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4 Common Productivity Tips That Don’t Freaking Work For Me

As a member of the TFD team, and a person who generally wants to be a productive human being, I do a lot of reading — especially on the topic of productivity. I, like many others, am always looking for new ways to squeeze more hours out of my busy days and get more done in less time. I’ve read a lot of lists giving me tips on just how to do that — I’ve even written some myself.

And while all the advice sounds really good in theory, I’ve realized over time that some of it — even the advice I’ve given myself — doesn’t really work for me. It is weird, because in my mind, it all makes sense. Do this, and you’ll be more productive. Do this, and you’ll get more done. But in practice, these few tips really do nothing for me. And instead of blindly following tips because they are the best advice I can find out there, I’ve needed to adjust them (or toss them altogether) in order to make sure I’m actually staying as productive as possible, and not just wasting my time on tips that simply have no place in my life.

Here are four common productivity tips that just don’t freaking work for me (and what I do instead).

1. Schedule down to the minute.

I love a good list and a good loose schedule or outline for my day. However, if I schedule down the minute, you can bet your ass that all it is going to do is stress me out because there’s no way I’ll actually stick to a down-to-the-minute schedule.

When I inevitably run a few minutes over my allotted time to complete a certain task, I’ll freak out and throw the whole thing out the window. Instead, I chunk my time by breaking it down into categories: morning, mid-morning, early afternoon, late-afternoon, evening. That way, I have the liberty to decide what order I want to accomplish tasks in, as long as I make sure they are accomplished during the block of the day I need to get them done by.

2. Lay out your outfit the night before.

I think this tip is excellent — so much so that it is a piece of advice I’d give to anyone searching for extra hours in their busy day, especially in the morning as they rush out the door to work — but realistically, it never works for me. I try to get little things done at night to prepare for the morning, but I’m so particular about my clothing that I need to ~feel out~ what I want to wear that day when I wake up in the morning. If I lay out an outfit, there is a 100% chance I’ll change my mind about it the next day, and then have to go through the added step of folding and putting away the outfit I decided not to wear while also searching for a new one.

Here’s what I do instead: I have a list written out that I made of different outfit combinations in my closet that I love wearing. If I feel “stuck” one morning, I can refer to the list and pick something out. That way, it is similar to having an outfit picked beforehand, but I get a lot more choice, so it works better for me.

Same goes for packing lunches/prepping breakfast the night before: I don’t know what I’m going to be in the mood for until I wake up, so I don’t like to do any guesswork the night before. It doesn’t add too much time to my routine to decide in the morning if I want to pack a sandwich or a salad for lunch that day, and it makes me happy to give myself the time to make those choices.

3. Don’t try to multitask.

I get spooked by silence, and even though I see the merit in spending some hours of the day in silence to let your brain breathe, I haven’t gotten to the point where I like to do this while working. I need music or even a rerun of a sitcom I’ve already seen on Netflix in the background. If the room is silent, I can guarantee my mind will go to 36 places aside from the task at hand. If I have a Scrubs rerun on, my mind will be in two places only: focusing on my task, and lightly paying attention to the television in the background.

4. Wake up extremely early.

I’m definitely a morning person and love waking up early just because I love breakfast and yoga, and those are morning activities for me. But weirdly enough, I’m actually both a morning and a night person. I can happily stay up until 2 AM getting shit done, and I can happily wake up at 4 AM if I need to get something done in the morning (although I don’t think I’d do both of those things on the same night).

However, when I take a look at how my productivity varies from morning to night, I notice that I actually get my best work done in the evening as compared to what I can accomplish in the morning. My theory is that in the AM, even though I’m wide-awake and capable of working, my brain is so busy coming “online” for the day and thinking about all the other stuff I have to/want to do, so I have a harder time focusing on work-related tasks. So, even though I can realistically pull the late-night-shift to get extra work done or get up super-early in the morning and be happy either way, I choose staying up late to do the work more often these days. I know that x-amount of CEOs swear that waking up at 3:45 AM makes them more successful people, but I guess I’m not one of them.

Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at mary@thefinancialdiet.com!

Image via Unsplash

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  • Ros

    Maybe I’m just projecting, but it seems like “wake up early” is a good tip mostly for parents. Before having kids, my best work would get done in the evening. Now, the baby and toddler are demanding as heck from 6am to 8pm (maternity leave is NOT relaxing, y’all) and 14 hours of chasing small humans leaves me too wiped to do anything decent in the evening, so waking up before my kids is the only thing that gives me time to work.

    Or childcare. Childcare gives time and is amazing and appreciated.

    • Wolf

      I don’t have kids, and I’ve always been a morning person. I can get up at 6am and be productive, but I’m pretty much useless after dinner.
      I like getting work done before my coworkers come, because I like silence. And because the lab equipment is not blocked by other people in the morning.

      I do pick my clothes for the next day, and put them next to the shower, so I can quietly get ready for work without waking my favourite person.

      • HL

        How are we defining “morning person” these days, anyway? Mary says in this piece that she is a morning person but then goes on to say she is more productive and focused in the evening and prefers to work at that time – which to me indicates the complete opposite of what it means to be a morning person. I always thought of morning people as those who could naturally rise at an early hour and felt most energetic at the start of the day, but many people seem to have a looser definition – i.e. I enjoy sunrises and can occasionally haul my butt out of bed to go to the gym at 5AM, so a morning person I must be! I myself love the serenity of early mornings, but my body just absolutely hates getting up that early and can’t adjust to it – I am not a morning person.

  • Gah! So true about the multitasking one! I can’t concentrate only on one task until there is something buzzing in the background. Guess I picked this up during my school days. And EVERY single person I meet keep reciting, “Science has proved multitasking is not productive!” Sigh!