Striving for Productivity, Efficiency and Happiness


Learning From A Productivity Challenge

busy image

I am excited to be speaking at the inaugural WordCamp DC this summer. I will be talking about my favorite tools for productivity, as well as tips and tricks for being more productive. As I prepare for this presentation, I am undertaking a 30 day Productivity Challenge. During this time, I am researching different ideas about productivity, and trying different methods to pay attention to, measure and track my behavior and productivity. This is the first in a series of blog posts about this Challenge.

I am a Tool Junkie! I love trying things that claim to save me time, automate tasks and make life easier. I have always prided myself on being a great time manager and multi-tasker! And yet, as someone who works for myself and works from home, I am finding it harder to feel “successful” at really controlling my time, and I notice that I end up going down lots of rabbit holes, getting bogged down in email and generally feeling chained to my work no matter where I go or what I do.

Busy vs. Productive

I am in front of my computer A LOT: probably 10+ hours a day with a few breaks thrown in here and there, and even on my breaks, I am usually looking at my phone. I am not complaining – I believe that like it that way. I enjoy being connected all the time although I recognize that much is written and discussed about how this is not healthy. I will explore this idea in my review of the second week of my challenge, when I focus on habits.

I often feel like there are not enough hours in the day. Don’t you? My To Do list is never empty, and while I strive for “Zero Inbox” that is not a reality (I come close most days though!). We live in a culture of “busy” and wear our maxed-out schedules like a badge of honor – competing to see who is busier/more important: “I didn’t even have time to eat lunch today!” … “Well I didn’t even have time to go to the bathroom!”

And yet, there are dozens of blogs, podcasts and books about simplifying, downsizing, minimizing and shunning the “busy” culture. Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Work Week tempts us with its promise of being so productive, we hardly need to work at all – “10x your output!”

One of my goals of my 30 day challenge is to make my “busy” time more productive by better-defining what “done” is and having more control over my time by realistically scheduling my days and tasks. In the book Getting Things Done but David Allen, he outlines several tactics for productivity. Key among them is getting thoughts out of your head and into a system of lists that will allow your brain to be less burdened and able to focus on the task at hand. Like dieting, being productive is mostly about planning ahead and paying attention to what you are “consuming” or doing at a given moment. Having notes and lists in a system that helps you plan your days, weeks and months, is a key to managing the “busy” and becoming productive.

Week One

Productivity Score: 7/10

Actions Implemented:

  • Planned one hour time blocks for each day at the beginning of the week (making adjustments as needed)
  • Paused inbox (most days) and checked email only 3 times per day
  • Removed Facebook app from my phone and did not check Facebook (posted about one major family event on Tuesday)
  • Studied books about productivity tactics
  • Meditated every day for 3-5 minutes

Improvements for Week 2:

  • More time for work with fewer personal/family commitments
  • Take Pomodoro breaks
  • Better define specific tasks within a project instead of general task title
  • Continue meditation practice and attention to mindfulness to increase focus
  • Work on changing and developing better habits
  • Get more sleep

Key Lessons:

  • Weekly and nightly review and prep is helpful
  • Flexibility is not a bad thing, but I should use better judgment when I know I am getting carried away from the task at hand
  • I overestimate what I can accomplish in a day – need to be more realistic and specific about tasks
  • Many tasks require some learning to make progress
  • Pausing my inboxes and ganging up maintenance and email tasks is helpful
  • Being off Facebook is helpful (and hard)

I started my challenge with a lot of motivation but quickly realized I chose an especially challenging time for this experiment. I had house guests every day of the week, multiple trips to the airport and my daughter’s high school graduation on Tuesday night. In addition, I left town Friday to go on a reunion with friends from college (and did not return until Monday). As a result, I did not have a complete or “normal” workday this week, and also had to prepare for two days completely away from home, my office and computer!

To prepare for what I knew would be a week with less work hours than normal, I scheduled each day in advance and built in time for visiting as well as projected time for some work tasks where I might have openings. Looking back on the week, despite all the things going on with my family, I was able to make significant progress on some work projects as well as advancing my productivity challenge. And, I was able to spend quality time with people I loved without being stressed out about what I was not getting done for work.

I ended up adjusting my calendar “in the moment” several times. I often felt like this was “cheating” and gave myself a hard time for being weak and wasting time. I had created a schedule and felt I should stick to it. On the other hand, being flexible with some time was a judgment call and at least I was consciously making a decision to change my plan in order to keep working on something while I was “on a roll” or to have more time with loved ones I don’t see often! I learned that I don’t build in enough time to make adequate progress on the project at hand – I underestimated how much time I should devote to some projects. For example, I had thought I could work one hour on one website project and another hour on the second, but determined it would be better to spend two hours on the first project and defer development of the second project until the following week. The second project was not completely ready for development anyway, so this worked ok. I found I was often “borrowing time” from one project to allow more time for the other.

I made notes of times when I was distracted by some personal issues and phone calls, and when I allowed myself to get carried down a rabbit hole. I was aware that I was losing time, but not willing to change my behavior yet. In the next week, I hope to not only be mindful of times when I lose focus and commitment, but that I am better able to redirect my attention and prevent myself from being carried away.


Since the next week is already starting off with an “unproductive” day, I will plan the remaining days to maximize efficiency and put into practice some of the things I have been learning about getting things done.





  1. Jenn on June 28, 2017 at 10:35 am

    Excellent approaches. You can do it!

  2. Leslie Cosacchi on July 2, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    You are truly a shining example of success in all facets of your life. You constantly amaze me!

    • Tara Claeys on July 2, 2017 at 10:04 pm

      Thank you! You know the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree 🙂

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