Are you finding it impossible to get enough done in your business?
You've decided to build your business, learn more about marketing, create content for your website, and network more. Perhaps you’ve got a few other ideas too. Do these goals stall out at the planning stage?
I put together these 25 productivity hacks especially for therapists because I want you to get the important stuff done without working more. These hacks have helped me make progress in my businesses, and many of them have worked for therapists I work with. I hope some of them work for you!
Hack #1: Don’t use your email inbox as your to-do list.
Your email inbox is a great tool but a terrible master. It can lead to distraction dozens of times a day. I achieve inbox zero at least once a week. That doesn’t mean I’ve accomplished everything associated with every email I received. It means I’ve taken care of the urgent emails and put other tasks onto my to-do list.
Hack #2: Categorize different kinds of tasks and schedule time for each category.
I group my tasks into 4 categories, according to the kind of energy they require and then I schedule tasks from the same category together. Here are my four categories:
Obviously, this is the time you spend serving clients.
These tasks include writing articles, creating content for courses, creating outlines for talks, and learning new skills. This kind of work is best done in chunks of 90 minutes or more, and I don’t bother tackling one of these items if I have less than an hour available. I often feel resistant before I delve into this kind of work, but once I’m in that zone, it’s easier to stay there.
This includes any task that involves calling or. This requires social energy, and once I’ve transitioned into that energy, I can work through all of those items. Networking, whether it’s returning emails or calls or reaching out to people, belongs in this category.
These tasks require attention to detail. Some of these tasks are writing notes, paying bills, tracking numbers, and monthly reports.
Hack #3: Make checklists of all of your mundane weekly tasks.
Run through them as quickly as possible so you can save your time and energy for more creative tasks.
Hack #4: Set up your to-do list at the beginning of each day or the day before.
Decide what you’re going to do every day before you start. This prevents you from getting scattered throughout the day.
Hack #5: Use Pen and paper for your to-do list.
I use the Asana app now, and I’ve tried a lot of other task management systems too. Still, at the beginning of each workday, or sometimes the day before, I make a list on paper. Crossing items off one by one is concrete and satisfying.
Hack #6: Complete all your client-related paperwork during the part of your day set aside for client work.
Write notes between clients so that you never have to catch up. Take care of any invoicing, charging credit cards, or insurance related paperwork before you leave your office each day. If you need to add half an hour in the middle or at the end of your time with clients, do it. Don’t allow these items to swallow up your time or hang over your head.
Hack #7: Create a marketing checklist.
You’ll tend to make marketing more complex than it needs to be if you try stuff with no system. Decide the minimum marketing you’ll do each week. I encourage every therapist I work with to create a flexible marketing checklist. Your checklist should include all the marketing activities you plan to try and how often you plan to work on each one.
Hack #8: Create a model week.
You can do this in Google calendar, a paper calendar, or anywhere you like. Create the ideal week, in which you assign every task to a time. Plug in your sessions, your admin time, your marketing time, your networking time, exercise, self-care, social time, and everything you need and want time for. Work to move your actual schedule as close to this model week as you can. Return to your model week often to remind you how to set up your time.
Hack #9: Create a brain dump.
Do you have dozens of items on scraps of papers and stored in different places on your computer and phone? Pull them all together in one place so that you don’t have to hold them in your head. This isn’t your to-do list, because that would be too overwhelming. You’ll accomplish some of these items soon, but some won’t happen for a long time, or ever. Use your to-do list for you for those items that you’ll deal with in the near future, and leave the rest on the brain dump list for another day.
Hack #10: Estimate the amount of time every single item on your to-do list will take.
When I add an item to my to-do list, I always include a number of minutes next to it. I don’t write, “check email,” rather I write “check email 10” meaning I intend to spend 10 minutes on email. I “write article 120” meaning I plan to spend 2 hours on an article that day. This practice forces you to be realistic and kind to yourself when you plan your day. When you add up the items and they take up more time than you have available, you decide what you’ll move to another day.
Hack #11: Create productivity rituals.
Set up your work time up so that it feels special. This is your special chair. This is your mug with your favorite tea. This is the stretch you do before you sit down. You’ll come to associate your rituals with being productive.
Hack #12: Find an Accountability buddy.
Set up “get it done” day with a friend. It doesn’t matter if you’re rewriting your home page and she’s cleaning out her closet, as long as you both intend to focus. Start at a predetermined time and check in by phone for a VERY short time about what you’ll both accomplish. Check in again 2 hours later. Report back briefly and get back to work. When you’re done for the day give one final report and congratulate each other. Many of us thrive on accountability, and this is a free way to get some.
Hack #13: Get unstuck by taking a small step.
If an item lingers on your to-do list for months, decide whether it really needs to happen. If it does, identify the very first tiny step. For example, maybe you’ve got “create a web page about depression” on your to-do list, but you don’t know the technical steps to create a new page on your site. Your first tiny steps are to figure out what your technical question is and then to get that question answered.
Hack #14: Get offline.
Don’t allow online to become your default setting. I don’t allow myself to bounce around from site to site while I’m working. I stay focused on my task, and if questions or ideas come up that need my attention, I write them so I can let them go now and tackle them later. Have a hard time staying offline? Go somewhere with no Internet or use an app like Freedom or Anti-Social.
Hack #15: Get rid of your worst app.
Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft of the podcast Happier suggest that you "delete a soul-sucking app off your phone." Many of their listeners have deleted candy crush or Face book. One tip from their listeners is to take FB off your phone so you can only access it from your computer.
Hack #16: Make a plan about when to return calls and emails from potential clients.
Maybe you want to cut back on how often you check email and voicemail, but you still want to check for potential client inquiries 5 times a day. Create a boundary for yourself that you’ll ignore all other messages sometimes so these checking times don’t become opportunities for distraction.
Hack #17: When you’re working on something that requires focus, resist the urge to do something easier.
You’ll notice that when you schedule time for writing or any activity that requires intense focus, you’ll start jonesing to take care of something else urgent and easy. You’ll desperately want to pay a bill or check your email or look up an article. As you resist that urge, you’ll not only get a lot more done, but you’ll strengthen your ability to concentrate next time. I think therapists are better about this than the average person. We’re practiced at shutting off devices and distractions and going deep into sessions. For 50 minutes or more at a time, often several times a day, we focus intensely. We just need to do this more outside of sessions.
Hack #18: Schedule a walk in the middle of your workday.
This may seem counterintuitive if you need to be productive. When we completely unplug and go on a walk, we’re better able to solve problems and focus when you return.
Hack #19: Observe your distracted thoughts for a moment without acting on any of them.
Write down anything truly important and giggle at the rest. Here’s me for example. Today I had this article to write, and here’s just a moment of my distracted thoughts:
“There are clothes in the dryer and if they sit there they will wrinkle. And also the dishes will be so much easier tonight if I take care of emptying the dishwasher now. And also I think someone had emailed me a question. And maybe there’s something truly urgent that I’ve forgotten about. Are there any deadlines coming up that I may have forgotten? Are there any memberships about to lapse? Are any of the emails sitting in my inbox are urgent? Have I checked recently? Should my phone really be off right now? Could there be an urgent message from a client or from my child’s school? There’s a page on my website that could use some attention…”
Hack #20: Ask yourself how you’d focus if you had 3 clients in a row right now.
Somehow all of those distracting thoughts and competing priorities would leave your mind. You’d give your clients your full attention. Now try to tune out everything else and give the tasks you’ve chosen that same level of attention.
Hack #21: Clear a space.
Don’t procrastinate with a daylong desk-clearing day. Even a productivity hack can become a distraction. Just move the clutter out of your way.
Hack #22: Set a timer.
Until the timer goes off, you’re not allowed to change your mind about your area of focus.
Hack #23: Choose your priorities every quarter or so.
Knowing what you want to accomplish one to three months from now will help you focus and ignore out what’s less important.
Hack #24: At the beginning of your workday, picture yourself at the end of your workday several hours from now.
What will your future self feel happiest to have accomplished?
Hack #25: Make your Monday to-do list on Friday afternoon.
I used to waste time on Monday morning figuring out what to do first. After two days away from work, I had to get centered, catch up and remember what I was in the middle of the week before. By making my Monday list on Friday, I can let go over the weekend, and get right to work on Monday morning.
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