Productivity tips for people with more than one things to do

 
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My son just turned eight and is losing teeth left and right. He started dropping hints that he doesn’t believe in the Tooth Fairy anymore. This suspicion was likely planted at school and then confirmed when the Tooth Fairy forgot to leave money under his pillow not one, but two nights in a row. I was determined not to spill the beans prematurely, however, as my sister is still mad at me for telling her there is no Santa thirty years ago. Finally one day my son turned to me, looked me in the eye and said, "Who really is the tooth fairy." I thought, okay, he's ready, and said, "Me. I'm the Tooth Fairy." He took this in for a long moment and then looked at me wide-eyed, "For everyone?!"

My first thought: "He's not ready! I screwed this up!"

My second thought: "Is there no end to what I'm expected to do around here?"

Much of what is written on productivity is written for go-getters who are laser focused on accomplishment in one area of their lives, usually work. These people must have a team of fairies to deal with the more mundane tasks that consistently trip me up, like returning phone calls, getting dinner on the table before mutiny breaks out, and leaving money under pillows in the middle of the night. For those of us who are both the go- getters and the (local) Tooth Fairy, here are some tips:

Tip #1 - Stop complaining about how busy you are.

During a rough period a few years ago when my husband and I had both truly bit off more than we could chew, we used to greet each other at the end of the day by dumping on each other how REALLY, TRULY, FRANTICALLY busy we are. It would quickly devolve into a game of one-upmanship about whose life was more stressful. I can assure you that those conversation did little to relieve stress and even less to strengthen our marriage. When we made a pact to stop doing that, we were able to focus on the fact that we were both doing cool things that we were excited about and that made for much better dinner conversation.

Tip #2 Make choices and love them

You don't have to accept the job promotion that will require traveling two weeks out of the month. You don't have to say yes to every volunteer request at your kid's school. You don't have to get a dog. Do these things because you want to do them and then treat them like the gift, not burden, that they are.

Tip #3 Make systems

This is only my third blog post and already the second time I've mentioned systems. But the benefits are so far reaching that it is worth emphasizing again. Decide what is worthy of your brain power and what is not. Anything in the second category can be made into a system. Steve Jobs and his endless black turtlenecks? A system. Eating the same things for breakfast everyday? A system. I live in New York City and recently came up with a system for responding to people asking me for change on the subway (this typically happens 5+ times a day). It has made my commute a lot less stressful because now I have a system.

Tip #4 Find your productivity superpower and exploit it

Everybody has one. Do you go out to dinner with friends, come home late and then reorganize your closets? Can you find pockets of time anywhere? Do you stand in line at the grocery store and bang out a few lines on your screenplay while the cashier is waiting for a price check on zucchini? I cannot do either of those things, but I can wake up every morning at 5am and work on projects that are important to me, but tend to get lost in course of a normal day. (Writing a blog, say.) I would rather sleep later, but I realized that every time I have really moved my life forward, professionally or creatively, it has involved waking up every day at 5am.

How about you? Which of these four would have the most impact if you implemented it this week?

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