How to Get Things Done and Start 2021 Productively

January 12, 2021 5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While I’m all about the holiday season, it can definitely be stressful and overwhelming. In fact, one survey found that the holidays are the most stressful for employees. In addition to doing a number on your health and well-being, it can impact your output. 

So, how do you get back on the right track? Here are seven ways to get started. 

1. It’s time to get real

Find some time for yourself. In your solitude, really think about what you can actually accomplish right now — it’s better to tackle a few important tasks than a hundred meaningless ones. Set more attainable expectations. For example, you may pride yourself on responding to emails as soon as they come through, but constantly checking your inbox is definitely counterproductive.

Personally, I limit myself to checking my inbox only three times a day. It’s a simple way to keep emails in-check while also not getting constantly distracted by them.

Related: How to Exceed Expectations and Never Overpromise

2. Put your to-do list on a diet

“Avid gardeners know from experience that accelerating the growth of a tree … requires pruning it,” writes keynote speaker, author and executive coach Sara Canaday. “To make it grow bigger, you have to cut it back.

While this may sound counterintuitive, the idea also rings true with any professional. “If we want remarkable business growth, we need the courage to prune things back, our schedules, our projects, and our commitments,” explains Canaday. “We must be willing to drop our dependency on some of the things we’ve always done, even if they’ve been wildly successful in the past.”

“Modern thinkers have adopted this unconventional approach by applying the prune-to-grow logic across the full spectrum of their tasks,” she adds. “Basically, they take everything they do off auto-pilot.” Instead, they question their value. If they discover that “it’s not worthy of their time and attention, they let it go.” That includes everything from administrative tasks to weekly team meetings to networking events.

To get you started, Canaday recommends taking the following steps:

  • First, start with your to-do list and calendar. Rather than following the same patterns, review your lists and schedule to make sure that they still add value. Whatever no longer creates value can be rescheduled, delegated, or dropped. Something like the Eisenhower Matrix may also come in handy.
  • Second, think about what you do on a broader scale. Reflect on the products, services, initiatives or projects that you’ve been responsible for. Have they run their course? If so, it’s time to move on from them.
  • Third, get clarity about what really matters. Before committing to anything else, ask what will align with and support your objectives.

In short, it’s about focusing on the vital few.

3. Carve out non-negotiable work time

Now that you’ve identified your priorities add them to your calendar. Why? It ensures that nothing else will get in the way.

For instance, if you block out 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. for your most important task, then don’t schedule anything else during that block of time. That means no online shopping or last-minute Zoom call. It may help to share your calendar with your family and co-workers so they can see when you aren’t available.

4. Act more like Santa

Yes, it’s January, and yes, he’s fictional. But even if you don’t celebrate the holiday, there’s actually quite a bit you can learn from jolly St. Nick. One example is his legendary workshop. It’s a sprawling complex with all of the resources and workflows needed to manufacture and distribute toys. Regardless if you’re a toymaker or not, have a dedicated workspace that’s quiet and free of distractions like clutter and background noise. It should also have everything you need to get your work done.

He also has elves who make the toys. I mean, there’s no way one man could meet this insurmountable expectation. In the real world, surround yourself with people who trust. When you do, you can delegate and outsource less important tasks, then hone in on your priorities.

Related: How to Delegate With Confidence

5. Don’t overcommit

On top of your daily responsibilities, there are also client events, family obligations and social functions. That leaves you with a packed calendar, leaving you less time to focus on your priorities. Be more selective, and don’t be afraid to politely say “no.”

6. Focus more on your health

As you know, it’s not that difficult to gain weight between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day — although it’s not as much as you think. The weather stinks, and you’re overindulging in everything from sweets to alcohol. You’re also eating out more and getting less sleep.

However, when you neglect your health, you have less energy and focus. By being more active in the new year, you can actually get more done.

Related: 20 Habits Holding Me Back From Being a Millionaire

7. Prioritize your happiness

Researchers from the University of Warick found that we work harder when we’re happy. In fact, happiness makes us 12% more productive.

A simple way to lift your spirits is to get festive. “There’s nothing like hearing a favorite old song to brighten your spirits,” writes the Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups. In addition to making you happier, music can improve memory, decrease stress, and even reduce pain. Don’t be afraid to dive into your current playlist or put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones.

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