Looking to be more productive throughout the day? In this post I share some of the things I do in order to maximize my time day in and day out.
Our time is limited and precious, so how productive we are on a given day depends on many factors. Productivity can mean different things for different people depending on where you are in your life.
If you have a family, are building your career, starting a business, need to fill retirement, or anywhere in between, you have different needs. Time is finite no matter how rich or poor you are or where you live, so what can we all do to have a more productive day?
Is it being productive about your morning routine, or is it about how you plan your next day? The answer is Yes, it is all of those things. Being productive not just today, but the next day, next week, and next month is about habit organization, routine and efficient time management.
6 Tips for Maximizing Your Productivity During the Day
There is no one way to plan for a productive day and no one set of productivity tips that will be your magic wand, but this is my philosophy.
This works for me because I am a person that values flexibility, and I sometimes hit the snooze button. For those who require more stringent guidelines, I will put tips at the bottom of each subject that might help you adapt my plans to your needs.
As my frame of reference, I like to think of the Rock, Pebble, and Sand story, which refers to your life values. However, it can be easily adapted to those things you need to accomplish.
To coincide with this, I keep two To-Do Lists labeled “Heaviest” and “Lightest.” My heaviest items are either time-sensitive, high leverage, or high impact tasks to get done (at some point, I will do another productivity blog about just these topics).
My lightest are the items that are not time-sensitive, are low leverage, or low impact but still need to be done.
Once you do that, go over your list and make sure that you don’t have any multi-step items on there. For example, to write a novel is not something you will get done today, so it cannot be a to-do list item.
You aren’t going to start your day by planning your retirement either, so that isn’t a to-do item. Instead, put the beginning steps of those major goals on your list. For your novel, choose a subject or a title, then mark it off and add the next step.
For planning your retirement, you might want to call or email financial advisors as your first step. How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time. How do you master your goals? One objective at a time. From here on out, this is about what works for me, with the goal being to allow you to adapt it and run with it.
1. Make a Flexible Plan the Night Before
If you wait to work on your plan for the day as part of your morning routine, you have already started behind. Multitasking doesn’t work very well, and there is a lot of science that tells us that.
So, instead of trying to plan your day while you put out the fires already raging, have your plan the night before. This will take you 15 minutes or less (usually much less) to evaluate what you have coming up and will set up your entire day.
As with the rocks, I like to know what my major 4-6 items are that I need to accomplish throughout the day, and they will usually come from my heavy side. This is where you can also cancel, add, or rearrange your already set schedule for the day.
People are much more forgiving of time or day appointment changes when you notify them sooner. This is a great time to either make those changes or to fire off confirmation emails so that you get responses first thing in the morning.
One trick I like to use as a west coaster is to send emails to the east coast the night before, knowing I will likely have a response before I wake up, or at least before my brain wakes up for the day.
For east coasters, you can do the opposite and reach out to west coasters at the end of your day so that the response is waiting for you the next morning. The key to the entire structure is flexibility because things will change, which will affect the rest of your day.
It is too easy to have one task go off the rails and allow it to ruin your whole day. By having your plan in place before you go to bed, you will have an opportunity to succeed at the next important step, which is one thing many people discount.
2. Get a Good Night's Sleep
You need sleep to fuel the rest of your day, and it is tough to get to sleep when you are trying to remember all the things you are supposed to do tomorrow.
When you complete step one, you will have a much better chance to get the rest you need to get. That will improve your energy levels for the next day and allow you to stay focused and maximize your productivity.
Essentially, by taking step one seriously, your brain will be able to relax and rest and perform better tomorrow. I know that there is almost nothing more draining from personal experience than that feeling you can’t get rid of that you forgot something significant.
For those who do not like to formalize your lists, you might think you can skip step one and still accomplish step two, but you can’t. The key to a productive day is to save your night owl habits for the weekends and give your body and mind the best chances to rest. You will be amazed by what a full recharge allows you to do.
3. Get the Heaviest Items Out of the Way
Again, you need to get the most important tasks completed every day, or you will start the next day behind. It is very easy to want to put off the difficult things and let your mind wander while convincing yourself that you are actually being productive. Don’t fool yourself; instead, be a person that holds themselves accountable (there are very few of those people left).
Especially with important objectives, it is vital to focus on one thing at a time and avoid multitasking. Put your full focus and energy into the task in front of you. Don’t be afraid to take breaks to minimize stress levels, but you do need to persevere.
You can plan out the most productive day and have this amazing plan to get things done today, but all the other steps are pointless unless you put in the work. If you don’t let yourself off the hook and follow through with your plan for a productive day, you will have just that.
That sense of accomplishment will carry over, and it is much easier to make this a long-lasting habit. Figure out what works best for your morning routine to give you the best chance of continuing.
Do you need a healthy breakfast to start your day, or do you need to hit the gym every morning? Find what works best for you and stick with it. The less you need to think about in the morning, the more work you will accomplish throughout the day. If this is an issue, check out my list of recommended books for business owners and focus on the habit books.
4. Fill in with Smaller Lighter Tasks
Almost anyone can be productive with 4-6 important tasks during the day. Where winners and losers are made is in the middle game.
Your light tasks are still things you need to complete, so you can’t forget about them. Rather than multitasking, what you should be doing is focusing. When you have 10 minutes or 15 minutes between heavy tasks, the first thing to do is look for small, simple tasks to bang off your list.
It is easy to waste this time and simply sit back and enjoy your previous victory, but you are failing yourself for the future. Self-care and breaks are important but don’t use them as an excuse. Instead, use that time wisely so that you have more free time when you want it.
Make it your routine to immediately complete the items that can be finished in the amount of time you have. I am big about sitting in my truck before or after something important in order to hammer out a few of those items or make any important notes.
My productive day is dependent on using this downtime efficiently every day. This also allows me to have all my relaxation time in the evenings when I prefer to have it and when it is most impactful for my kids.
All I am really doing is putting in productive work in those multiple small slivers of time during the day and allowing myself to enjoy the evening. It’s not just about how much work you do, but when you do the work that makes you extremely productive or not.
You have the power to decide how your time is used, whether it be mornings, afternoons, or evenings. We all have the same amount of time, but you can manage yours more effectively as part of your routine to get more accomplished.
Think of the pebbles and sand that filled in the gaps left, and remember that the more time you maximize during the day, the more time you have for yourself and your loved ones.
5. Immediately Document New to do Items
Have you ever had a great idea and then forgot it minutes later, or known that you had something important you needed to do but couldn’t remember what? (FYI: We have all done that.)
Well, we aren’t perfect, so we should use the resources available to us to improve our chances of having a productive day while minimizing stress. We only have so much energy available for the day.
Do you want to be wasting yours trying to remember what you were supposed to remember? The answer is no; you don’t.
The solution is to put down to-do items as they come up and mark off what you have completed as you complete it.
A productive day is influenced by what you do first thing in the morning, but it must be carried throughout the day. Don’t create more work for yourself by expending mental energy, trying to remember all the things you had planned out in your head.
Put the lot of them on paper or capture them electronically. Unless you are a savant, you simply cannot maximize your productivity if you don’t document what you need to accomplish along the way. (If you are a savant, why would you want to waste your time and energy? Remember your list instead of solving the world’s problems.)
6. Check Completed Tasks Off
We normal human beings need a sense of accomplishment to validate the work that we put in, and there isn’t anything else like marking off an important to-do list item. (Only to be replaced by another important item, of course. lol.)
Whether the responsibility is ours fully or contributors to another person’s work, we need those small victories. This is the evidence of what we have accomplished in our productive day.
This is part of why I like a physical notebook and list because, unlike an electronic list, you still have a record of your accomplishments and mindset during a particular time.
When I am traveling or leaving the house for an extended period of time, my notebook is included among the things I want to have, or rather that I need to have. However, your tools only make you productive when you use them.
So, however you choose to manage your list, make sure you are consistent. Allow this to become second nature, like hitting the snooze button in the mornings. This entire structure is a vital part of accomplishing your overall goals, but it’s still just one thing at a time.
Setting goals is often seen as an accomplishment in and of themselves, like waking up in the mornings is equivalent to productivity. These are not end goals. They are simply small steps and still require the work to be put in for it to be worthwhile.
I cannot stress enough that a productivity plan is not an accomplishment itself. To be productive in life, you must work, work every day and never feel like you are finished because you are not.
Use these tools for what they are, tools to make your work more productive, but they will never be a replacement. Whether you are the founder of a public company or a student, your goals and tools are only the beginning, and you have to be willing to grind. If you are not ready for that type of hard work, I certainly can’t help you.
If hard work and maximum productivity don’t scare you, you’re my kind of person and will continue to find value in this page. (Something to consider is that short of winning the lottery, the only way to have the flexibility to do what you want when you want is to grind early and often.
You grind and work as efficiently as possible so that you can choose to be as inefficient as you want at a later date. I don’t make the rules, but I speak the truth)