I’ve had this topic on my mind for some time now. Ever since February I’ve been thinking about writing this post but then something else has come up and I’ve concluded that I don’t have enough time or energy to put down the thoughts on how to get things done.
(Loving the irony here.)
This week, however, I find the timing to be right for this post. After all, I’ve just managed to write the remaining 37 pages to my thesis in just four days and finished the whole thing (at least when it comes to content), reaching a deadline I was almost certain I would miss.
Therefore, I thought I could share with you today how I manage to do things that even I have trouble believing to be able to manage.
The Great Final
Of course, I did not write all those 37 pages just for fun or because I thought I had the time to do it. I put down all that effort because the great final is finally approaching: the deadline of my Thesis.
In March, I was still doing pretty well with my academic work. I managed to do the interviews and transcribe them, just in time before I went on a trip to Tallinn which was followed by two weeks of election work squeezed into one. However, as a result of those two events, I was lagging behind in my thesis work. Seriously.
In order to make the deadline accessible again, i.e. to be able to write those pages and all those words, I decided to cancel Easter. Instead of relaxing at my parents’ summer cottage I stayed home the whole long weekend writing, eating and then writing some more. And finally, in the evening of Easter Monday I was ready to declare that I had written my thesis.
Don’t Go Easy On Yourself
The thing that made the progress possible was the fact that I decided I could do it. Getting things done and reaching those seemingly impossible goals is about finding the right attitude for it, the right kind of grit. But you certainly benefit from having some time management and organizational skills as well.
So, here are the four lessons I’ve learned while aiming to become an efficient person:
1. To-do lists
This one I’ve talked about before – but I will talk about it again because it is so important to know what you need to get done during that week of yours in order to be efficient.
The to-do list that I create every Monday morning enables me to see the program for the whole week: how much I’m planning on reading and writing; what social events I need to take into consideration and what time some certain yoga classes are being held. I can also put down the details on the specific project I want to get done: how much I need to do at certain days to reach a certain goal.
By creating a day-by-day plan for your goal of the week, you are able to prepare yourself for the amount of work that you need to do because you can already see it in front of you. The to-do list makes your work and the energy it requires more predictable – and that is exactly what you need.
For me, an activity called ’thesis work’ has been on my to-do list every day for the past few weeks. To accompany the regular to-do list, I have another to-do list dedicated for thesis work alone. That’s the list where I keep a log on how many words I’ve written and what I plan to do the next day. For a project like this, I really need a second to-do list. And you might need one too, if your project’s big enough.
When you’ve done the to-do list for the week, you need to decide upon what activities are the most important. Can the laundry wait for a few days in order to get your project done? Can you postpone the coffee meeting with your friend to the following week? Do you have to update Instagram three times a week this particular week or could you put those minutes into planning your project?
I, for instance, decided to prioritize writing my thesis over Easter and some family time.
If you find prioritizing challenging, you can try the Eisenhower Matrix that helps to realize what tasks are truly urgent and truly important, and what tasks are important but can be done at a later time.
By prioritizing your activities you are able to maximize your efficiency because you are giving the most urgent and important tasks the time and energy they require while letting the other things wait for another day or a whole other week.
3. Just get it done
After watching this short video by Art of Improvement about simply getting things done, I’ve really been able to become even more efficient.
One especially bad habit I used to have was to read the e-mails I got immediately but respond to them always a bit later than I should have – or could have. The same thing happened with phone calls. I always drew out the time and called people back hours later – although I was there, next to my phone, when they called.
I postponed simple activities for no proper reason, and at the same time I was wasting a lot of energy on thinking about them without doing anything to them. But then I decided on something: I decided to change my behavior and actually forced myself to answer or call back as soon as possible. Today, after months of practice, I’m pretty good at answering the phone immediately and returning e-mails as soon as possible.
And the best part of it is that I’ve become energized by my own efficiency (of doing very simple things) which has helped me get even more things done.
4. Don’t Go Easy On Yourself
This is perhaps the most important thing: if you have a project that you want to get done, keep your expectations on your performance high. Don’t put the bar low – instead, put it as high as you can.
You think you could write 20 pages this weekend? Aim for 25! Or maybe you think you have the energy to clean only half of your apartment on Friday? Decide to try to clean up the whole place and see what happens!
(Of course, this principle doesn’t work for every project but the wise man knows the exception to every rule.)
Put the bar a bit higher than the point you think you can reach, because the probability of you actually reaching that higher bar is very high. As Seth Godin says, by raising your expectations you raise your performance. And that, my friend, is how you get things done and surprise everyone around you (and yourself). That is how you write 37 pages of academic text and manage to meet your own deadline.
That is how you succeed.