This year is not going to be like last year. We’re going to achieve things, and hopefully by the time 2018 rolls around we’ll able to honestly say that did something productive.
But where to start?
Below is a list of popular ways to help you become productive and organised. You can do one or all of them, and some may work better for you than others. But the idea is to make it easier to push yourself to do things which are difficult, time-consuming and boring but will help you in the long run.
1. Download helpful apps
There are tonnes of habit forming apps available for free at the moment. You set a goal, they remind you of it every day, and it helps you to track whether you have been successful in achieving that goal. Plus, they help make the whole process a little bit more fun.
Here's our pick of the top four apps available at the moment.
2. Start a bullet journal
A bullet journal is a mix between a diary, a planner, and an organiser. The basic idea is that you mark down what you have done every day in bullet points, while also noting anything else you want, like whether you’ve exercised, or if you avoided smoking. You can personalise it to do whatever you’d like.
Here’s an outline of how to put together a bullet journal.
3. Use the Two-Minute Rule
From the book Getting Things Done by David Allen, the basic premise is that in order to not let things build up or get too stressed, you should do things as you go.
Specifically, if a task will take two minutes or less to do, don’t put it off. Do it now instead. This applies to things like answering emails and putting away you clothes at night.
You’ll free up space to think and all these things won’t build up or seem so daunting.
The book has lots of other organisation suggestions you should check out.
4. Use the Pomodoro Technique
Tonnes of people swear by using Pomodoros. It is a time-management method where you:
- Decide on the task to be done
- Set the Pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes)
- Work on the task until the timer rings. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down, but immediately get back on task
- After the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 1
- After four Pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1
There are loads of apps which you can download that have Pomodoro timers.
The idea is that you stay completely focussed for the 25 minutes, taking short breaks, rather than what people normally do which is attempt to focus until they can’t concentrate anymore.
It also makes you feel like you’re achieving something by consciously marking units of time spent working.
5. Try the ‘Don’t Break The Chain’ trick from Seinfeld
This simple technique relies on one premise: you don’t want to break a streak.
Pick one-four tasks you want to do every day and set a minimum amount you want to achieve from that task, whether that’s to work at it for 15 minutes or to have achieved a small milestone (write 500 words, walk 1,000 steps). The idea is achieving a small amount every day is better than avoiding the task most days and then doing a big burst every so often.
You should also have a back-up plan for what to do if the reason for breaking the streak can’t be helped, like illness.
6. Put together an old-fashioned to-do list
There is nothing more satisfying than ticking things off a list when you’ve done it.
While there are tonnes of list apps available, and they can be very handy on the go.
The most effective list I ever had was when I was studying for exam. I broke all the tasks down into doable items (for example, put together notes on Battle of The Bulge vs study WWII), divided the lists up by subject, used coloured pens to draw my eye then stuck the lists up on the wall of my room where they were clearly visible. This kept me focussed for the next few months.
Other effective uses I’ve seen was the day to day list. Instead of a long list with no timeline, with the day to day list you rewrite long-term tasks, like cleaning or exercising, everyday so that it remains fresh. You still get the joy of crossing them off, but they don’t disappear.
7. Learn a routine
This is the oldest hack in the book.
One of the big problems with trying to put in place resolutions, like exercising more, is that it always seems like you’re trying to find some time in the day to do it.
The advantage of a routine is that you do it without thinking. Even annoying and tedious things become natural. This is how we convince ourselves to brush our teeth, take our medication and eat a good breakfast.
Think about the routines you currently have and find a way to add whatever habit you want to your routine. For example, with exercising, make it part of your morning routine or make sure to pass the gym on your way home from work.