I really used to think I was winning when I would procrastinate. #Winning… because I crammed a whole semester of learning into a few days and managed to pass the test? No, no, no, my friend! #NOTWinning #SleepDeprivation #StressedToTheMax #ProcrastinationIsTheDevilsWork #NotTodaySatan #IRebukeThee #CouldHaveFollowedAStudySchedule #CouldHaveGottenAnA #CouldHaveTrulyLearnedSomething #GirlYouLiedToYourself. Seriously, when we allow procrastination to get the best of us, we may feel as though we’re “gaming the system”, but in reality, we’re only selling ourselves short.
Think about it. If you can pass a final exam by memorizing a whole semester of material in a few days or rush through a big project and still be rewarded, can you imagine how much of a force to be reckoned with you could become if you had purposeful planning and appropriate time management on your side?!
This was the epiphany that propelled me on my journey to overcome procrastination. While I still have significant opportunity for growth in this area, I can share the tips that have tremendously improved my time management and productivity.
1. Mind Your P’s
The P’s most important for living your HAPPIest life are Passion and Purpose. I wholeheartedly believe that you need both in order to be productive and fulfilled in life. Passion encompasses the emotional context that motivates you internally, and Purpose adds focus and strategic planning that directs your energy externally. Although we cannot fully escape the mundane tasks of daily living, you must do everything in your power to connect as many of your tasks as possible to the Passion that drives you and the Purpose that guides you. What drives you, what guides you, and how will you use this to complete your tasks and manage your time?
2. Be Organized
I have always loved a good to-do list and leaving myself colorful sticky notes, but these have been two of the hardest habits for me to break in order to increase my organization and productivity. Marking out an item on my to-do list always felt amazing, but I was constantly left with “roll-over” items that I dragged from one to-do list to the next. My desk became a hot mess of unfinished paper to-do lists and sticky note piles. Making my planning system completely electronic is the BEST thing I have ever done! It does not add any clutter to my work environment, and more importantly, it’s with me everywhere I go with little hassle! I maintain my bullet journal on a cloud-based file system (e.g., Google Drive), and I save copies to my phone on days that I may end up in a location without access to the cloud. Instead of creating daily to-do lists, I set monthly mission-based goals and create a monthly to-do list within my bullet journal. Then, I plan out the completion of those tasks on a week-by-week basis. This allows me some flexibility within the week and month so that I can be adaptable and as stress free as possible when life’s unexpected moments occur. I must say that I have not completely abandoned to-do lists. For large tasks, I often find it helpful to breakdown the individual steps in real-time by using a task management app (e.g., Wunderlist) and checking off completed steps as I go. Being productive starts with setting yourself up for success, and organization is a major step in the right direction!
3. Block It:
Although my bullet journal is a beautiful way to visualize my goals and chart my plans, an online calendar system is essential for balancing time for my own goals versus keeping other appointments in my professional and personal life. Therefore, when I plan my week-by-week tasks in my bullet journal, I also schedule calendar blocks for completion of such tasks. The calendar blocks force you to commit to a certain time for completing tasks, making your time allocation more realistic. I set alerts for these appointments with myself the same as I would for other work appointments, and I do my best to similarly be punctual and focused. If it helps, think of the calendar block as scheduling a “group project” with yourself, and you have to be the group leader and the only member to get the tasks done within the specified time block. We all have so many different things competing for our limited time, and calendar blocking can become the special power you need to learn when to say no and how to use your time wisely.
4. Anchor It:
I anchor each of my tasks according to three things: (1) how each relates to my mission (i.e., the combination of my Passion and Purpose), (2) how each falls on my priority list (i.e., rank I-IV based on level of importance and urgency), and (3) how each is situated within a greater tangible goal within my mission. I have distilled my mission down to a few key roles (e.g., wife/mother/family member, medical doctor, entrepreneur, etc.) that I want to play throughout my life, and I plan everything using a color code that gives each role its own color. It guarantees that my plans are always visually stimulating, but more importantly, it clearly helps me to see how much time and energy I am spending on certain aspects of my mission versus others. For priority rankings, I use roman numerals: I) important and urgent, II) important and non-urgent, III) non-important but urgent, and IV) non-important and non-urgent. Don’t confuse urgent with important! Urgency relates to deadlines, which other people will undoubtedly impose on you. However, importance relates to how critical a task is for completion of your mission. Your mission should be broken down not only based on roles, but also tangible short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals. I will share more details and examples in a later post about how exactly I do this using my bullet journal and calendar. In the meantime, think of creative ways that you can add mission, priority, and goal designations to give your tasks or calendar more meaning.
5. Crush It:
Don’t just calendar block the time, but you really have to crush it! Make the most of your time by setting up your environment for success. Find a work space with the appropriate ergonomics, bring snacks or water, silence your phone, and do whatever else you need to make it through your block without disturbance. If you have difficulty keeping your focus, try setting alarms for built-in breaks or using a productivity app (e.g., Focus Keeper). Many find their ability to focus enhanced with caffeine from a cup of coffee or tea, but you want to be careful not to use stimulants to trick your brain into focusing in a way that your body cannot sustainably support or that is incongruent with your mission. If focus becomes a persistent issue, then re-evaluate your P’s in order to determine if you are spending your time on things that matter to you and how you can adapt your mission or adapt your focus to continually increase the amount of time spent on your mission. Don’t ever be ashamed to reach out for help if you need it, because there are many aspects of our biopsychosocial health that impact our ability to focus. Be smart about getting yourself to a point of staying focused during the times that matter most.
6. Track It:
It is extremely helpful to track your productivity by marking off the tasks that you complete and recording the goals you achieve. In doing so, you not only benefit psychologically from the momentum such success can create, but also document your track record in a way that may prove helpful to reference later. Find a fun way, whether within your calendar, journal, vision board, or other method, to highlight and celebrate your goals. In the past, only when I was really struggling with focus or productivity, I would enlist people who are close to and honest with me as accountability partners. I let them know when my calendar blocks are and what tasks I plan to complete during them, and they would give their honest opinions on whether I should take a break or keep pushing. Now, I am proactive about recruiting accountability partners in different aspects of my life (e.g., health, surgical skills, research development, entrepreneurship, etc.) long before the struggle even begins. They serve as my sounding boards and progress trackers. It is important to only give this role to people who you truly believe have your best interest at heart and who have the integrity to not only give you honest feedback, but also support you through your most vulnerable times.
Mind your P’s and get organized, then perfect your time by blocking it, anchoring it, crushing it, and tracking it! Time is everyone’s most precious asset! Perfect your time, and enrich your life!
With Love and HAPPIness,
The HAPPIest MD
Here are the related mission-driven blog posts that you should check out:
Also, one of my favorite books that I read in 2019 was “Eat That Frog” by Brian Tracy. I highly recommend it as an awesome resource for learning practical approaches to better time management.