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11 secrets to getting more done

Feeling swamped by all the tasks at hand? Here's how to accomplish more and avoid the sense of being overwhelmed.

By MSN Money Partner Sep 9, 2013 12:40PM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News. 

MTN logoI am not one of those full-of-energy, get-a-million-things-done-in-a-day types. So when I told my family and friends I planned to quit my full-time job to start freelancing on my own, I wasn't met with a rush of support.

In fact, I heard things like: "You know, being self-employed is really hard work." "Do you think you're organized enough for something like that?" And my personal favorite, "Well, at least you'll get to take those afternoon naps you love."

That was almost eight years ago. Today, I'm still freelancing and I get a lot more done in a day than I used to. It took some trial and error, but I found a few ways to power through and still have time to do the stuff I enjoy. Here are some tips:

1. Keep multilevel to-do lists

I'm a huge believer in to-do lists, but a long, cluttered mess of everything you want to accomplish will only make you feel bogged down. To keep things organized, group your to-do lists into categories. For example, I have a work to-do list organized by projects that need completed, business meetings and emails, and accounting tasks. I also have a separate personal to-do list organized by chores, errands and appointments.

2. Prioritize

If your to-do list is three pages long, you're probably creating too many tasks for yourself. I struggle with this myself. I'll write down everything from an important meeting to laundry. Then, when I can’t get to all of it, I feel frustrated. To combat this, I write down everything I think I should do in a week, and then I go back and cross out what really doesn't matter.

Do I need to write down laundry? Probably not. I'll just do it when I run out of clean underwear anyway. After that process, my list is focused and I get a little mental boost from already having tasks checked off.

3. Use a timer

Most people are guilty of distracting themselves and procrastinating. At least once a day I'll catch myself checking for a new blog post on Hyperbole and a Half, reading through The Atlantic’s archives, or trying for the 300th time to beat a level in Candy Crush Saga. I should be working, but I also want to use my Candy Bomb. To cut down on distractions I use an online timer. For 60 minutes, I can't do anything but work on the task at hand. After the timer goes off, I give myself leeway and try the level for the 301st time.

4. Own your email

If your email box is bursting at the seams, you can't remember what needs an answer, or you can't find something important, you're going to feel overwhelmed. Instead, resolve to empty your inbox every day before you head home. Set a time to check your email, and act on it as soon as you open it. Answer it and delete it, or put it on your to-do list for later and file it away.

5. Delegate

Doing tasks yourself can save money, but remember: Time -- not money -- is the most valuable resource you have. If you’d have to spend all weekend learning how to repair a leak in your AC unit or you have to head home early to mow your lawn, consider delegating the task to someone else. Save your time for stuff you enjoy and excel at.

6. Eat your frogs

This saying has often been attributed to Mark Twain:

If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.

Most of us avoid the things we don’t want to do and we keep putting them off, which causes more stress. Instead, learn to tackle your least favorite task first thing in the morning. Once it's out of the way, the dread won’t slow you down anymore and you’ll get more accomplished.

7. Make a playlist

Music can work wonders for your productivity. I've found that if I listen to music that makes me happy at work, I'm better at my job. If I listen to music that makes me feel calm, I have an easier time doing chores at home. Find your tunes, make a playlist, and let the music help you get through the day.

8. Purge your time sucks

Take a hard look at your obligations and ask yourself, "Am I doing this because I want to or because I feel like I should?" If you're doing something because you feel obligated or haven't gotten around to quitting, give it up.

9. Sleep

Make sure you get a good night's rest. Don’t sacrifice sleep just to get more done. After a while, you'll burn out and actually get less done.

10. Track your time

One of the best things I've done for myself is tracking my time. For a week I wrote down everything I did and how long I spent doing it. After the week was up, I looked at the results and could clearly see that I was spending too much time on a variety of tasks.

11. Unplug

You will work better and get more done if you give yourself time to unplug and unwind. At least once a day, shut off your email, stop checking social networks, and do something you love. Whenever you have vacation time, take it, even if you just stay home. Giving yourself time to recharge really will pay off.

More on Money Talks News:

Sep 9, 2013 2:13PM
The secret is to just get off the couch and do something, anything. You'll find that the more you do the more you'll get done. It's really pretty simple.
Sep 9, 2013 3:33PM
I agree with this list.  I'm not the full of energy type either, and I've found that getting enough down time makes me more productive. When I dont get enough sleep, my mind wanders, I'm forgetful, and I make mistakes.  I also break up my 10hr day half way through with a good solid hour for lunch, and I leave the office.  I get something to eat then sometimes do an errand or two, or just sit somewhere in the shade in my car & hang out for a while listening to music.  I have to recharge.
Sep 21, 2013 10:33AM
Quit spending so much time at the computer like we all just did.
Sep 21, 2013 3:49AM
Reasonable and sound advice.  Thanks for the common sense reminders! Cheers.
Sep 21, 2013 10:35AM

I bought a big dry erase white board and markers.  My to do list is now up on the wall where I cannot not see it, unlike a piece of paper/s that get shoved in my purse or left on the table. (or rewritten dozens of times!)  Instead of crossing things off the list I can erase it and add easily.  I can have multiple lists going for the day, week, month, next month. Also an area to check off regular items every month, so I can see if it was done this month or not.  I write important items that are added I need to remember.  I use red markers for urgent attention items.  Things that need to be done in order can be numbered randomly on the board and erased in number order as the steps are done.


Before this I was using a giant paper calender.  It was getting messy every month.  So much better with the dry erase board.

Sep 21, 2013 11:08AM

The saying is "If the first thing that you to do in the morning is to eat a live frog, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that it's probably the worst thing that's going to happen to you all day."


The point is the sooner in the day we tackle an unpleasant task, the easier the rest of our day will be.  We tend to procrastinate when it comes to unpleasant tasks, putting them off during the day.  But that just makes the entire day unpleasant because of knowing that what we still have to do it is hanging around our neck as a burden.  On the other hand, if we force ourselves to do the unpleasant thing first thing, we are freed from it and the rest of the day will go much easier.


It works. 

Sep 21, 2013 10:02AM
Dear Ms. Colley, Thank you for these very helpful ideas.  Obviously, a body in motion stays in motion.  Now if I could just get up from my desk chair...
Sep 9, 2013 3:06PM
Although I'm retired, I do a lot!  I think it would be pretty hard to find another 64 year old woman who does as much as I do.  I do try to squeeze in a nap in the afternoon.
Sep 21, 2013 4:35AM
My 29 yr old once told me, at least your always moving. Doing something. Unlike my 27yr old who sits on the couch or sleeps. Made me feel good. And no I didn;t raise her to be lazy :/
Sep 9, 2013 3:58PM

mow shooting range 3 acres of grass

weed eat shooting range

paint shooting range

buy 12 bags of sand and put in sand box

mow my own yard

weed eat my yard

apply insect killer to yard

fertilize yard

plant new grass seed

the list goes on

Sep 21, 2013 10:12AM

Due to whatever reason (that I'm tired of discussing with life coaches) I tend to be melancholy about life in general.  I am overall a moderately depressed person.  Once I figured that out I've decided recently to start my day listening to IL VOLO, a trio of young men from Italy who do opera-pop concerts.  I find them on youtube for free and just recently began buying their cds. 

As long I wear my headphones I am definitely neither sad nor confused about what my next move should be. Get stuff done? check check check!!  Make money and meeting decisions, juggle commitments with clients, pay bills...check check check!

Listening to them is the best decision I've made to move forward, go to work, get stuff done and  feel more optimistic about each day and myself.

I don't wake up feeling any better than usual, except now I keep my headphones by the bed and listen to at least one song.  If it's Saturday or Sunday, I try to find an old B Movie so that I can start the day laughing. 


Sep 21, 2013 7:51AM
Love what you do and you will feel better about completing the task. 
Sep 21, 2013 1:51PM
I agree with playing music for increased productivity for those mundane, boring, energy draining tasks.    My mom used to play big band music to get through her Saturday house cleaning. 

  Just yesterday I popped in "Big Band volume 3"  and those dishes got done, floors got swept, and that laundry got folded  to the sounds of The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Artie Shaw, Bennie Goodman and Duke Ellington.  Nothing like big band music to give you instant energy !
Sep 21, 2013 8:33AM
Good advice.  I'm going to try the multi-level lists.  The same thing happens to me--I make a big old list and then look at it and go, "Auugh, too much!"  And the timer thing. 
Sep 25, 2013 8:06PM

wow.  Strawberry247 just told  me what to do and I didn't even ask!!!!  She said...volunteer at an animal shelter, get a dog.  I've taken in strays for decades, found them homes.  I have a rescue puppy already.  I'm tired of taking in stray dogs, cats, guinea pigs, horses, people.  This is my year to say "God, somebody else help out these individuals, I'm tired."

Believe me, volunteering is exhausting!!!!!!!!!!!, Strawberry247, and NO THANKS!

Sep 21, 2013 2:21PM

Thanks for sharing. This list was very helpful. I do not have the energy that I use to have. I trying to start a home business, so I will make this list a guide line to my success. Lets see if I can make this  this work.

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