Amanda Cade

Worth It! (Things to try, read, watch, hear, and discuss)

To DoLast week, I focused on timing and work space. If you missed that post, you can find it here. So once you’ve figured out your personal rhythm and ideal work environment, you’re ready to dive in, right?

Well, not quite. Research has shown that every minute we spend planing can save us up to ten minutes while we’re working. That really adds up! So let’s talk about what to do with your to do list.

Step one is making the list, but don’t go right from the list to the work-there’s another step you should take, and that’s evaluating the items on the list and using that evaluation to really organize your time. I recommend considering four things:

1. Importance

PlanningBe aware of the things that have to be accomplished in a certain time frame, and what could wait if you start to run out of time, energy, or focus. Having clear priorities in mind is the best way to start being productive. Some people swear by a “most important things first” model, but I don’t think that works for everyone. Obviously, if you’re down to the wire on something it needs to go to the top of the list, but as long as you don’t forget about the top priorities, I think it’s perfectly fine to do something else first, if other factors make that a good strategy for you. I mentioned last week that I think best first thing in the morning, so I often move something that’s high in importance to first thing tomorrow, instead of last thing today.

2. Time required

hourglassEstimating how long each task will take will help organize your entire day (or however long you’re devoting to this work session). If it’s 8:30 and you have a meeting at 9, it might not be the best time to start on something that you think is going to take two hours. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the length of the list, doing a series of short tasks first will help you cross items off and start replacing stress with satisfaction. If you have a relatively large block of available time, pencil in a complicated item.

I always try to be cognizant of what I call “five minute tasks”. I have a lot of five minute gaps in my work day, usually when I’m waiting for something (the start of a meeting, a response to an email, my turn at the microwave, etc.), and a lot of things I can do in those five minutes (proofread a short report, check or enter data, respond to a query from a colleague, make notes for a training outline…). I always have one of those five minute items right at my fingertips, so I can get something out of the way during those short opportunities.

3. Energy Required

thinkingI can’t possibly emphasize this one enough. Your brain can’t run on full throttle indefinitely. Take a few minutes to really think about, well, how much you’re going to have to think, and be ready to mentally downshift so you can recharge after a brain busting task. For example, at work I spend a lot of mental energy planning content for presentations, but once the content is set, it’s easy to create my slideshows and handouts, so that part of the process is my mental cool down. When I work at home, a chunk of heavy thinking is usually followed by a household task, like doing the dishes.

4. Acceptable Outcome

Raise your hand if you tend to be a perfectionist.

Me Me Me

Now raise your hand if you have a tendency to get frustrated and quit.


Either way, you need to think about what success on a task is going to look like.  Determine the minimum acceptable level before you even think about getting started. If you’re an overachiever, this will help you hold on to perspective later on. Otherwise, you risk going down the rabbit hole and spending four hours trying to perfect something that you could finish in two. Of course, if you budgeted two hours but hit the minimum in an hour and a half, then you have the option of spending that extra thirty minutes taking it to the next level. On the other hand, if you find that staying motivated is a struggle, you have a concrete goal in mind: I can quit when it looks like this. When you have the finish line in sight, it will be a lot easier to keep moving forward.

The time to decide what’s “good enough” is before you startIt’s a lot easier to finish and then enhance than it is to get halfway through an overly ambitious plan and then try to change direction midstream. Trust me, I speak from a great deal of experience on this one.

I'm on it

How do you organize your day? What works for you? What challenges are you facing? Let’s talk!


29 thoughts on “Worth Trying: Tips to Increase Productivity (Part Two)

  1. Alex Raizman says:

    The Energy Required step is so, so important. A few months ago a friend of mine introduced me to the idea and it was an immense help in being able to keep productivity up without going insane.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amanda Cade says:

      Or burning out and calling it a day after the first few hours, right?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Alex Raizman says:

        Exactly that, every time. Energy rationing makes it so much easier.


  2. The Eclectic Contrarian says:

    I am utterly #4… I have this thing about judging things on a success/failure scale. And when I start seeing the scale tilt towards failure, I tend to give up. And after trying so hard to get success and things not going right, I tend to get angry…

    It’s kind of a psychological thing. After so much failure, success must come mandatory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amanda Cade says:

      I’ve found it really helpful to think of things as first drafts, second drafts, and so on. Otherwise I have trouble getting past the early stages, because I’m seeking perfection. My sister says that instead of always shooting for a 10, you should start with a 6 (just above average and completely workable) and then reevaluate. Taking that advice has made a huge difference for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Eclectic Contrarian says:

        I confess to being extremely hard on myself. I should try that… set smaller easily achievable goals instead of a huge lump sum goal achieved as quickly as possible… thank you Amanda!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Amanda Cade says:

        I’ve been there. Everything in these posts is based on lessons learned the hard way. Lol. I literally used to work seventy or eighty hours a week and was constantly falling behind.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. The Eclectic Contrarian says:

        My issues stem from many situations and people who have belittled me and the lack of support I’ve experienced. Not trying to be depressing or bore you with my problems. But, that’s why for me..

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Amanda Cade says:

        Lack of support is really difficult. I hope you’re building a positive circle.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. The Eclectic Contrarian says:

        Every little bit helps 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. kagould17 says:

    Good post Amanda. I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. You can find my post here.


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great ideas here, Amanda. My day was not so well scripted. I retired as a 30 year purchasing manager. That meant starting my day with a to-do list also. I lettered my to-do’s as: “A”-Top Priority, do this first, “B”-must get done as soon as possible today. and “C”, Can be put off until l tomorrow. Unfortunately, life as a PM doesn’t follow that well-thought out script. My day usually had several more “A” events occurring at any time of the day. So my first top priority that was an A, now became A2, bumped down the list but still a priority, must get done, ah, after A1 (Unless another “emergency” should develop. That being said, I miss doing a daily to-do list because it did give some semblance of a structure for my day ahead. I think I might be able to use a list like that when blogging.

    Do you have a list for work and a list for organizing your writing ? All the best !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amanda Cade says:

      I use the list method for everything, including work, writing, housework, errands…I break it all down into tasks and then get to it. ☺

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Energy required … literally the most important point on there. Doing that point badly can make a break the entire effort you are trying to put in.

    Great couple of posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amanda Cade says:

      I used to be all about the marathon: push yourself until the top priority is finished, no matter what. I ended up wasting a lot of time because my productivity decreased as my brain got tired.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We had a ‘Wellness’ coach come in to work and this was a major topic.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Michelle says:

    Great post! I’m so bad about timing things out. I’ve tried many times to set a schedule for my day, but I almost never follow it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amanda Cade says:

      Most things end up taking longer than I originally estimate.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. masercot says:

    I put your post at the top of my list of things to read, but I didn’t allocate enough time; moreover, by the time I got to it, I was too tired to read it…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amanda Cade says:

      Lol. Sometimes circumstances alter the plan. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Kirsty says:

    Some great tips! I love making lists and organising, but I know that this saves time. I think the importance vs. urgent thing can help too – the most important thing might not be the first thing we should be doing if something less important but more urgent is also on the list, running the risk of being overlooked.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. kagould17 says:

    Good tips. Some people can not be productive, because they never take a step forward. I’ve nominated you for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Feel free to take part…or not. I will leave it up to you. I enjoy reading your posts and thank you for reading mine. You can find my post on the award here.
    Respectfully, Allan

    Liked by 1 person

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