At the end of the day, despite hours of toiling away, you may find yourself feeling no more accomplished than when you started work that morning. Reasons for this may range from what kinds of expectations you set for yourself to distractions you don't realize are getting in the way. Here, experts weigh in with strategies so that no matter how much you get done, you still feel accomplished at the end of your work day.
BREAK IT DOWN
Logan Honeycutt, a productivity expert and entrepreneur in Charlotte, North Carolina, points out that entrepreneurs "naturally pursue quite large goals" which, he says, "can make us question our very own pride and confidence." This is a natural part of the "entrepreneurial roller coaster," he assures. But it's important to take a good look at your expectations for yourself so that you can adjust them where necessary.
Big goals often translate into a big to-do list that's miles long. Grace Brooke, an organizing and efficiency specialist in California, recommends that you create a master to-do list or a "brain dump" and then pull no more than five to seven tasks to accomplish each day. Even that many may be too many to successfully get done. "If you limit the amount of to-dos you give yourself, you can feel successful at the end of the day and not beat yourself up," Brooke suggests.
Honeycutt echoes this. "Set large goals but narrow down your targets." This means breaking tasks into "actionable groups, tasks, schedules and routines," that "push the needle forward each day." One page, one design, one more thing checked off the list is still progress. And, little steps add up. "By a combination of little things…you've now created a large impact in the grand scheme," he says.
ELIMINATE THE DISTRACTIONS
If you struggle with focus, there are numerous methods, apps and tools that aim to keep you focused, from social media blockers to noise canceling headphones, but you have to be honest with yourself, Brooke says. "When it comes to focus, it's eliminating the distractions that are constantly pulling attention away from what we want to focus on."
Honeycutt likes to set himself several distraction free hours in the morning when his mental energy is best. Doing this, he says, "the quality of work that you'll put out will be drastically better than a full typical workday in which you were distracted every thirty minutes."
Sometimes in order to figure out our distractions means first figuring out our priorities. "You've got to look at the boundaries you have around your own time," Brooke insists. She likes to remind her clients "If you don't respect your own time, then no one else will." This means having a "tough love talk with yourself" about your priorities.
It also means looking closely at where you are procrastinating, because often that's the best place to start. She finds people often procrastinate when a task "requires stepping outside of your comfort zone," but she recommends not giving in to the urge to put those tough deeds off.
Honeycutt refers to advice from a book called Eat That Frog, in which author Brian Tracy recommends that you actually start with the tasks you don't want to do. Sometimes that goes a lot further toward creating a sense of accomplishment than knocking out five of the same tasks you do every day. Plus, then it's no longer hanging like a weight at the back of your mind.
STRIKE UP A SYSTEM
If you're struggling to feel productive Honeycutt recommends you take a look at tools that can help you put a new, more efficient system into place. We live in an age of inexpensive, even free digital tools literally at our fingertips for everything from invoicing to communicating to marketing. If you haven't checked them out yet because you're stuck on doing things in your own way, it's worth a shot.
There are automation tools help you connect your digital operations; delegation tools to help you hire and delegate out tasks to contractors; project management tools to help you manage day-to-day workflow and allow for team collaboration and many more. If you can identify what isn't working, then you can probably find an app, program or person who can fill in those gaps.
"The goal is to develop a system that doesn't need the engineer to manage its operations full time," he says.
TAKE THAT BREAK
Ironically one of the most important pieces of your productivity may take place in the moments when you're not working at all. Experts all recommend you take breaks. The mind, eyes, and body can't go for hours at the same speed or level of quality.
"You have to remind yourself there's more to life than work," Honeycutt urges. "It's very easy to damage relationships and your health if you don't take breaks or personal care seriously."
You may just have to experiment with breaks. A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that taking a mid-morning break may be more effective than an afternoon break, since mental resources are generally highest in the first half of the day.
Honeycutt points that a break may be "as simple as making coffee…or it could also be a long jog around the block."
You might use a timer or break for fifteen minutes between every hour. Brooke recommends you listen to your body, since fatigue usually sets in there first.
Being more productive and accomplished doesn't mean getting more things done, after all. It means working more strategically.
"When you say yes to one thing you're saying no to another," Brooke says. "Just make sure that you're saying yes to the thing that will get you one step closer to where you want to be."