Four Easy Ways to Become More Productive

(ESL learners – click on the bolded words to see explanations and notes. Try the exercise at the bottom after! 🙂 )

I’m not really one for long introductions — more often than not, as a reader I skip down to the actual contents of the article anyways. So I’ll just get right to it!

Make your to-do list detailed and comprehensive

There are a lot of things that probably don’t make it onto your to-do list. Cleaning the bathroom. Ordering new lightbulbs. Clipping your toenails. Taking out the recycling. Any of those little tasks that you juggle in your mind without ever putting them down on paper. And yet they take up time. Lots of time. By the end of the day, you’ll have done all these little extra things and you won’t understand where those two unaccounted-for hours have gone and why half of your to-do list isn’t checked off. This will only build up frustration at the misconception that you can never manage to get things done. You can! A lot, in fact. You just need to become aware of them.

A bonus benefit of this habit is that if you plan your to-do list the night before, you will be able to form an accurate idea of what your day will look like and create realistic expectations for what you can get to. In doing so, you’ll organize your day better and let yourself consciously pick priorities without letting those hidden extra tasks inevitably sweep your time away.

If it takes 2 minutes or less to do, do it right away

This is something I read in a book a long time ago — the 7 habits of highly effective people, I think. The concept is just so simple and effective. It’s hard for it not to stick with you.  

One thing I found is that if you’re really pressed for time, or have important priorities and can’t afford to get sidetracked, then it’s better to write these tasks down and save them for later — especially if you’ve got several of them, and those two minutes can pile up to twenty. Make sure you actually do them as soon as possible; writing them down will save all the mental gymnastics of trying to remember them in the meantime.

Plan based on your personality and habits

For a long time, I’ve heard people touting the amazing benefits of doing morning meditation and setting goals for the day in the morning. I’ve tried that, and failed. I always somehow ended up dozing off or just staring idly into space. I’ll admit it. I’m not a morning person. I’m the nightest of night owls. So trying to make myself do anything that requires more than a groggy, half-awake state of mind first thing in the morning is a lost cause for me, and wasted time and energy.

Thankfully, there’s more than one way to cook an egg. Why can’t I just do this routine in the evening, the night before, when I’m at my most energetic? Of course I can. It was actually an account I saw on Instagram that inspired this thought: @thefabstory gives ideas and tips for personalized ways to improve your wellbeing. If you like this idea, check them out!

Schedule nothing into your calendar

Literally, “nothing”. I mean, spell it out: N-O-T-H-I-N-G.

The time you block off is flexible, and dependent on your availability. It can be even just 15 minutes. But make sure you put it in there.

You might be asking yourself, how is this supposed to help me? Well, if you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you’re concerned about using time productively. While this is a great thing, everything has its limits, and must be balanced by its counterpart.

This touches a bit on the thoughts from my last post (Thinking about Nothingness). Just like a cold walk outside will make stepping into your house feel all the warmer, and a busy day will make sprawling out on the couch feel all the more relieving, the opposite can happen too: allowing yourself moments to do nothing, nothing at all, can spark a burst of energy for a period of high productivity to ensue.  

ESL Notes (37 words / expressions)

Definitions written with reference to Cambridge Dictionary

I’m not one for: If you’re not one for something, it means you don’t enjoy it and you don’t typically do it. This phrase is usually used in the negative (with “not”). (Back to the text)

more often than not: Usually; most of the time. (Back to the text)

to skip down to: To skip something means you leave it quickly in order to go to the next thing. For example, “This part of the book isn’t very interesting, so I’ll just skip it.” The “down to” means you skip in a downwards direction: in the case of a blog article, you would scroll down, past the introduction, to the body of the article. (Back to the text)

to get right to it: To do something immediately, without any delay. This often means to say what you want to say immediately. Instead of “it”, you could also put a verb in the -ing form for different actions: I’ll get right to studying. (Back to the text)

to make it (phrasal verb): This phrasal verb can have several different meanings depending on the context. In this case, it means to be included on the to-do list. In other cases, it can also often mean to arrive on time (“Traffic was so bad – did you make it to work on time?”), or to succeed in a career (“He has big dreams, but I don’t know if he has what it takes to make it as a professional chef”). (Back to the text)

to clip something: To cut something in order to make it tidier. This often refers to nails or trees/plants. (Back to the text)

to take out the recycling: To bring the recycling out of your house and to the place where it will be picked up by the collectors. (Take out is a phrasal verb with lots of different meanings depending on the context! In this case, you can say take out the recycling or take out the trash, depending on what it is.) (Back to the text)

to juggle: The picture below shows a person juggling balls. In a more metaphorical sense, it can also mean to deal with several things at the same time. So, if you juggle several tasks in your head, you are trying to keep them all in your head and not forget any of them, in the same way the person below is trying not to drop any of the balls. (Back to the text)

Balls, Businessman, Colorful, Juggling

to put something down on paper: To write something down. (Back to the text)

to take up time: To consume or require time. (Back to the text)

unaccounted for: If something like money is unaccounted for, it means it’s gone and you don’t know what happened to it or how it was spent. Essentially, missing without an explanation. (Back to the text)

to check off: To mark as complete with a checkmark (✓). (Back to the text)

to get to a task: To deal with a task; to do the task. Using this phrasal verb implies that you have several things to do and you’re doing them in some sort of order, like a list. Once you arrive at a task at the list, you “get to” it. You can also get to doing something (verb in -ing form): “I think I’ll finally get to cleaning the basement this weekend.” (Back to the text)

in doing so: Another way to say “by doing this”. “In doing so” is a little bit more formal. (Back to the text)

inevitably: In a way that can’t be avoided. (Back to the text)

to sweep away: Sweep is what you do with a broom. You can sweep away the dust on the floor, for example. In this case, it’s used metaphorically to mean that it takes away your time. (Back to the text)

to stick with you: To stay with you; in this specific case, it means you remember the advice because it stays in your head. (Back to the text)

to be pressed for time: To have very little time. (Back to the text)

to get sidetracked: To be distracted from what you’re doing by something less important. For example, students who need to study for an exam can easily get sidetracked when surfing the net or checking their phones. (Back to the text)

to pile up: To increase in amount, and start to create a pile (either literally, a physical pile, or metaphorically, as in a lot of non-physical things). (Back to the text)

to tout: To talk about something in a very good way and praise it, especially because you want to persuade other people to like something or buy something. (Back to the text)

to end up doing something: To do something you didn’t originally plan to do. (Back to the text)

to doze off: To start to sleep, especially during the day. Often, this means you didn’t mean to doze off, but you were feeling tired, sleepy, or bored, and you ended up falling asleep. (Back to the text)

stare idly into space: “Idly” means without any particular purpose. To “stare into space” is an expression which means to look straight ahead for a long time, while looking at nothing in particular, usually because you are thinking, tired, or in shock. (Back to the text)

nightest: This is not an actual word! (Nouns cannot have comparative or superlative forms, even if they act as adjectives). I made it up and used it to emphasize my point and add a bit of humor. (Back to the text)

groggy: Unable to think clearly because you’re so tired. (Back to the text)

a lost cause: Something that has no chance of succeeding. (Back to the text)

there’s more than one way to cook an egg: This is an expression which means “there’s more than one way to do something”. The most common expression for this is actually “There’s more than one way to skin a cat” but I find this rather grotesque! So I prefer this version. (There’s are lots of others. You can create your own with the formula “There’s more than one way to *verb* a *noun*”.) (Back to the text)

at my most energetic: When I’m the most energetic I can be. You can create this phrase with any adjective: at my best, at my prettiest, at my nicest, etc. (Back to the text)

to check out something: To take a look at something in order to see if it’s interesting. (Back to the text)

to block off: To reserve time for a particular task or activity. (Back to the text)

to touch on: To mention something quickly while you are speaking about something else. In the section where I used this phrase, I was talking about scheduling things in your calendar, and this is related to what I talked about in my previous post. However, I don’t explain it in a lot of detail here: I just touched on it, and the main topic of the section was something a little different (scheduling). (Back to the text)

all the warmer: Even warmer, or much warmer. (Back to the text)

to sprawl out: To sit or lie down in a very relaxed, casual way, with your arms and legs spread out. (Back to the text)

to spark: To cause the start of something. (Back to the text)

a burst of energy: A sudden increase in energy. You can also have a burst of other things: a burst of speed / a burst of laughter / a burst of applause. (Back to the text)

to ensue: To happen afterwards. This is normally used with a noun: for example, “After his sudden outburst, silence ensued.” (Back to the text)


Want to start using these words and make sure you don’t forget them? Try this exercise! Think about these questions (discuss them with someone) or write down your answers, using the word or expression in your discussion or answer.

  • Are you one for political discussions? What kinds of pastimes are you not one for?
  • What kind of weather do you have in your city, more often than not?
  • Do you know anybody who skips from one topic to another in conversation? Do you ever skip parts of a book that don’t seem to be interesting?
  • When there is a work meeting, do you think it’s better if the team has 10-15 minutes to casually chat at the beginning, or should they get right to what needs to be discussed in order to save time?
  • When you have an important task to do on a particular day, do you get right to doing it, immediately after waking up and having breakfast?
  • Do you always make it on time when you’re traveling, or have you ever missed a bus/train/plane?
  • What do you think about neighborhoods with houses where it’s mandatory for everyone to clip the hedges and trees on their front lawn, in order to maintain a nice appearance for the whole neighborhood?
  • How long do you wait to take out the trash/recycling? (Do you wait until your bag is overflowing, or do you take it out regularly?)
  • Do you know how to juggle? How long do you think it would take you to learn?
  • Do you think you could juggle the responsibilities of family life, taking a university degree, and working a full-time job?
  • Do you put all your ideas down on paper? Why or why not? What kinds of things do you put down on paper?
  • Does cleaning your apartment/house take up a lot of time? How about preparing your food? What’s something you do regularly that you wish would take up less time?
  • Many people say that when they have things to do, if they check them off on a paper list, it helps them to stay productive and motivated. Is this true for you?
  • What’s a task you need to get to soon?
  • What kind of behavior in a relationship do you think will inevitably lead to a breakup? (for example: jealousy, fighting, lying, etc.)
  • What’s a piece of advice you’ve received that has stuck with you until today?
  • Do you work better or worse if you’re pressed for time?
  • Where do you more easily get sidetracked, working from home or working at work?
  • What company do you often hear touting its services in advertisements on the radio / on TV / on Youtube?
  • Do you usually stick to your plans for the weekend, or do you more often than not end up doing something else?
  • Have you ever dozed off at school, at work, or on public transportation?
  • Do you find it rude if you’re in a work meeting, and one of the participants is staring into space? Have you ever experienced this?
  • When a traffic accident happens, why do you think some people stand idly by without doing anything to help? (Are they in shock, or do they not care?)
  • Do you usually feel groggy when you wake up? Around what time at night do you start to feel groggy?
  • Do you believe that anybody can learn to play a musical instrument, or sing, or dance, or are some people a lost cause?
  • When are you at your most energetic: in the morning or in the evening?
  • Do you like to check out new restaurants in your area, or new profiles on Instagram / Pinterest?
  • Do you block off time in your calendar for relaxation or your hobbies?
  • When you finish work and come home, do you often just sprawl out on the couch?
  • Do you know of anything that has sparked a controversial debate recently?
  • What gives you a burst of energy? (coffee? good news? any particular kind of food? doing exercise?)
  • If you were in a work meeting and someone said a very rude comment, what do you think would ensue?

Feel free to try writing some more sentences, or a text, of your own to practice some more.

Thank you for reading! These ESL notes, links and exercises each take several hours to make, so if you found this useful, the kindest thing you can do is to like the post, leave a comment, or share with anyone who needs it. Have questions about any other words? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to reply!

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