The older I get, the more I realize that in so many cases, we really are our own worst enemies. Life does throw challenges at all of us, but somehow, we’re often the ones getting in our own way.
It’s easy to make excuses for ourselves. It’s much harder to live with the consequences of those excuses. So in hopes of making all our lives better—whatever that looks like to each of us—here are some tips to make your life easier and your goals more accessible. And don’t worry. I’m not into drastic changes. I improved my life hugely by gradually implementing just a series of small changes. That’s what I suggest for you too. To get you started, here are a few small steps you can take to make it easier to get things done.
1. Put Things Where You Need Them
If your home organization skills are already highly developed, you may not need this tip. If, on the other hand, you’re more like me—a “shove it wherever there’s room” person who has never pinned closet designs on Pinterest or enjoyed a single desk declutter video on YouTube—then this could really help.
It’s easier to get tasks done if you don’t have to first traipse halfway across the house to grab whatever tools you need to do them, or, even worse, figure out where things are in the first place. I found myself working out much more consistently once I made a space dedicated to exercising, with my yoga mats, my weights, and my towels all arranged for easy access. My cats’ dining area stays swept and clean because I hung a little broom and dustpan right behind it. I actually remember all the groceries I need because I use the whiteboard next to the fridge to make note of anything that’s running low right when I notice it.
Take a minute to think about the tasks and chores that you find the hardest. Are there ways to reduce the friction of doing them? If part of the hassle involves setting yourself up with what you need to accomplish your goals, it’s time to think about making adjustments to where you store things in order to minimize that friction.
2. Set Yourself Up to Get Things Done
Speaking of reducing friction, some other small adjustments can pay off in big ways.
For decades, I had a hard time getting up and getting my day started in the mornings. I found myself losing a half hour of productivity here, an hour of productivity there, first thing every day. The early morning struggle often set the tone for the day too. It’s never helpful to begin your day by feeling like you’ve already messed it up. Conversely (and inconveniently), I often found myself energized with a second wind late in the evening, long after the end of the workday.
When I started leveraging my evening alertness to manage my morning sluggishness, my days as a whole started running more smoothly right away.
Just as putting things where you need them helps to ease the burden of everyday tasks, setting your days up the night before helps ease the burden of getting going the next day. How this looks will vary depending on your habits and your needs. My personal productivity-boosting bedtime routine involves grinding some coffee, topping up the water in the kettle, washing any dishes in the sink, and checking the weather forecast and deciding what I’ll wear the next day. I also sit down with my planner and review tomorrow’s appointments and to-dos.
The point of this nighttime ritual is twofold. One, it minimizes the decisions I need to make in the morning. If I know what I’m going to wear and I know what I need to do, I don’t find myself battling analysis paralysis in the morning. And two, it minimizes the amount of work and frustration I have to deal with when I’m preparing my coffee and beginning my day.
Think about what you need throughout the course of your day, and consider how you can set yourself up in advance to meet those needs with minimal friction. Are you a breakfast eater? Meal prepping your breakfast the night before means at least a few minutes and a little labor shaved off in the morning. Are you (or your children) students? Packing your bookbag(s) before bed means not having to scramble to pull together what you need before you leave. Basically, spend a few minutes each night doing your morning self a favor.
3. Trick Yourself Into Getting Started
The two tactics I described above are great for making it as easy as possible to get things done, but sometimes the obstacles we have to overcome aren’t tangible. Mental resistance to necessary tasks is a huge productivity killer.
We’ve all been there. We know we need to do something. We start thinking about it, mentally preparing ourselves by planning out each step and calculating the time we’ll need to spend on our task. Somehow, during this mental prep work, our minds start exaggerating the time and labor cost of the task until something simple and routine feels as burdensome as a trek up an icy mountain.
Then, because we’ve convinced ourselves that the task is going to take so long and be so much work, we start dragging our feet about getting started. We put it off, sometimes so long that the task itself actually does get harder—think of the difference between washing two dishes and washing an entire sink piled high with pots and pans and two days’ worth of coffee mugs.
When we finally do it, we end up shocking ourselves at how quick and easy it was compared to how we’d pictured it in our heads. We roll our eyes at ourselves. And then, most likely, we end up doing the same thing to ourselves again and again and again.
Our minds start exaggerating the time and labor cost of the task until something simple and routine feels as burdensome as a trek up an icy mountain.
Getting started often truly is the hardest part of getting things done. Not because any of our tasks are so insurmountable, but because we humans, with all our imagination and creativity and free will, are really good at sabotaging ourselves. So sometimes we have to resort to base trickery to get ourselves to do things.
I’m a fan of the Pomodoro technique for tricking myself into powering through tasks that I’ve been dreading. The Pomodoro technique divides tasks into short periods of work (usually 20 to 25 minutes) interspersed with clearly defined break periods (five minutes, with longer breaks after every third or fourth work session).
Knowing that I only have to work for 20 or 25 minutes and then I get a break is usually enough to overcome my resistance to getting started. When the resistance is unusually strong, however, I like to deploy a trick that my friend Irina introduced to me and named “reverse Pomodoro.”
It’s exactly what it sounds like. Instead of working for 20 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break, reverse Pomodoro rewards five minutes of work with a 20-minute break. It’s not meant to be used for the entire task, because that would obviously stretch a task out for way too long, but for breaking past resistance and just getting started, it’s fantastic. Five minutes of anything is doable, and I usually find myself cutting the 20-minute break short to get back to the task and keep going.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely find yourself doing the thing far more readily and finding tasks far less overwhelming as soon as you actually begin.
Small Changes Create Big Results
In skincare, I often talk about how small, incremental changes add up over time to dramatic results. The same goes for productivity and quality of life. At first, little adjustments like organizing your things where they’re needed and getting ready for your mornings the night before may feel like extra work, but those adjustments pay off over time both in efficiency and quality of life. And saving yourself a little time and frustration here and there can add up to more time and energy to spend on what you actually enjoy and want to pursue!
What steps do you take to make it easier to get things done in your everyday life? Let us know in the comments!