Kiyomi Appleton Gaines
SHRM-CP, Nonprofit Culture, Writer, Storyteller

We all feel overwhelmed from time to time. Whether it's taking care of our families, or work demands, we still have to get things done. First, make sure you are taking proper care of yourself, get enough sleep, meditate, insist on a girls night, whatever self-care means for, prioritize those things! With that said, here are 10 steps to streamlining your productivity through it all!

1. Make a To-Do List

I start by getting everything written down. Write down everything that's on your mind, every task, deadline, meeting, errand, even your grocery list. Once it's on paper, you won't waste valuable brain bandwidth thinking about – and trying not to forget – all those little things you need to get done!

Next, identify the top three or four things that have to get done today. On a new page write those down, don’t write more than four, and rank them in order of importance. It can be helpful to make an Eisenhower Matrix, also called a Priority or 4x4 Matrix.

Draw a “+” in the middle of a piece of paper. Along the left side, at the bottom write Not Important, and at the top write Important; along the top edge of the paper, mark the left as Urgent, and the right, Not Urgent.

Put each of your four to-do list items into one box. You only get one. Remember, take one day at a time, and this is just for today. The thing that is in the Important and Urgent box is your Number One Top Priority for today. Now, flip your to-do list over, and on the reverse side, write the Number One Top Priority, and break into smaller discrete tasks.

If you need something more automated, here are some great to-do list apps that can help you.

2. Email

This can be overwhelming, but you’re not going to tackle it all in one day. Open your email and immediately make one folder titled Look at Today and one titled Look at This Week. Based only on the subject lines, quickly go through and moved each email into one of your folders, and delete any obvious junk. Set an away message saying that you’ll get back in touch within the week – or maybe not at all! Some people are opting out of the email-tag game altogether, with mixed result. At the very least, try to set specific times for email and don't let the urgency of new message alerts distract you from your focused work.

3. Take Breaks

The human brain can only engage in deep focus work for about 90 minutes before it needs a break. And after about fifty hours of work per week, the additional work that is actually accomplished is negligible, and may even lead to rework due to mistakes or omissions. This is the law of diminishing returns, where the additional input into a situation no longer leads to the equivalent output. So get away from your desk at strategic times, and return recharged so you can actually finish your most important tasks!

10 AM. Get up, step away from your desk. Go get a cup of coffee or a glass of water. Stretch your arms over your head. Take a walk to pop in and say hello to your work bff. Go stand in the parking lot for a minute and get some sun. Check your phone now, but don’t return messages yet, and walk while you do it. Whatever you do, just take at least a minute away from your desk.

Noon. Go eat lunch. Eat something that makes you feel good to eat, and that will stave off the mid-afternoon slump. Aim for a good mix of lean protein and complex carbohydrates. A turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and sprouts is a good and easy bet! Don’t eat at your desk, and if at all possible, leave the office. Go run that tiny errand that is nagging at you. Get yourself a frappe at your favorite coffee shop. Before you head back in, soak up another minute in the fresh air and sun. Cross the day off your wall or desk calendar! You’re half way through!

3P.M. Take another walk around the office, refill your water bottle, check your personal messages and take a few minutes to return any that need to be addressed by COB.

4. Leave Better

Fifteen minutes before you leave, clean up your desk, put your notes and files away where you can readily find them in the morning. Make yourself a note of where you left off on a project, so you can easily get back into the swing tomorrow. Five minutes before you leave, write down your four item to-do list for tomorrow.

5. Leave Altogether

Taking time away from work can lead to great boosts in creativity, productivity, and engagement. Sabbaticals can be used to invest in some work related activity, like expanding your network and gaining new skills, or to pursue a side hustle or bucket list item, like global travel or launching your passion project. Either way, the intentional pause from your typical day to day can really pay off not only for you, but for your company as well.

6. Get up Earlier or Stay up Later

Many people find the early morning to be a great time to tackle their top priorities. If you can get up an hour or so earlier (make sure you go to bed earlier, too!), use that quiet time to plot out your day, squeeze in a workout, or even chip away at your big project! If you're a night owl like me, find out if flex time is an option for you, and whether your boss really cares about seeing your face, or your deliverables! Work from home once everyone's gone to bed and your creative juices are flowing. Either way, get yourself on a better sleep schedule.

7. Eat Something

I know, between taking breaks and limiting your email and getting up early (or staying up late), you really just don't have time! But if you don't eat, you won't have the fuel your body needs to continue and produce good work. Our brains demand 20 percent of our resting metabolism on a lazy day, or nearly 11 calories an hour. Add in deep thinking, focused work, and a crazy schedule, and you need to feed your brain, or you'll end up unfocused, confused, and error-prone. So eat breakfast, stop for lunch, and have snacks as you need to! I usually bring a piece of fruit or a small dish of trail mix to snack on at my desk. If you need some inspiration, here are some easy lunch recipes.

8. Streamline

Group errands and similar tasks. If you're taking your kid to dance class, grab those few grocery items on the way back. Try to schedule several meetings in the same place so you don't have to travel. Knock out email in a dedicated chunk of time.

9. Delegate

Can your partner take the kid to dance instead? Can your colleague take one or two items off your plate? No, other people won't do things the same way that you would, but breathe and let it go! The important thing is that the things that need to be done are taken care of.

10. Remember That it's Not Life or Death

Through it all, remember that your 100 percent isn't going to be the same from week to week. We all have ups and downs, off days, and peak busy times – and we're all allowed to. My boss tells the story of a woman he used to work with who, when the team was harried and frazzled around her, would look around and calmly point out, “Nobody died.” In the majority of our circumstances, that's going to be true. Part of being a rock star performer is knowing and going with that flow, instead of fighting it