on letting things – that I know need to be done – slide.
What I have learned from the GTD methodology (which I still have not fully implemented – I know, for shame!) is that the more I add to my to-do list, the more I actually get done, not only because I add a ton of menial tasks, but because it forces me to take a step back and evaluate everything that is currently on my plate and assign priority levels. I can see and constantly remind myself of things I need to do in weeks or months from now without having to carry the burden of remembering myself. I wake up each morning with a full list of tasks that I know I need to get done before I go to bed and which items on that list can be pushed back a day, if need be.
What I like to do is throw new, smaller tasks in my to-do list as they occur, several times per day. At the very least, I like to take some time before I go to bed to get my following day’s schedule in order. I do this five to six times every week.
Once per week, I plan for an entire week. I gather all the larger tasks that I knew need to be completed and pick a time and day for each task. These items, I tend to change on the fly throughout the week, but having them on my to-do list to begin with helps immensely in getting everything done.
That said, preparing a to-do list isn’t the only thing that helps. I like to schedule time every week – at most, two or three hours – to organize my digital life, to get all the services and apps I regularly use back in order.
If you are anything like me, you create a massive wake of clutter and destruction in your path as you work. My Evernote account gets thrashed and messy throughout the week, so I like to take time out of the beginning of every week to organize it again, to add tags and properly place each note in the proper notebook or stack. I also take this time to track the growth of my YouTube channel and Podcast analytics, read reviews, respond to Patreon messages, and to simply get everything in my digital live organized.
By accident, I learned just how much setting aside time for this organization each week helps me stay on top of things. Again, it may seem like common sense, but thinking it and doing it are two entirely different things with entirely different results. Putting this into action will give you a greater sense of control over your increasingly digital life.
2. Stick to a rigid sleep schedule
Out of all the items on this list, this is the most difficult, at least for me. Sleeping is something I’ve struggled with since I graduated high school. Immediately after graduating, I took a 40-hour per week third-shift job while going to college with 17 credit hours. On most days, this allowed me to sleep between three and four hours from 5:00 and 9:00 PM.
After quitting that job just two months later, I’ve struggled to establish a solid sleep regimen. I’ve been trying to nail down a solid sleep schedule for the last few weeks to no avail. Currently, I lay down when I get sleepy (around 2:00 AM) and wake up out of pure necessity around 8:00 AM every day. This isn’t exactly ideal for me and I plan to fix this by implementing a regular sleep schedule.
I do know that I felt more refreshed during the times I woke up and went to sleep at the same time every day. Sleep actually felt rejuvenating and, in the morning, left me feeling rested and ready for the day.
The troubling part is how much conflicting information and tips there are pertaining to resetting your internal clock. Some say it’s a poor idea to exercise before bed, but I’ve always found it tires me when I would normally be wide awake. Some recommend against napping, but I’ve found it has little to no affect on how or when I sleep.
The best and only tip I’m willing to give in this area is to be strict about it. Set a time you want to wake up every morning (including weekends), count backwards seven or eight hours, and stick to it – every day. This is something I will be implementing as soon as these year-end holidays are over.
3. Create a morning routine
A few months ago, I created a morning routine and immediately felt the effects of performing the same steps each morning. When I wake up, I:
• Let out the dogs and feed them
• Take a shower
• Get dressed
• Make some coffee and eat a small breakfast
• Check and respond to email
• Read the news and share a few interesting stories
• Post to social media for Dilworth
All of these tasks are in Todoist and marked completed within 45 minutes of waking up.
I started this morning routine by completing the bare essentials – taking a shower, letting the dogs out, and getting dressed – in a specific time window. Then I added more, less important items over time. Once I establish a solid sleep schedule, I also will assign a more rigid timeline to these tasks and complete them all by 6:30 each morning. I also plan to get more specific and add some tasks to the list.
The idea behind a replicable morning routine is to establish at least some semblance of normality in our crazy, ever-changing lives. It’s also helpful to start early, as countless studies have found that willpower is a resource that diminishes throughout the day.
Most of my morning tasks are simple and quick, but adding more important items, like writing scripts or creating content will eventually creep into my routine as I wake up earlier and add items to my routine. This is something I have experienced firsthand countless times and you doubtless have, too. Assigning more difficult and important tasks to the early hours will help your day move along much more smoothly.
4. Take more breaks
Take breaks. Many of us power on our work machines every morning and don’t look away until it’s time for lunch. We sit hunched over, sipping on some coffee, and never break eye-contact with our backlit monitors. This is terrible for your health, body, and mind.
For starters, when sitting for 90 minutes or more, the blood flow behind your knees decreases by 50 percent, says Professor Beverley Hunt, consultant in haematology at Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospitals in London. This can cause deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and lead to life threatening blood clots. Sitting for long stretches of time has also been linked to shortened life expectancies and other health-related problems, which is why many who are often glued to computer screens for hours a day have opted for standing desks.
Though it varies by person, personal productivity tapers off after a stretch of time. For some, it’s 45 minutes. For others, it may be two hours. Once you nail down what the extent of your own productivity is, set a timer when you begin working and take a break – for five to 10 minutes – for every cycle of that time period in your work day. I, for example, take a five-minute break every 55 minutes using the Mac app BreakTime.
What you do on these breaks is entirely up to you. Go for a short walk, take a quick nap, doodle, etc. All that is important is that you disengage your mind and stretch your legs. Get the blood flowing again and do something else for a short while.
I usually prefer to go to the restroom, refill my coffee, ride my skateboard around for a minute, or grab a quick snack. I also take breaks as a time to relocate, change scenery, and sometimes stand while I work (though my standing desk is no longer assembled).
Just note that while taking naps is extremely helpful, taking naps that are too long can be counterintuitive, leaving you with what experts call sleep inertia, or a hangover-like feeling worse than you felt before you napped. If you choose to nap, keep it to 20 minutes or less.
Regardless what you choose to do on these breaks, you will come back to your work feeling refreshed and more attentive than you would be had you just trudged through the productivity slump.
5. Set short-term and long-term goals
The last tip I’m going to borrow from another Todoist guest writer, Josh Medeski. Earlier this month, he wrote How to Have the Most Productive Year of Your Life, in which he recommends setting long-term (12-month) and short-term (6-week) goals based on the SMART criteria (goals which are Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related).
After all, what are we working towards? We’re doing menial and important tasks all day … for what? It’s important to address what we’re working towards, but it’s equally important to set goals which are attainable. I could write down that I want to buy an Lamborghini Aventador by the end of 2015, but is that actually possible? It’s not impossible, but it isn’t very likely either.
Rather, I should write down the milestones that I want to pass with my YouTube channel and podcast in the next month and by year’s end, revenue goals for my projects for the same time frames, and personal weight loss goals, like losing 10 lbs. by the end of January.
Stick to it
The most important part of every New Year’s resolution is not only actually doing it, but sticking to it over months. Most New Year’s resolutions are broken, without thought, after just a few weeks. If you can be strict enough to force yourself to stick with these resolutions through February, you will feel more in charge of your own personal productivity. You will begin to feel the changes taking place, see how you’ve improved from the previous year, and adapt these habits to better suit your lifestyle.
For me, all of these things that I already do have evolved over the last six months from just an idea to a developed plan and something I don’t actively think about anymore. I just do many of these things out of habit. Adding items to my to-do list used to be a chore, now it’s something I do without hesitation or resistance – it’s something that makes the following day easier. And for the first time ever, the New Year’s resolutions I’ve written down don’t feel like a complete waste of time. I actually look forward to improving my health and productivity. With more control over your personal productivity, you will, too.