15 ways to get stuff done

Are you constantly procrastinating over sending that letter, or have you been putting painting the window sills on the long finger? Well no more, says Shane Cochrane, who has pulled together 15 ways to help you simply, get stuff done

Stop putting off things you have to do. Photo: Getty Images

Learn to say not to others to get your own stuff done

Make lists

thumbnail: Stop putting off things you have to do. Photo: Getty Images
thumbnail: Learn to say not to others to get your own stuff done
thumbnail: Make lists

Whatever your role in life, chances are you have too much to do. Take my nine-year-old niece, for example. Her average week consists of school; homework; Irish dancing lessons, practice and competitions up and down the country; caring for three donkeys; and attempting to train a bear-sized dog that likes to dig really big holes and play on trampolines.

For most of us, the daily tasks we're juggling are a lot less fun. There's a lot to be done, and our days are often spent doing the things we have to do, rather than the things we want to do.

Those activities that may take us closer to our dreams and goals have to wait until we've finished those that keep the lights on and put food on the table. And it's very much a health issue.

The constant struggle to get things done can be very stressful. But it doesn't have to be this way. The world of life hacks and task management has plenty of ideas that we can all use to get stuff done with less stress. Here are 15 of them.

1 Make a list

The most starting point for getting stuff done is actually knowing what stuff you have to do. So, before you start, you'll need to prepare a list of all those things that are waiting to be done. Don't overthink it.

If it needs doing, write it down. Making a list like this saves so much time in the long run. You can tell at a glance what tasks you have to do - and not having to remember them really helps reduce your stress. It's also very satisfying when you start ticking tasks as completed.

2 Define your goals

Being busy isn't the same as being productive. It's easy to be busy doing things that aren't that important. One of the best ways to make sure you're getting your most important tasks done is to take the time to discover what's important to you.

What are your goals? What do you want to do with your life? Once you have the answers to these questions, it becomes easier to prioiritise your tasks. Do the important things first - the rest can wait.

3 Eat a frog

Personal development expert Brian Tracy believes we should begin each day by eating a frog. According to Tracy, frogs are those tasks that we tend to put off because they seem too big, or complex or time consuming.

But many of those tasks, if completed, are also likely to make the biggest impact on our lives. And because of that, Tracy suggests we tackle those tasks first each day. But what if you have a number of frogs on your plate? Tracy recommends you eat the ugliest one first.

4 Break it up

For bigger tasks, you might have to break them up to make them manageable. Tracy suggests using the "salami slice" method, where you cut the task into smaller, more manageable pieces that you then complete - one at a time.

He also advocates the "Swiss cheese" method. It's slightly less methodical, but just as effective for getting certain jobs done. Like the name suggests, you take small bites out of a big task, hitting it hard for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, before moving on to something else.

5 Give it your full attention

Regardless of whether you use the "salami slice" or "Swiss cheese" method, once you've started on the task you should give it your full attention. Don't think about all those other tasks waiting to be done, or all those other things you'd much rather be doing. Focus on the task in hand.

Primarily, this is so you can get it done - quickly and to the best of your ability. But Brian Tracy believes that when we focus in this way, we become more productive, more confident - and happier.

6 Use the two-minute rule

David Allen is famous for Getting Things Done, a task management system that can be used to run your life or your company, even if that company happens to be Microsoft.

Allen's system sets out how to break projects down into actionable tasks, how to schedule the completion of those tasks using task lists and diaries, and how to delegate tasks.

But most important is his two-minute rule. Allen says that if you come across a task that can be done in two minutes or less - such as returning a phone call or sending a short email - you just do it. Right there. Right then. You don't postpone it. You don't write it in your diary or put it on a task list. You don't leave it in the hope that someone else will do it. You get it done.

7 Find the best time to be productive

Ray Josephs, author of How to Gain an Extra Hour Every Day, believes we should do our most important tasks during our most productive hours. And when is that? It's when you feel at your most alert. So it's not going to be the same for everyone.

Some of us feel at our best in the morning, and some of us come alive later in the day. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to this ebb and flow of productiveness. Puberty does something that makes it near impossible for them to be in bed before 11pm, which means they are at a disadvantage when required to do anything that requires focus and concentration early in the morning.

This isn't about late night socialising; something hormonal is going on. But a study by the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Centre in Rhode Island found that by having later school start times and allowing teenagers to sleep a little later in the morning, they became more alert and better able to learn.

8 Don't just wait, get things done

Ray Josephs also believes we could make good use of time that's normally wasted. Whether it's waiting on buses, commuting on trains, or walking from A to B, this time, he says, could be put to good use making phone calls, answering emails, revising, listening to audio books, updating task lists - anything really.

It's amazing what can be done. When Arthur Conan Doyle first opened his GP practice, he had very few patients and even less money. But he used the gaps between patients to pursue his literary ambitions - and make some money - by writing detective stories. It paid his bills - and gave the world Sherlock Holmes.

9 Plan your day the night before

Many success gurus extol the virtues of planning your day the night before. "Never begin the day until it is finished on paper," said Jim Rohn, the gurus' guru.

Basically, you select those tasks on your to-do list that you're going to tackle, and you schedule the time to do them. There's any number of reasons for why this is a good idea, but the main one is that when you're ready to get stuff done, you're not wasting time on deciding where to start. According to Brian Tracy, you can save two hours a day when you spend 10 minutes planning the night before.

10 Try the Pomodoro Technique

For tasks that require focus and concentration, you could try the Pomodoro Technique. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work on the task - giving it your full attention, with no distractions - until the timer goes off. Then take a five-minute break. Repeat this process another three times, and then take a half-hour break. Continue until the job is done. The technique was devised by Francesco Cirillo, who believed that taking frequent breaks improves mental agility. Cirillo devised his method using a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato - or pomodoro in Italian.

11 Keep score

According to Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles, successful people keep score. They continually monitor their progress and their achievements. It lets you know if you're getting more done, and it lets you know if you're closer to reaching your goals. But more importantly, it can give you a sense of achievement. This can motivate you to do more, and it's incredibly good for your wellbeing.

12 Understand that you can't do everything

You really can't do everything. In fact, you don't have to do everything. But some of us will really struggle to let go of those jobs that we feel we should be doing ourselves. For example, if you've grown your business from nothing, you might seethe at the very idea that you now need someone to help you manage it.

And if you're a parent, you might fight any suggestions that you need help with the kids. But it's okay to ask for help, and it doesn't have to mean giving over control or admitting defeat. It may even be as simple as asking your partner to do a little more.

13 Learn to say 'no'

You may be the kind of person that likes to help others; and you always make time and do your best for friends and family. But making someone else's life easier often makes your life harder. So, sometimes you're just going to have to say 'no'. Fergus O'Connell, author of Earn More, Stress Less suggests being honest when you do this and say, "I don't really have time to do that right now." Failing that, he also suggests working in places where friends and family are unlikely to find you.

14 Stick with it

Not everything in this article will be useful to you. But if you do find something that works for you, stick with it. Committing to a successful system can lead to great things.

For example, Anthony Trollope enjoyed his job with the post office, but he wanted to be a writer. So every morning, beginning at 5.30am, Trollope would write for three hours before going to work. He worked continuously during that three hours; and if he finished writing a novel, he would immediately begin the next one. And though Trollope's job took him to as far from home as Egypt and Central America, he still wrote for three hours each morning, and became one of Victorian England's most successful and prolific writers.

15 Don't be so hard on youerself

Finally, we all make mistakes, particularly when we're pushing ourselves. And the harder you try, the more likely it is that you will make mistakes. But don't be so hard on yourself. As Richard Carlson, the man who told us "Don't sweat the small stuff", said: "We learn from our mistakes and from stumbling. The best any of us can do, in any given moment, is to call it as we see it, to give it our best shot. None of us, however, certainly not I, have mastered life."