Loads to do but limited time? Here’s how to work smart.

When we’ve got too much on our plate and think about getting things done, we tend to plummet into a chaotic pile of mental ‘to-dos’ – all of which can feel like a heavy burden. Too often, we procrastinate, worm our way out of and silently avoid these tangled tasks. It can feel like time is not our companion but instead, a constant reminder of everything we feel we’re unable to accomplish.

So how do we avoid letting those important things we mean to do slip through the net? Studies propose that we should prioritise our workload based on the importance of each task. Meanwhile, research suggests that when we believe we have reduced willpower, we tend to perform on that very basis. If this theory is correct, we need to manage our tasks at a time of day when we know we achieve serious results.

Research by Roy Baumeister, social psychologist at Florida State University, suggests that restricted willpower, when used, leaves us with less – sort of like money. If you spend some, you’re left with a smaller amount. If this is the case we need to use our energy with the idea that it may run out. Prioritising the things that we value most should fit into this ‘productive time-frame’, where we know that we’ll ‘spend’ our willpower wisely.

In an interview for Time Magazine, Baumeister says, “Self regulation depends on a limited energy supply. As you use it, [your willpower] gets temporarily depleted [as your energy stores fall], but if you use [willpower] a lot, your capacity improves [because you can change how you allocate your energy].” So, how can we use our willpower to our benefit? First, we need to discover when we’re performing at our best.

Keep a diary
Track what you do and when you do it – diaries have the power to make us more aware of ourselves and discover when we are at our most productive. It might be a certain time of day, or even on a certain day. A diary may also help with proactiveness, too. If you commit to writing in it daily, it’ll become a part of your routine and it’s the sort of self-discipline that requires commitment, which then becomes a bigger part of your make-up.

Evaluate when you function best
Once you’ve tracked your productiveness, you can use the information to better utilise those times when you’re functioning at your best. For some, it’ll be first thing in the morning. For others, it’ll be late at night. Perhaps it’s weekends, perhaps weekdays – whatever the outcome, you will be able to determine when you’re performing at your very best.

What is important to you?
Make a list that defines your values – everything that is important to you. It could be anything from self-care to time with the family, volunteering or your career. The only thing that matters is that you list things that you care about a great deal.

Re-evaluating your schedule
You know when you use most of your energy. You know when you get things done. You know what’s important to you. The final stage of tackling the more important things in your life involves re-evaluating your time and completing the important tasks when you’re at your best, rather than tackling them when you have little willpower and energy.

Words: Lorna Webb