David Allen wrote a book called Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity, which I've read a couple of times. It has some useful techniques that I have employed mostly at my Day Job. One key tool I have developed, though I suspect it's a less efficient hybrid of what Allen was suggest I do, is sort my life into projects, do a brain dump-list making sort of exercise on each project (and to write down stuff as I think of it) and then for each project, figure out first next step and then proceed. It's a way of getting unstuck that I find very manageable. A lot of the other stuff I've tried and will try again, which is why I keep re-reading the book.
In my own life, especially after the release of my e-book Gluten Free: Practical Advice for a Happy Healthy, Gluten-free Life, a number of people asked where I found the time to devote to writing it. What a lot of people don't know is that also in the last year, I created a information marketing, consulting and coaching business, wrote and published So What CAN You Eat? Gluten-Free Paleo Vegan (mostly) Recipes for Health and Weight Loss, taught a webinar series, formed and scheduled a gluten-free meetup group and became an amateur expert in social media, took two week+ vacations, all the while working a full-time job, exercising 4 or more days a week, parenting my two kids, attempting to be a good spouse, and keeping up with my friendships. LOTS of people ask how I do it. In addition to the David Allen project list techniques above, I have developed some other strategies that work for me, so I share them here in case you too are always on the quest for how to get it all done and keep smiling.
Know what I want. I think one key to my productivity is having goals. If I didn’t set forth the plan to write the books or do the webinars, I certainly wouldn’t have stumbled upon doing those things. It’s super easy to get caught up in lots of stuff that’s not really what I want to accomplish, especially if I haven’t been clear in defining what I want.
Be held accountable. I have a weekly call with my friend Lisa, and besides laughing and yacking up a storm, we tell each other what we plan to get done on our respective projects each week. It’s really more about thinking about what we ought to work on, which takes us back to #1 above about having a goal. And then it is a pretty good motivator to know that someone’s actually going to ASK me what I got done on what I said I wanted to do.
Get up REALLY early. I started getting up early to exercise and to get other stuff done when the kids were little. I found that if I tried to have “me” time when it was “family” time, I felt guilty and either didn’t exercise or work on whatever it was that I wanted to accomplish or if I did, I didn’t enjoy it at all. I discovered that if I did my stuff while everyone else slept, I felt much better about it all. The big downside is that I poop out pretty early in the evening. If I manage to stay up until 10:30 pm, it’s a rarity.
Skip watching TV. I like television. I grew up watching and enjoying crap – Gilligan’s Island, Love Boat, Flipper (just having fun with the aquatic theme.) My taste has improved as far as shows go, but the combination of having a kid and a tween and wanting to keep the shows age appropriate means that we usually watch programs that don’t require much of my attention to get the gist. It’s not too hard to multitask while the boys are watching a rerun of Suite Life on Deck (keeping with the seafaring theme…)
Use my commuting time productively. I take public transportation to work. It gives me about 45 minutes twice a day that I use to read, study, and meditate, or more usually, check in on Facebook or Twitter, read and answer email, or even do a blog post. I’ve made a friend from my neighborhood on my commute, so sometimes I visit with another actual human being. Novel, right? And on the days when I drive, I listen to recordings on my iPhone or mp3 player. Lately I’ve been taking a couple of on-line classes and have been able to listen to the lectures while on the road and have been pretty successful keeping up.
Build as much social life into my work hours – lunches, coffee right after work – as I can. Because I live out in the ‘burbs and the majority of my friends live or work in Center City Philadelphia, I do my best to book lunch dates or right-after-work coffee dates several times a month. It keeps me sane, and I like to think I’m modeling appropriate workplace behavior by actually leaving the building sometimes to see and do stuff that has nothing to do with my job.
Do it on weekends. Weekends, especially during the cold months, are pretty good times to get things done when they aren’t too booked up with kid sports or other activities. I have to confess I didn’t clean the bathroom as often as I should have this past year. Something had to go, right?
Say no. I say no a lot, mostly to work things that take place beyond normal work hours. By work things, I mean cocktail parties and receptions and the like. I do have other work commitments that are actually more “work-ish” that I do when the job calls for it, but if I can avoid the schmoozier activities, I totally do. They usually cut into my family time and I find them dreadful. Don’t tell anyone.
Be exceptionally grateful for Jennifer. Jenn is my wonderfully supportive partner since 1991. She never tells me my ideas are too harebrained to try. She reads my newsletters and fixes my typos and tries my recipes and she forgives me (I think) for those things that I DON'T get done. She knows how important our family is to me points me in that direction if I get too focused elsewhere. I know I am incredibly lucky and I do my best to not take it for granted.
Let me know if any of these ideas work for you!
[Chocolate Update: This is the end of Week 5. Since starting, I've had TWO periods. And suffice it to say that they were not little ones. Not fair! Curse you, Peri-menopause! In a previous blog post I talked about my hormonal-related weight fluctuations. The good news is that I'm still down two pounds from the start, and I like the shakes and the chocolate, so I'm continuing. I'm really enjoying playing with recipes -- soon I will make time to post one here for Cranberry-Banana-Chocolate Stripe Muffins -- and I love the extra energy I have. All the better for Getting Stuff Done.]