It’s the classic problem of working professionals everywhere: too much work and too little time. Once, there was a greater culture of work-life balance. But since laptops and cell phones have made people available at all times, it’s harder to carve out personal time. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that in most households, both partners now work. Without someone available to do the domestic labor, professionals often find themselves running errands, doing chores, and otherwise wasting away their weekends on unpleasant tasks.
Unfortunately, this is a problem with no easy answer. Unless you’re rich, you can’t simply hire someone else to take on your most irritating chores. And there’s no way to add extra hours to your day. Still, there are a few things you can try to get more things done.
- Create a to-do list each day, with the highest-priority tasks marked.
You might think you can keep everything straight in your head, but it’s much easier to remain focused when you’ve gotten everything spelled out on paper. Start every week by creating a detailed to-do list for yourself, listing what you hope to get done each day. Having a visualization of what you need to do can help you tackle things more confidently and efficiently. It can also be helpful to color-code this to-do list, marking more urgent items in red and lower-priority tasks in green or yellow. This will ensure that, if you do end up pinched for time, you’re able to direct your resources to where they’re needed most.
- If you’re able to, try waking up earlier.
Yes, okay, this advice is shared a lot, but it really does work! We said above that you can’t add extra hours into a day. And you can’t – but if you start waking up earlier, you might find it appears that you’ve created those extra hours for yourself. Even just waking up ten or fifteen minutes earlier than normal can give you the little bit of time you need to tackle folding the laundry or making a nutritious breakfast before work. And if you can make time in the morning to get things done before the rest of the world wakes up, you’ll likely find you feel more productive and energized, too.
- Or, if you’re really not a morning person, try reworking your schedule to fit when you are most energized.
Still, the morning’s not for everyone. For dedicated night owls, waking up early is actually a sure-fire way to make sure you’re all but sleepwalking through your day. If you know that waking up at 5 am isn’t in the cards for you, that’s fine. But try to think about when you are the most energized. Work best in the afternoon? Talk to your boss and see if you can structure your work day so that you start work later and end later as well. A night owl? Create a list of household chores to get done in the midnight hours, when you’re feeling too jazzed up to sleep.
- Make time to exercise.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed with work and chores, it might seem like the last thing you need is another thing to add to your routine. But even just a short workout can do wonders for your mood and your focus. Research has shown that people who exercise in the morning are able to concentrate better and get more work done during the day, as Inc points out. That means even a small investment of a 15- or 30-minute HIIT workout can pay significant dividends. Think about it this way: if exercising can help you avoid that hour-long TikTok binge on your lunch break, you’re at a net benefit.
- Start with the highest-effort tasks.
I hate making phone calls. If I have to call someone to make an appointment, it’s almost guaranteed to be the last item on my list for the day. That means that it’s also most likely to be the thing that gets pushed off to tomorrow – and the next day, and the next day, ad infinitum.
But pushing off unpleasant tasks means they’re hanging over your head all the time, putting you in a bad mood. And if that task takes a lot of effort, you don’t want to be pushing it off to do at the end of the day, when your brain is tired and you’re not putting out your best work. Suck it up and move the highest-effort tasks to the top of your to-do list. It might make your morning a little less pleasant, but you’ll feel relieved when the worst is done.
- If you have problems focusing, try the Pomodoro method.
The Pomodoro method is a study and work method that cycles periods of intense focus with periods of breaks. Most Pomodoros are split into hour-long chunks. A worker focuses on making progress on their work for 45 minutes, then takes a 15-minute break. Having this intense focus period gives people a reason to avoid distractions. But having the break time built in also gives them an opportunity to rest a bit. Burnout never helped anyone!
- If large tasks intimidate you, try breaking them down.
Maybe your boss has given you an assignment like writing a major report or preparing a presentation for stakeholders. It might seem like a daunting task: all this work that needs to be done by you! Because it seems so intimidating, it’s easy to push off making progress on things. But the bigger task, the more important it is to get an early start on it. Try breaking up big tasks into sub-tasks. For instance, the first step in writing your report might be doing some market research. Instead of adding write report to your to-do list, try assigning yourself the task of looking up and reading one market research study. Then, once that’s done, give yourself another small task. Before you know it, your big project will be well underway.
- Silence social media and other distractions.
Try to silence your social media. If you don’t want to silence your phone entirely, try using apps like Offtime or Moment which will turn off your social media notifications for you for a predetermined amount of time. These apps can also prevent you from opening or using your social media app.
- If a task is very quick, try to do it as soon as it’s assigned.
Have you ever had a task you put off for weeks or months, only to get it done and realize, damn, that was easy? Don’t create a system where you unnecessarily dread easy tasks. Instead, when you’re given an assignment that can be done in two minutes – such as sending a quick email, feeding the dog, or even picking up a piece of laundry that has fallen to your floor – try to do it right away. It won’t take much time out of your day but it’ll keep your to-do list from filling up.
- Pay attention to where you’re working.
One of the best ways to keep focused is to create separate spaces for separate tasks. For instance, people are commonly advised not to work in bed. The bed is for sleeping. If you regularly use it for intensive tasks, that might make it hard to sleep at night. Likewise, even if you’re working from home, try to ensure you have a dedicated office space where you can get things done. And if you have hobbies, make sure they have their own separate spaces, too. You don’t want them to get looped in with work in your mind.
- Track where your time goes (Pareto principle).
Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, you might just find you have too much stuff to do. At this point, you should consider whether there’s anything you can cut from your docket. Where are you spending your time? Is it giving you the dividends you’d like to see? Try spending a week tracking how much time you are spending on each individual task, then evaluate that list. According to the Pareto principle, you should be spending about 80% of your time on the 20% of tasks that give you the most reward.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
It can be easy to forget that others are there to help. Whether you need someone to pick your kids up from school because you’ll be running late, or you’re really stuck on an assignment for work, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Giving to others is incredibly rewarding. In the same way that you would likely jump to help out a friend or colleague in need, you should be sure they have the opportunity to help you out as well.
Check out some of our other work- and productivity-related resources. Our Random Password Generator will help you secure your accounts so you don’t have to waste precious time dealing with hackers. You can also check out our online calculators to help you quickly determine the number of business days between dates to set deadlines for colleagues or subordinates. And, if you find yourself stuck on your daily Wordle and in a rush to get going, check out our Wordle Solver to quickly find a solution.