Five ways to be productive, not just busy

August 15, 2019

Sometimes (or often) life can feel incredibly busy, and yet it seems like nothing is actually being accomplished.

Capella University MEd students Michelle Ferre*, host of the popular YouTube channel Pocketful of Primary, and Bridget Spackman*, host the popular YouTube channel The Lettered Classroom, are both teachers who have devised some techniques to improve productivity and minimize wasted time and energy.

1. Create systems and schedules.

“One of the most common questions I get is, ‘How do you have the time to do everything that you do?’” says Ferre. “Everyone has the same amount of time in a day. The difference is in how we use it. I can  use my time more efficiently and therefore increase my productivity by having a system and sticking to it.”

Spackman agrees. “Routines help us stay focused because they eliminate the necessity to constantly wrap our brains around what we need to be doing,” she says. “I have a weekly schedule format that I use to lay out all the routines that are constant in my week. This helps for those days that I am feeling off and can easily get back on track.”

Ferre is also a fan of scheduling. “Creating a schedule allows you to plan your tasks and activities and then prioritize what is most important,” Ferre says. “I use block scheduling to plan chunks of time to complete specific tasks. For example, I might schedule one hour a day to go to the gym and two hours to work on grad school.”

Scheduling is only one part of the actionable step. “It’s important to stick to your schedule,” says Ferre. “Stop working when it’s time to switch tasks. This motivates you to be more efficient with your time. It also might be helpful to schedule a chunk of time each day for unfinished tasks, so you have a backup plan for those.”

FlexPath Movement | Back to school tips with Michelle

2. Theme your days.

Spackman takes scheduling further by grouping activities and tasks with similar themes. “Studies show that it takes a person an average of 30 minutes to truly focus on a task,” she says. “When we constantly change our tasks, we also have to constantly readjust our thinking. To prevent this, theme your days, and place similar tasks close together to limit the amount of wasted time and distraction.”

3. Use templates.

Ferre is a proponent of organizing the way you organize your tasks. “Getting started is the hardest part of completing a task,” she says. “If you develop a template for completing the task, you know what to expect each time.”

As an example, she says she uses the same research document layout for all her courses, which she’s taking in Capella’s FlexPath format, a format conducive to self-structuring. On the first page, she includes a description of the assessment and scoring guide for easy reference. Subsequent pages have the article or book title (hyperlinked to its location on the web), citation for the reference page, and bulleted notes. She also notes that templates can come in handy in other parts of life such as templates for commonly sent emails, lesson plans for each subject, and even grocery lists.

4. Limit distractions.

Technology has made so many aspects of life easier, but it also can be the ultimate distraction. “Turn your phone and computer on airplane mode to limit your distractions and focus,” says Spackman. “Then set a timer to allow for small breaks as rewards for being focused.”

FlexPath Movement | Back to school tips with Bridget

5. Start with the least desirable task.

It may seem counterintuitive, but Ferre strongly recommends starting with the task that interests you least or seems most onerous. In her experience, beginning with the worst one can reduce procrastination. That can lead to future tasks appearing easier to complete and increased motivation to continue working.

Both Ferre and Spackman are studying in Capella’s FlexPath format, which provides busy people with the flexibility that can make all the difference in their educational achievement.

All of these tips take some forethought and planning but once they’re put into place they’re simple to replicate and can lead you to be remarkably productive instead of overwhelmingly busy.

*Actual FlexPath students compensated for appearing in Capella promotional materials

Learn more about Capella University’s online education degree programs and certificates.

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