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  • Sam Darling

Productivity tips

When I lived in Brooklyn we had a Volvo station wagon that was shared among four of us. Due to the public parking situation, I put a map of our local streets on the fridge and a small magnet representing the car next to a hook for the keys. The system was when you got home you’d hang up the key and move the magnet to show where the car was parked so the next person who needed to use it could easily find it.

This magnet solution was one of those obvious and easy fixes for a problem that I didn’t think twice about but everyone who came over would comment on its efficacy. So when I hear people marvel at my scheduling prowess I figured it might be time to share some of those tips, too.

It may be obvious or you may know all this stuff already but here goes:

When something pops up on my phone via a text or Facebook post or whatever that I want to explore further or that requires an action (such as paying something) I screenshot it. Twice a week I sit down at the computer and “clear” my screenshots. I go through and do all the stuff and read all the articles. It usually takes about an hour and ensures that nothing small falls through the cracks.

I screenshot on my desktop computer as well and those are set up to copy to a shared folder along with my phone screenshots so it’s like a visual to-do list when I sit down to clear everything.

Most of us use our digital calendars. Those with partners and coworkers are even adept at sharing these so we can schedule items around each other’s schedules. It’s a lot, isn’t it? I have no easy system for this but I do have a working to-do list that I “clear” every day.

Basically, instead of random lists in other applications, I make a schedule item for something that needs doing: “buy shoes,” for example. If I haven’t gotten to it by the end of the day that’s fine, I’ll kick that can to the next day. What happens is that eventually I’ll have three similar items that are now together and I’ll realize I can do them all when I go to an appointment near the shopping center this week. All items sorted and nothing forgotten. As a busy mother with home businesses and volunteer commitments out the yahoo this is an indispensable habit. I “clear” my to-do list every day. Moving items or if they’re done I leave it and move on. Some items include putting in a reminder for myself for a year from now to “call John Doe” because I know time will get away from us. So this is how I maintain long-distance friendships, despite moving all over the planet.

Small items that can be done on the spot and almost as quickly as making a note of it I will do right away. I notice the lamp needs dusting while I’m making a phone call? I do it right away. I see a door knob is getting loose while I’m preparing breakfast for the kids? I fix it while they’re getting ready. What I’ve learned is that this momentary irritation of getting sidetracked by a small task saves me far more time in the mental energy it will take to remind myself to do it later — or to be annoyed again by it later. Don’t have the supply I need to make the repair? Make a note in the digital calendar right away.

Wait for a sunny day to do errands. The value in being organized is that you’re not doing anything last minute which means I can wait a day or two for a clear forecast to go run my errands. And since I walk and take transit most of the time this is a necessary luxury. Why put my safety at risk driving in the rain to go buy socks when I can use it as an excuse to take a long walk on a beautiful day instead?

It’s okay to do things early. This is a message more for parents. I used to shove the kid into a Halloween costume and then rush through taking photos and rush to get out to events on time. I’ve learned that it’s okay to try on the costume a week or two ahead of time and spend a few fun-filled hours on the silliness of dressing up and taking photos. That’s also when you find out an outfit has issues that need to be addressed. This works for other special events with new clothing. It’s also okay to celebrate a special occasion on a day you have the time to enjoy it and not just because it’s the right date.

If you hate doing it then do it fast. And I recognize this one gets me in trouble sometimes and leads to errors. However, I’m in the camp that it’s better to do something quickly than to not get it done at all. This means that if something scares me I do it right away and I do it quickly. I don’t like to obsess over a potential thing and wait days to tackle it. I dive in before I have too much time to overthink it. Hence the reason I often write these posts in the thirty minutes before I have to go do the school run.

Deep clean after the party. Many people will do a quick tidying of their home before guests come over. I enjoy letting guests trash my place and then doing a deep clean of everything after the party. Let them wear shoes and spill wine — you’ll be mopping the floors after they leave anyway.

The goal with all of this is not to be minimalist if that doesn’t suit you. It’s not to adopt complicated systems or beautiful color-coded series of folders (that you’ll never use). The goal is to save you time and mental energy. I suggest you use the extra time to drink a cup of tea and stare out a window.

For fellow creatives I’ll add that most successful writers with a large consistent output work for a few hours in the morning. I know the night owls hate to hear that, but it’s a reality. I think it has to do with needing to be sleepy and still in touch with our subconscious. A highly creative zone. For that reason I like to do my most imaginative writing in the morning before everyone else wakes up. Which doesn’t happen nearly often enough. I also like to write after going to the gym.

What are some of your tips?

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