The simple strategy that increased my daily productivity

Ever since I can remember, I've had this innate need for accomplishment. It's what drives my exceptional work ethic and deep-rooted desire for achievement -- whether it be at work or just around in the house in some form of cleaning or organizing.

One benefit is that my house is always spotless -- I'm one of those people ( that you probably didn't think really existed) who loves to vacuum (and uses every single attachment). I clean the floors and baseboards with a toothbrush -- and all of it gives me a rush -- a sense of accomplishment most people think is totally crazy. But for me, when I look around a spotless house, I just feel so much better.

Even at night and on the weekends, I've never really understood how people just "chill" -- what are they actually doing? I've heard "resting" is among the most popular -- that it's "what you do on the weekends."

Sure, I occasionally chill on a weekend here and there -- and I do hang out at the pool a lot during the summer (typically while reading a book on a subject, person, time in history, skill or something else about which I want to learn).

So clearly, i've just never really been a good "chiller" -- but over the years, this quality has proven to be somewhat of a double-edged sword. And it took me quite a while to figure that out.

When over-achievement becomes a catch-22

For some people, it may not seem like that big of a deal -- in fact, it may seem like a great way to be in life -- how could the desire to accomplish and be productive be a bad thing??

For starters, chilling is necessary to avoid getting burnt out! Plus, trying to do too much often results in nothing actually getting done.

The problem with trying to be too productive is that it would cause me to easily get distracted -- resulting in a house full of half-finished tasks and my husband telling me yet again to "finish one thing before you start something else!"

I've always kept to-do lists -- daily and weekly rundowns of everything I need or want to get done by a certain deadline. And while I always manage to accomplish everything on my list, I finally realized that more often than not, I was finishing things at the eleventh hour.

And although I would always get it all done, I finally figured out that all it did was cause me more stress -- feeling rushed most of the time.

I've always called it organized chaos, which I'm OK with regarding certain things -- but what I realized is that I wasn't OK with the stress I was causing myself by trying to multitask things that didn't need to be multitasked.

Bottom line: in the midst of all this productivity and achievement, I never quite figured out how to manage my time.

But when I did, it seriously changed my life.

How making small adjustments can change your life

I reached a point when I realized I couldn't continue to try to make it work, so I decided to change the way I structured my days and how I managed my time.

I stopped making long-ass to-do lists that were impossible to complete, and I began focusing on a short list of specific things that I knew I had to accomplish each day.

So instead of jumping from one thing to the next all the time, I now set aside specific times each day/each week to accomplish specific tasks on my to-do lists. I also set aside time for the things that easily get pushed aside -- like responding to time-sensitive emails, checking my personal email and even time to take a walk and give my brain a break -- so I can feel refreshed when it's time to get back to work.

I still keep a running list of everything I'm working on and need to get to at some point, but I now prioritize my time by focusing on shorter to-do lists (daily, weekly, monthly/life vs work etc) -- not only allowing me to feel accomplished, but also to actually accomplish the things I need to get done!

During a leadership training program, I learned to use the time management matrix -- which allows you to visualize everything on your to-do list and prioritize tasks based on importance and urgency. This is something I've passed on to colleagues who had a hard time getting everything done, because they were too focused on things that either weren't important or didn't need to be completed perfectly.

Using the time Management Matrix to prioritize tasks



  1. For example, things that go in quadrant 1 are important and urgent -- projects with time-sensitive deadlines, emails that require an immediate response, prep-work required for a presentation tomorrow.
  2. Quadrant 2 means something is important, but not necessarily urgent. These things should be on your weekly to-do list -- relationship building with colleagues, responding to calls/emails that are important but aren't deadline-sensitive, planning for upcoming projects etc.
  3. Tasks in quadrant 3 may be urgent but not really important. You may need to reply to a few emails and calls that have been flagged as urgent by your boss, but don't spend all day on them. Set aside some time to get it done quickly and efficiently so you can move on.
  4. Quadrant 4 represents tasks that may simply be wasting your time and causing you to get distracted during the day. These things typically lead to less productivity and keep you from accomplishing the tasks you need to get done. So it's important to identify these things and make sure they don't prevent you from getting important things done well and in a timely manner.

The takeaway

If you want to be more productive, don't continue forcing a method that doesn't work. Take some time to rethink how you naturally get things done -- what time of day you focus best, when you need to take breaks, which tasks often fall through the cracks

If you schedule your day in a way that works for you, I promise it will make your life a lot less stressful.

And if what you're doing ain't working, what's the harm in trying something new?

Alex Thomas