A few popular methods worth exploring include:
The Pomodoro Technique
How does it work: Developed by Francesco Cirilo in the late 1980’s, Francesco committed to short sprints of work, whilst using a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato.
The Pomodoro Technique involves:
- setting a timer for 25mins whilst you laser focus on one task until the timer rings
- when the timer rings, the session ends and you’ve completed one pomodoro. Write down what you achieved
- have a quick 5-minute break
- after completing 4 pomodoros, have a longer break of 20-25 mins
To use the Pomodoro method, you will need to estimate how many pomodoros you’ll need to complete each task. By using this method, you are forced to consider how long your tasks will take and plan accordingly. Often we do things without thinking beforehand about how long it’ll take, this method flips it around, giving you better clarity of how long tasks take to complete overall.
Works best for:
- People who enjoy working in shorter, very focused sprints, with frequent short breaks in between
- People who find it hard to focus for long periods of time
How does it work: This method is quite simple, you split your day into blocks of time with specific tasks dedicated to each block. It could be for a group of activities or goals, for example:
- Emails – blocking a time in your day to read and respond to emails so that you don’t end up looking at them throughout the day
- Make calls – group all calls you need to make today into one block
- Life admin – block out some time to do your personal admin
Works best for:
- People who are finding small tasks and interruptions which are making them unproductive
- Grouping similar or related tasks together, often called Task theming – allows you to group similar tasks together so that you don’t have to shift between. For example, group all your ‘writing’ tasks or ‘meetings’ together
- Allowing you to focus for longer sprints of work
Getting Things Done
How does it work: Getting Things Done was created by David Allen and is an all-encompassing productivity system. It aims to remove the pressure of having too much on your plate by getting your ideas out of your head, and into an organised system. The premise of GTD is to turn your thoughts, concerns, and to-do’s into smaller chunks of work that you can tackle straight away.
The basic stages of GTD method include:
- Brain dump: Literally write down everything you have to do. Don’t worry about the order, wording, the how’s and when’s. If you’re thinking about it, get it out of your mind and write it down.
- Clarify: Now we define the brain dump. Break them into specific smaller steps or tasks. Generally the smaller the step or task the better. Smaller tasks will feel less overwhelming.
- Organise: Time to prioritize your tasks. Add deadlines if you can. Categorize them into groups, types, or which larger goal they’ll help you achieve.
- Reflect and review: Look over your list regularly – aim for daily and weekly. If there are steps or tasks which are too vague, refine them further. Are there tasks that are no longer relevant? Remove them.
- Tackle: You are now ready to start working on your list! Go go go!
Works best for:
- People who may be feeling overwhelmed, and need a way to organize it
- Visual thinkers who benefit from seeing everything written down
Eat the Frog method
Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
How does it work: Luckily, no one is asking you to eat a frog! This method involves you identifying one important task for the day, and to do it first. This task could be the one with the looming deadline, or the one you want to avoid (your frog). It could also be the one that feels the most difficult. By tackling it head-on, you’ll not only get it done but also avoid the likelihood of procrastinating.
Works best for:
- ensuring you get the most important/difficult task done
- those who procrastinate often
Select a planning tool
Now that you’ve looked at a few different productivity methods, it’s time to consider your tools. Like methods, when it comes to tools, there are a lot of options and a few things to remember:
- You are not limited to one tool. Use as many as you need that are a fit for the task, how you work, and your personal preferences
- You can move between tools
- Your preferences may change
The digital route
A natural inclination for those of us who are tech-savvy, there are a few digital options to consider.
A digital task manager allows users to have everything in one place and accessible from anywhere. There are tools that are all encompassing, allowing you to upload files, have reminders, filters, etc, then there are tools that are more focused on helping you complete your tasks.
A tool like Todoist, will allow you to record all of your tasks. Allow you to brain dump everything, categorize, use filters and upload relevant files.
A tool like Llama Life, will help you to focus specifically on the moment, one task at a time. With features including soundscapes, task timers, different alarms, preset lists, and end time, Llama Life helps you to laser focus on the task at hand.
Depending on how you work, it may be worth considering a method where you use one or two (or more) digital tools. The key is to find a tool/s which:
- is not overwhelming for you to use
- doesn’t take more effort or time for you to use
- you enjoy using
Pen & paper
For those of us who are more tactile, pen and paper is still a great way to go. There are endless possibilities of notebooks, diaries, agendas, or specialized planners to choose from with every aesthetic you can imagine. You could also design your own and print it if you like!
Some food for thought regarding pen & paper:
- avoid using anything loose. You will lose them! You also won’t be able to reflect and review your progress
- watch your handwriting. If it’s very messy or you find it hard to read, this method may not work for you
- they take up space. Before long that notebook will be full and you’ll need to replace it. You may go through a few notebooks a month so they will start accumulating!
Keep at it
Now that you’ve got a way to organize your tasks and priorities, as well as a method to work through your list – how do you stick to it?
Firstly, let’s face the fact that your day will never go exactly as you planned. But that doesn’t mean you should stop planning! There will always be other factors, distractions, and interruptions that you can’t control.
So, try controlling what you can by:
- eliminating distractions eg. put your phone on silent
- tracking your time. Be aware of how long tasks normally take you to complete, and how long they’re taking to complete today
- reviewing and reflecting regularly. Check-in with yourself regularly to see how you’re progressing today
- be flexible, and readjust your plan if needed. When unexpected things come up, factor them into your plan and readjust your to-do list accordingly
When planning your day, it is not about perfection! It’s about showing up consistently and working towards our goals with intention and focus, one task at a time. There is no quick fix, rather the feeling of accomplishment when you’ve put in the work. And it’s definitely worth the effort.