by Yoni Sobin, PsyD
The beginning of the school year brings many challenges for children and parents alike. Perhaps most of all is the challenge of staying on top of all the tasks that need to get done! For some, staying productive may feel overwhelming, for others it may seem impossible – we stay on top of things for a few days, a week or two, maybe close to a month, yet eventually we find ourselves falling behind and overwhelmed once more. These tips can help make this coming school year your most productive one yet:
Humans work well with schedules. Wake up, brush teeth, eat, work, come home, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat. Performing a behavior consistently daily for a month is usually enough to set a habit. One great trick is to make sure you start the day with a consistent routine. For example, make your bed every morning. Starting every day with a small accomplishment sets you up to feel productive and ready to tackle the day’s challenges.
- Set one alarm (at most)
Alarms, especially multiple alarms, interfere with our circadian rhythm. So, at most set just one for the (actual) time you need to get up, and try not to snooze it. Even better, set a bedtime 7.5-8.5 hours before you need to get up, and let yourself wake up sans an alarm. If you get to bed on time and live somewhere with natural light in the mornings, let that be your alarm clock. By helping your body to learn to sleep when it’s dark and awaken when it’s light, you’ll maximize your productivity throughout each day.
- Delay morning phone/email use
This helps you to focus on priorities – getting kids out of the house, getting to work on time, and eating breakfast. It reduces your level of overall stress. Your most pressing needs in the morning are the immediate proximal stressors in your environment. Check the time, clean yourself up, and eat. Distal stressors can usually wait 20 minutes until you are more alert. No need to add stress the moment you wake up. Relatedly…
- Disable push notifications
Even when we quickly check a message notification without responding, it can take up to 10 minutes to reorient to another task. All that distracted time adds up throughout the day. Unless your job requires it, disable notifications for all social media, and any other distractions that are not essential to the day. Then, set aside time each day to allow yourself to govern your social media, instead of letting it govern you.
- Buy a planner / notebook
When were you last able to remember everything to do in one day without writing something down? Well, that’s because our brain is not designed to remember lists of tasks. Numerous studies have shown we can hold in mind a maximum of 7±2 units of information at a time. The solution is to get something simple;a weekly planner with a monthly page for long term planning should suffice. Use only one planner and stick to it, and get into the habit (see item 1) of looking at that planner several times daily and adding to it ANYTHING that needs doing. A task that is not completed must carry over to the next day.
- One planner only
One planner means one place to look and find out what you need to accomplish. With Google, Outlook, Slack, sticky notes, and more, we get overwhelmed trying to keep it all together. Consolidate everything in one place. Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of a handwritten planner over digital tasks. The simple aspect of writing down tasks makes you remember them better. Digital means distraction.
- Break it down
It helps to break tasks down into manageable pieces. Manageable goals leave you satisfied and accomplished; overly optimistic goals result in feeling overwhelmed and procrastination, furthering a cycle of feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and being unproductive. When you finish a task, cross it off the list, physically, and then smile J The act of removing it from the list and rejoicing in small accomplishments serves to reinforce further completion of tasks.
- Ask for help
Do not be afraid to ask for help. If you do not like asking for help from other people, get help from digital aides like StayFocusd and Boomerang for Gmail. StayFocusd lets you choose how much time you will let yourself spend on distraction websites; once you have hit that cap, the application will block further access to your distraction website. Boomerang for Gmail helps keep your inbox clean, allowing you to “boomerang” messages you do not need to deal with now, and schedule them to return days, hours, or even weeks later when they are more important or pressing. You can also schedule messages to send later, helpful for night owls or for dealing with something in advance you worry you might forget about.
- Batch tasks to be more productive
When planning your day, batch similar tasks together. For example, don’t make a phone call, then answer an email, then eat lunch, then deal with 2 other phone calls. Plan to make all 3 phone calls together, then deal with emails, then eat lunch as a reward. This will help you stay further focused.
Stress-free living may not be possible, especially in this ever-changing, ever-complicated era of history. But by employing these 9 tips you will certainly find yourself more productive and relaxed. Try it for a month…