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After publishing the post about what my typical day looked like, I have gotten many comments on how productive I seemed to be.
I have to admit that the schedule I described is somewhat ideal for me.
My week days tend to be structured and follow certain routines most of the time. However, sometimes things happen, and I veer off course.
I believe that time is the most precious thing anyone can have.
We all have 24 hours in a day. However, how we spend that amount of time varies widely from person to person.
Some choose to spend it carefully and get a lot done. Some are more laid-back and do what’s needed. And some just go with the flow and let time go by unnoticed.
In Vietnamese, we have a saying that goes something like this: Hard work will make up for the lack of intelligence.
I am not one of the most productive people in the world.
Since my intelligence is limited, I need to make the most out of every minute of my life to make up for my shortcoming and get to where I want to be.
In other words, if I have to spend three hours doing something that will take others 30 minutes, then let it be.
But those three hours need to be productive and not filled with distractions.
I know some of you are excellent at time management and more productive than I can ever be. However, I will share the 6 tips that have helped me stay ahead in both school, work, and family life.
1. Ask yourself “What have I accomplished in the past [insert time duration]?”
One question I ask myself on a regular basis is “What have I accomplished in the past 5 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, etc.?”
I check the clock multiple times a day. When I know I’m working on something nonstop that’s producing results like writing a post or making Pinterest images, I will stay focused on the job and don’t check the time too frequently.
However, if I’m in the middle of brainstorming or if I feel that it’s taking me too long to finish a task, I will check the clock to (1) keep track of my progress and (2) push myself to accelerate and complete the final product.
I tend to feel guilty about wasting my time if 10 minutes has gone by and I haven’t done anything. For example, it usually takes me less than a minute in the morning to decide what I want to wear. However, sometimes I get picky and want to try on 2-3 outfits to see which one fits the best for the weather, my mood, and the day of the week.
Sometimes I just can’t find the pants or the top I want to wear because Mr. FAF puts away the folded laundry. This delayed process usually takes me about 5 minutes. After making the decision, I will feel bad about wasting 5 minutes of my life doing something that normally takes only 1 minute.
This sense of guilt, though not comfortable, is powerful. It’s a constant reminder that I need to be better organized to know where specific items of clothing are and be more decisive about what I want to do.
Even when it comes to entertainment such as watching a movie with Mr. FAF, I will ask myself “What good have I done as a result of this activity?” It will force me to think about the value added of the movie to our marriage and lessons learned, if any, from the movie.
Mr. FAF and I went to see Independence Day this past summer. Although I wasn’t too impressed with the plot and regretted paying $10 for it, I thought about the power of human imagination and technology to make possible such a beautiful piece of art.
It also helped strengthen my relationship with Mr. FAF. It showed him that I cared enough about him to spend two hours of my life watching a science-fiction movie I had absolutely no interest in from the very beginning.
Ask yourself the question often but don’t drive yourself crazy with it.
There’re just so much you can do within an hour using our hands. But if we also use our ears and brain at the same time when we are doing something with our hands that doesn’t require much thinking, we’re actually accomplishing two tasks at once.
For example, one thing I do on a weekly basis is cleaning our house. This task includes sweeping the floor, mopping it, vacuuming the carpets, cleaning two bathrooms and the kitchen, wiping the dust off of the furniture. This whole process can take up to 2-3 hours since we have a 4bd/4bth townhouse.
When I’m cleaning the house, I like to listen to podcasts such as The BiggerPockets Podcast, The Rental Income Podcast, and The Smart Passive Income Podcast. It is more productive than just sitting at a computer listening to the podcasts without doing anything else.
I also listen to such podcasts during my walk to the metro and back home. I used to sit on the train looking out the window or dozing off for 30 minutes or more.
Now I either comment on blog posts or interact with other bloggers on Twitter during my commute. Once I set foot on the Metro platform, I know it’s time to put away my earphones and start commenting or tweeting.
3. Use metrics to measure your progress
Multi-tasking alone may not lead to productivity. After all, there’s no difference in spending 2 hours finishing two tasks at the same time than spending one hour doing each task individually.
In order to make sure that multi-tasking works in your favor, you want to have specific metrics that help you track your progress. The metrics could be as simple as the following:
— How many posts have I read and commented on in 30 minutes?
— How many posts have I finished after writing for 4 hours straight?
— How many dishes have I made in an hour?
— How many rooms have I cleaned in the past 30 minutes?
After each train ride, I will ask myself questions such as “How many posts have I commented on today? Is it higher or lower than the average number each day?” Such question enable to measure my productivity in a certain period of time. If the progress is slower than usual, I will try to find ways to speed it up the next day.
4. Stay organized
One of my biggest pet peeves is trying to find missing items whether it’s a t-shirt, a document, or a wallet. For me, it’s a time sink that I simply can’t justify.
What’s the value of spending 5 minutes to an hour or more trying to locate something that you could easily find in 5 seconds? I think the only benefit of such an inefficient activity is the reminder that I need to be more organized.
Getting organized can start with the following steps:
— Designate a certain location to each item whether it’s a pair of scissors or a file for work.
— Put things back to where they originally were after you use them.
— Come up with specific categories for each item, document, folder. If you can’t find a document right away, relocate it to the first folder you click on to find it. If you can’t find a pair of scissors, put it in its designated area – stationary – in your office.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t usually make my bed in the morning. After all, no one will see it except for Mr. FAF and me (and my mother-in-law and Baby FAF). I make my bed right before I go to bed because I don’t want to sleep in a mess.
Sometimes I’m in a rush and mess up a whole stack of nicely folded laundry. Things are not always perfect at the FAF household, but I’m always trying.
5. Don’t get stressed out about time not well spent.
I’m not always 100% efficient with my time. That realization often stresses me out. I keep thinking about what I could have accomplished during a wasted period of time whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour.
Sometimes I let it go and focus on the task at hand. But sometimes that thought drives me crazy and makes me less productive at what I’m actually doing. It irks me to know that I spent an hour surfing on the internet without having anything results to show for myself.
Every time that stressful thought is bound to occur, I try to calm myself down, take a step back, and channel that anxiety into more energy for what I’m working on. In other words, stress can be an amazing source of motivation, but it can also turn into something detrimental to my sanity.
6. Go with the flow every once in a while
What’s life without us exploring its beauty and surprises? A structured schedule can help me stay productive, but it can also chain me to a desk or an office the whole day.
Occasionally, I will have an opportunity to be spontaneous such as a summer picnic or potluck. Although I know I won’t get any work done if I go, I usually don’t say no to catching up with friends over good food and having a good time.
At the end of the day, being productive is not the only thing that matters in life. Being productive enables me to make good use of my time and stay ahead of my work schedule. However, family and friends are the ones who can make me happy the most.
And I’m still struggling to strike a perfect work-life balance every single day.