Productivity can be an elusive creature.
How do some people seem to get so much done in life, yet others feel like they’re busy running everywhere and still don’t have much to show for it?
Here’s a secret: Everyone is busy.
We let other people set our priorities before we even know what we need to get done. We want to do 10 million other things, but we never seem to have the time to even eat.
I know how it is. If you’ve ever felt frantic, or like you want to get a grasp on your life but you aren’t sure where to start, you’re in the right place.
Here, I will explain what I’ve done to take back my life, focus on my goals, and get shit done.
Set your priorities to focus your productivity
Picture a jar. This jar represents your life energy and time. Here, it will represent how you fill your schedule.
In this jar, you need to fit large rocks, pebbles, and top it off with sand.
If you try to fill the jar starting with the sand first, it is unlikely that you will be able to fit all of the pebbles and big rocks in, because the sand has already displaced a large amount of available volume in the jar. This available volume represents the time you have in a day or week.
However, if you start by placing the big rocks in the jar first, then place the pebbles on top, and pour the sand in last, you can make everything fit.
Have you ever seen someone who seems like they have everything under control in life and they get it all done? This is how they do it. They start with the big rocks first.
Start with your most important, non-negotiable activities
What activities are most important for you to get done each day? Each week?
The most important activities are your big rocks. You need to fill up your philosophical “Jar of Life” with the big rocks first.
Schedule your non-negotiable, must-happen activities first. This way, you can be sure that they will make it in your schedule.
My big-rock activities:
- Work (I have to be there between certain hours every day)
- Exercise/Running Workouts
- Family Time
- Eating Meals
- Transitions (Showering, getting ready for work, driving to work, driving home)
Next, schedule your productive activities that you want to happen
These activities are your pebbles. They are the things that you won’t die if they don’t happen, and you could drop them in the event of an emergency, but you REALLY want to get them in. Most of the activities that bring me closer to my goals are in this category. They get put on the calendar next.
My pebble activities:
- Online business and Running My Best Life blog
- School/homework (I’m currently working on my master’s degree)
- Skiing or special weekend activities
- Reading (usually before bed)
- Other goals I’m pursuing
Now it’s time to schedule all the other activities
These ones aren’t quite important enough for the above categories, or they don’t take as much time. It’s all the little things that you can use to fill in the gaps around the bigger items in your schedule.
My sand activities:
- Paying bills/updating our budget (This will always happen and it is important, it just doesn’t take very much time because we have most of our finances on auto-pilot with automatic transfers)
- Watching television, Football games or Netflix
- Naps (I freaking love naps, but I rarely have time for them…)
- Grocery shopping/meal planning
- Social events
- Other random tasks or errands that come up
Set Long-Term, Mid-Term, and Short-Term Goals to increase your productivity
If you start with the big things you want to accomplish in your life, and then structure your schedule around those things, it will increase your productivity and help you reach those goals!
Start with your biggest goals.
My long-term goals usually start at one year out, but I have a few major goals that go out farther than one year. The big picture goals usually are between 2-5 years, but some may be even longer. You need to know what your big, hairy audacious goals are before you can get to work on them.
Here are a few of my large, multi-year goals that I’ve already accomplished, a few I’m still working on, and some for the future:
- Become consumer debt-free
- Complete my Bachelor’s degree
- Complete my Master’s degree
- Become a commissioned officer
- Save the down-payment for our new house, plus closing costs and cash to finish the basement
- Pay off our house and be completely debt-free
- Become financially independent (Passive income streams eliminate the necessity of working for a living)
These goals are all pretty massive, and they take consistent action over more than one year to accomplish. They usually funnel down into my annual goals.
Next, focus on what you want to do this year.
Here are a few of my goals for 2019:
- Contribute 15% of our income into retirement accounts
- Save $25,000 towards our house
- Complete 3 courses towards my MBA with a 3.9 or higher GPA
- Complete 3 half marathons with at least one finish time under 2:10:00
- Read 12 personal development books
- Keep blogging for 1 year solid (with at least 1 new post each week)
For a more in-depth discussion of my 2019 goals and why I set each one, head over to my New Year’s post.
Annual goals are a great way to set a focus for the year, and from there it is easy to break them down into smaller quarterly and monthly goals. After you have your monthly goals, you can break them down into daily or weekly action items that will lead you right up to accomplishing your goal.
For example, if I want to read 12 personal development books in a year, I need to read 1 book per month. After I know that I want to reach 1 book each month, I can figure out how many pages I need to average each day. As a general rule, I read about 10 pages per day. Some days I read more, some days less. If I add in the Audiobooks I listen to, I usually finish 2-3 books per month.
Another example is my running goals. For each half marathon planned, I schedule out my training plan 12 weeks before. That plan breaks down what I need to do each day to be ready for my half marathon on its scheduled date.
If I follow a plan, I know I will reach my goals.
If each small goal aligns with a bigger goal, accomplishing your smaller goals/daily actions will lead you right up to accomplishing your bigger goals!
Sometimes the consistent small, daily actions can seem somewhat boring. I discussed what this feels like “In the Grind” during week 5 of my spring half marathon training plan.
Keep Track of Your Schedule
How can you be productive with your time and run your life if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing at a given point in the day?
I actually keep track of my schedule in 2 different ways.
First, I have a paper weekly at-a-glance calendar that I take with me everywhere. I write work meetings, appointments, and school deadlines in this calendar. It is open in front of me at work and at home. This way, I can always keep track of what is going on and where I need to be.
Second, I utilize the concept of time-blocking with a Google calendar. Google calendar is useful for this because it already has all the hours in a day. All I need to do is fill in those hours with the necessary activities of my daily life.
First, I fill in sleep. Sleep is a non-negotiable activity for me. I need to go to bed early enough that I can get up early and feel refreshed.
Then, I fill in the hours that I need to be at work. This activity is another non-negotiable that I need to do in order to get paid and keep my job (I prefer to keep getting paid!).
After that, I fill in the time it takes me to get ready, commute to work, and commute home from work. My workouts are scheduled next, on the 6 days of each week that I plan to run or cross train.
I was actually surprised at this point to see how many large chunks of time were still left in my schedule.
All the non-negotiable basics were in, and there was still a ton of time each week!
That isn’t the end though, I still have to schedule family time, time to work on my blog, and time to work on my Master’s degree. Once I got those activities in, most of my weekdays were completely full. I like to keep my weekends more open.
Weekends are where I can schedule events if there is anything happening like a 5k, half marathon, group run, or meeting friends. Also, my husband and I tend to do all of our grocery shopping, house cleaning, and other life organization on the weekends. If we don’t have anything scheduled for the weekend, I can use that time to catch up on homework or blog work.
If everything is caught-up, I can just relax!
Make Productivity To-Do Lists (And check them off)
To-do lists are seriously my favorite.
I keep on-going to-do lists on my computer and phone using Microsoft OneNote. These are the longer version of my items that need to get done in the next week or two.
My more immediate to-do items are written on a sticky note and kept in my paper calendar. This list usually has items that need to be done within the next couple days, and I re-write the list 2-3 times per week as I check most of the items off and need to add more.
By checking items off your list, you get the satisfaction of accomplishing something that moves you closer to your goals.
I LOVE checking action items off my to-do list, because I know that I’m using my time wisely and moving towards accomplishing my goals. The actions on my list are the things that need to get done to skyrocket my productivity!
Have you ever heard the phrase, “You are what you eat”?
Well, I like to say “You are what you think.”
As a person, you are a collection of what you think, say, and do. Your thoughts become your words and your words become your actions. Therefore, You are what you think.
If we are what we think, then it becomes incredibly important to control what we think. How do you control what you think? By feeding your mind with positive, nourishing ideas.
Read Personal Development Books
I mentioned in the goal-setting section that one of my goals is to read one personal development book per month. This keeps my mind actively working to make my life better. Whether it be in the realm of personal finance, business, leadership, relationships, running, or nutrition, I love to consume and dissect new ideas. Furthermore, these books feed my mind with positive thoughts.
Here are some great books I’ve read recently:
- Grit by Angela Duckworth
- Everyday Millionaires by Chris Hogan
- 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
As you can see, these books cover many different life topics, but each topic is an important aspect of life.
Podcasts Inspire Productivity
Podcasts are also another great way to educate yourself and surround yourself with like-minded positive thinkers, even if you don’t have many positive people that surround you in your daily life. When you think more positive, you become more productive.
If you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with, then you can artificially spend more time with successful people you want to emulate by listening on their podcast conversations and interviews.
These are the podcasts I keep on my favorites list:
- BiggerPockets Money Podcast
- Marathon Training Academy
- Design Your Dream Life with Natalie Bacon
- Laptop Empires Podcast
- The Chris Hogan Show
- Afford Anything
Now, are you ready to run your life like a boss?
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About Me: I’m Alexis, Founder of RunningMyBestLife! I am an avid recreational runner, half marathoner, wife, dog mom, busy professional, downhill skier in Northern Utah. My mission is to help new enthusiasts fall in love with the sport of running. I believe that running is a catalyst to taking control of your life and living your best life by design. Learn More –>