11 Secrets to Getting More Done

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I am not one of those full-of-energy, get-a-million-things-done-in-a-day types. So when I told my family and friends I planned to quit my full-time job to start freelancing on my own, I wasn’t met with a rush of support.

In fact, I heard things like: “You know, being self-employed is really hard work.” “Do you think you’re organized enough for something like that?” And my personal favorite, “Well, at least you’ll get to take those afternoon naps you love.”

That was almost eight years ago. Today, I’m still freelancing and I get a lot more done in a day than I used to. It took some trial and error, but I found a few ways to power through and still have time to do the stuff I enjoy. Here are some tips:

1. Keep multilevel to-do lists

I’m a huge believer in to-do lists, but a long, cluttered mess of everything you want to accomplish will only make you feel bogged down. To keep things organized, group your to-do lists into categories. For example, I have a work to-do list organized by projects that need completed, business meetings and emails, and accounting tasks. I also have a separate personal to-do list organized by chores, errands and appointments.

2. Prioritize

If your to-do list is three pages long, you’re probably creating too many tasks for yourself. I struggle with this myself. I’ll write down everything from an important meeting to laundry. Then, when I can’t get to all of it, I feel frustrated. To combat this, I write down everything I think I should do in a week, and then I go back and cross out what really doesn’t matter. Do I need to write down laundry? Probably not. I’ll just do it when I run out of clean underwear anyway. After that process, my list is focused and I get a little mental boost from already having tasks checked off.

3. Use a timer

Most people are guilty of distracting themselves and procrastinating. At least once a day I’ll catch myself checking for a new blog post on Hyperbole and a Half, reading through The Atlantic’s archives, or trying for the 300th time to beat a level in Candy Crush Saga. I should be working, but I also want to use my Candy Bomb. To cut down on distractions I use an online timer. For 60 minutes, I can’t do anything but work on the task at hand. After the timer goes off, I give myself leeway and try the level for the 301st time.

4. Own your email

If your email box is bursting at the seams, you can’t remember what needs an answer, or you can’t find something important, you’re going to feel overwhelmed. Instead, resolve to empty your inbox every day before you head home. Set a time to check your email, and act on it as soon as you open it. Answer it and delete it, or put it on your to-do list for later and file it away.

5. Delegate

Doing tasks yourself can save money, but remember: Time — not money — is the most valuable resource you have. If you’d have to spend all weekend learning how to repair a leak in your AC unit or you have to head home early to mow your lawn, consider delegating the task to someone else. Save your time for stuff you enjoy and excel at.

6. Eat your frogs

This saying has often been attributed to Mark Twain:

If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.

Most of us avoid the things we don’t want to do and we keep putting them off, which causes more stress. Instead, learn to tackle your least favorite task first thing in the morning. Once it’s out of the way, the dread won’t slow you down anymore and you’ll get more accomplished.

7. Make a playlist

Music can work wonders for your productivity. I’ve found that if I listen to music that makes me happy at work, I’m better at my job. If I listen to music that makes me feel calm, I have an easier time doing chores at home. Find your tunes, make a playlist, and let the music help you get through the day.

8. Purge your time sucks

Take a hard look at your obligations and ask yourself, “Am I doing this because I want to or because I feel like I should?” If you’re doing something because you feel obligated or haven’t gotten around to quitting, give it up.

9. Sleep

Make sure you get a good night’s rest. Don’t sacrifice sleep just to get more done. After a while, you’ll burn out and actually get less done.

10. Track your time

One of the best things I’ve done for myself is tracking my time. For a week I wrote down everything I did and how long I spent doing it. After the week was up, I looked at the results and could clearly see that I was spending too much time on a variety of tasks.

11. Unplug

You will work better and get more done if you give yourself time to unplug and unwind. At least once a day, shut off your email, stop checking social networks, and do something you love. Whenever you have vacation time, take it, even if you just stay home. Giving yourself time to recharge really will pay off.

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  • Becky Bentrim

    All good advice. I especially like the Mark Twain quote. I just might print that out and post it in my cubicle.

    Your comment about email has its pros and cons. Sometimes I find myself needing an email that I had previous deleted and so I stopped deleting most emails. This makes things really crowded – unless you use folders or labels. For work, I have an outlook email and I love the fact that I can color-coordinate my emails. I mark them when I finish the task, but the email is still there if I need to go back. Very helpful.

    I like the idea of a timer. Never tried that for work. I remember dreading the timer when I had to practice piano. Definitely going to try that out. Great article.

  • Deda Peterson

    Just the jumpstart I needed! Thank you!!