A Step-By-Step Guide to Transforming Your Day from Chaotic to Productive

Make Your Day More Productive | My Life as a Teacup
Last Wednesday I sat in front of my computer from 9am-2pm with absolutely nothing to show for it*. Despite waking up early, drinking 4 a few cups of coffee, and making a list of things I wanted to accomplish that day, I felt unproductive. Negatively productive, in fact (if there is such a thing.) I felt like I was drowning in a goopy quagmire of coffee-scented chaos.

As much as I wanted to start ticking off the things on my list, as focused as I thought I was, I wasn’t putting my energy to work for me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t doing anything; I was doing lots of things! But being “unproductive” doesn’t mean doing nothing.

Even the most productive intentions can get sidetracked by too many tasks & unfocused energy. (Tweet this!)

It’s wonderful to have lots of goals you want to accomplish. What’s not wonderful — and probably just as detrimental as doing nothing at all — is trying to take on too much at one time. How many times have you sat down with a project at your fingertips only to be overwhelmed with just where to start? What began as something you were excited about quickly turns to a cacophony of unbearable tasks.

Getting back on track to productivity isn’t impossible, though!

Luckily for me, I noticed how flawed my day’s work system was early enough to call myself on my b.s. and change it (and you can too!)

Let me show you, step-by-step, how I made a few little changes to make my day more efficient and productive, and how you can do the same.

Can you find all the unproductive things in the picture below that are making me scream internally?

Before - Messy Workspace


Before - What NOT to Do
Did you find them all? Good!

As you can see, these are all habits that are pretty inconspicuous and even okay on their own time. But when you’re trying to accomplish your goals, having Lumberjanes as entertainment (as wonderful as it is!) won’t help much. So how do you make it better?


Anatomy of a Productive Workspace
Step 1. Find a dedicated workspace – Believe it or not, I did have one thing going for me in that first hot mess above: I made a workspace. Personally, I don’t work well in a place where I am comfortable and that’s full of familiar distractions, so I always make it a point to go to Starbucks or the kitchen counter to signal to my brain that it’s Work Time.

Do This: Get off of the couch or out of bed and move to your office or a clean, clear table where you can sit up straight. Organize the things you’re working on in front of you, but don’t let them clutter your workspace.

Step 2. Put distractions away – Anything that’s not part of what you are currently working on should be put away. Even your to do list. Why? Because you’ll spend half of your time looking at the things that are coming up next on your list. And yes, this means your phone too. When did having it at your side ever help you get more done? I thought so. It’s amazing how easy it is to ignore something when it’s in a completely different room, so go ahead and do what it takes to make those distractions harder to access.

Do This: I don’t care if you say you’ll only check on your Neko Atsume cats when you take a five-minute break or that you need your phone to Instagram your work space; put your phone in the other room. Clear any other distractions from your workspace and physically put them somewhere else.

Step 3. Write a task list – This is where it gets hard. If you’re like me, you’ll want to list anything and everything that you want to do in the next three weeks on your list. No. Don’t. Stop. Only list the things that you must do today. As much as it may pain us to say, we have limited time. Focus on one or two projects that you want to work on, list them, and then break down those tasks into smaller sub-tasks.

For example, today I want to work on revamping my website. That’s a pretty big goal with a lot of components. When I break it down into one particular area I want to focus on in my work session today, being as detailed as possible, it may look something like this: revamp website > update media kit > redesign cover page > add testimonials > update statistics > export to pdf and compile

Do This: List 1-2 things that you want to accomplish in your work period. Be realistic with the time that you have. Then, break down those larger tasks into smaller, more manageable sub-tasks. The more specific you can be, the better.

Step 4. Create a place to put ideas “for later” – As you’re working, you’ll inevitably be struck with inspiration for other things. Probably everything but what you’re currently working on. You certainly don’t want to let those ideas float away, but you also don’t want to get sidetracked with starting another project while waist-deep in the one you’re already working on. Whether you use a digital system like Evernote or keep a pad of sticky notes on your desk, find a place to quickly jot down those strokes of genius so you can come back to them later.

Do This: Make a landing zone for ideas you want to come back to. It should be a system that allows you to quickly jot down the idea and get back to what you were working on. You can work out the details of the new idea later.

Once you’ve set yourself up for success, get to it! From here, you can dive right in and get to work or use a time management system like Pomodoro to keep you on task.

I made a few tweaks, as per the “after” picture, and guess what? The next day was loads more productive! Not only did I actually finish my media kit, but I actually managed to free up some extra time to start on one of my “for later” ideas. And I still had time to go to catch a movie that evening, too.

What’s one actionable thing you can do to minimize distractions and make your day more productive?
*I also immediately realized that I lied on the survey I took the other day that asked how much time I spend in front of a computer screen daily. Three hours is a joke.

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  • http://myjourneyforhim.blogspot.com/ Victoria

    These are great tips!!!! Having a to-do list, getting dressed or at least fixing my hair, tidying up, and implementing a basic routine are what keep me productive.

    I really need to designate a work space and stick to using it!!!! The little table that we have the computer on means that my shoulders KILL me when I’m done working (or playing around) on the computer. This is soooo easy to fix, so I just need to do it!

    • / Kristin

      Routines help so much! As does getting dressed in some way, shape, or form. It’s amazing how much keeping sweatpants/pajamas on tanks your productivity. A workspace is a good thing to have period, but yeah, if you’re not comfortable there it’s no good! Go get that quick fix fixed :)

      • http://myjourneyforhim.blogspot.com/ Victoria

        It makes ALLLLL the difference. :)

        *~ Victoria*

  • http://www.myopensketchbook.com/ Kay

    Excellent list of tips! I definitely need to apply some of these to my art sessions.

    • / Kristin

      Ooh! Art sessions totally slipped my mind! These would work great for that too, I think!

  • http://Fictionincarnate.com Meagan Crowe

    This is an awesome guide! I’m trying to do more work at home this summer and so far it hasn’t been too stellar. I’m determined to get stuff done this week starting tomorrow and i’m giving myself work hours. Gretchen Rubin talks a lot in her podcast Happier about how “feeling busy” and meaningless tasks are so detrimental to us when it comes to actual productivity. I love her!

    • / Kristin

      She’s got some great podcasts and that’s a notable point. I need to do the same and make sure that my lists are filled with MEANINGFUL tasks and not things like, ‘breathe’. Go nail your at-home to-do work!

  • http://gamerwife.com Mariko

    Great advice. My current work space is a hot mess due to a shelving mishap, and it’s totally affecting my productivity. Sigh.

    • / Kristin

      Uh oh! Take a day and clean your hot mess of a desk? That totally counts as a productive day too! Though, I don’t know the circumstances of your shelving incident ._.