To make your quest for a more productive self this year something you can really work towards, we asked some of the most productive we work with all year what they do in their everyday lives to get so much done. Here’s what they had to say:
- VISUALIZE AND SET UP YOUR DAY THE NIGHT BEFORE
Before emotional intelligence expert and author of The Other Kind of Smart Harvey Deutschendorf goes to sleep, he says he makes some basic decisions about the next day like what he’ll wear, eat for lunch, and the route he plans on taking to work. “The less time and energy you take to focus on routine, everyday things, the more you will have to work on what is important,” he explains.
He also suggests visualizing what exactly you plan to accomplish the next day. “Become extremely focused upon making this an ongoing part of your routine and you will surprise yourself by how much more you accomplish,” he says.
- SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PRODUCTIVE PEOPLE
“It’s very easy for me to work alone, but I find that my productivity is maximized when I surround myself with productive people I don’t know,” says Vivian Giang, a freelance journalist who covers leadership, organizational psychology, and gender issues.
She says working around productive strangers keeps her accountable for staying on task. “I’m not browsing social media without purpose. I eat healthier, I don’t take long breaks. I semi-compete with them because they always look like they’re coming up with great ideas,” she says.
- STAND WHILE YOU WORK
When journalist and co-author of The Art of Doing Camille Sweeney had to interview 15 prominent newsmakers in just a few days, she made her calls standing. “This was the year I got out of my chair and on to my feet at my desk,” she says. “It’s made such a difference.”
Before Sweeny’s portable standing desk arrived in the mail, she improvised and put her laptop on top of a nine-inch square cardboard box on her desk. Now she alternates every few hours between sitting and standing.
- FOCUS ON ONE WORD FOR THE YEAR
“A one-word theme creates simplicity, clarity, and life change,” says Jimmy Page, author of One Word That Will Change Your Life and vice president for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “You’ll find renewed passion and purpose by achieving laser-like focus that drives productivity,” he says.
“Best of all, one word transforms not only what you do, but who you become; it impacts every area of life—physical, relational, mental, spiritual, emotional, vocational, and financial. One-word focus eliminates distractions and turns our intentions into actions.”
- MAXIMIZE YOUR MOST CREATIVE TIME
Sally Poblete, Founder and CEO of healthcare technology company Wellthie, tells us to first track and explore when we’re the most creative and then create the space in our schedules to capitalize on it.
“I find that I think best in the mornings with fewer interruptions, so I do my best to keep that time open for brainstorming, writing, and meeting with others who inspire and challenge me,” she says. “I save my necessary meetings for the afternoons, when I am energized from my morning productivity and excited to share my plans with my team.”
- KNOW WHEN TO NOT BE PRODUCTIVE
On the flip side of this, Starr Million Baker, CEO and cofounder of PR agency INK Public Relations, points out that there are only so many things we can do in a day. More importantly, she says, there are only so many things we should do in a day.
“Knowing when to say ‘that’s not going to happen today’ is a skill that has given me a greater ability to have a laser focus on the stuff that really, truly must get done.” Baker says she uses the task management tool Todoist to get all of her tasks in one place. she then religiously clicks the “postpone to…” button throughout the day as the clock marches towards 5 p.m. “I evaluate my tasks more than once a day as I work in a field full of fire drills, so priorities are ever-changing.”
- SLOW DOWN AND REASSESS TO AVOID GETTING OVERWHELMED
“When you have more things to do than you can count,” says Scott Eblin, author of Overworked and Overwhelmed, “it can quickly throw you into a fight or flight state of overwhelm. If you feel yourself getting spun up like that, stop before you start to do anything else.” He instructs us to think of STOP as the acronym for Slow down, Take three deep breaths, Observe what needs to be done most, and then Proceed.
- PRIORITIZE WHAT MATTERS
One of the secrets to feeling satisfied with your productivity according to Erin Baebler and Lara Galloway, certified life and business coaches and the co-authors of Moms Mean Business: A Guide to Creating a Successful Company and Happy Life as a Mom Entrepreneur, is spending the majority of your time on the things that really matter to you—your priorities.
“When you’re clear on what you want to accomplish and the actions that will get you there, it becomes much easier to decide what needs to get done and what can either wait for later or not be done at all. Plus, and here’s where the real productivity comes in, we are much more motivated to work on things that truly matter and therefore able to get more done in a shorter period of time.”
- BATCH TASKS TO CREATE FLOW
As a writer, The Five-Minute Mom’s Club: 105 Tips to Make a Mom’s Life Easier author Stephanie Vozza’s day consists of research, interviews, first drafts, and final edits. She’s more productive she says if she can stay in one task mind, instead of changing gears. “I try to schedule my day around one activity; a day of interviews, for example, or a morning of writing and an afternoon of research. I discovered this after interviewing Steven Kotler, author of The Rise of Superman for Fast Company, who writes about how being in a state of flow can quintuple your productivity.”
- BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT EMAIL
Before opening any email, cofounder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics Neil Patel says you should first ensure you have the time to respond to it. “If you decided to respond later on, it will cause you to have to re-read the email, which is an inefficient use of your time,” he says.
And remember that most emails don’t need an immediate response—or any reply at all—says Zendesk CEO and founder Mikkel Svane. “Take a breath and wait a minute before jumping into the fray on group emails and non-urgent issues. You’ll find that sometimes the most powerful response is no response at all. You’ll suddenly have more time for the replies that deserve your time and attention.”
- DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO BLOCK OUT DISTRACTIONS
Vozza likes to spend an hour unplugged from the Internet, removed from distractions like email and Facebook, and sometimes ventures to spend an entire workday offline. “I discovered how much time the Internet sucks when my service went out for a day; in six uninterrupted hours I finished work that would normally take me two or three days. If you need to check something online, make a list and when you restore your service look up everything at once.”
David Johnson, COO and CFO of craft brewery Fireman’s Brew, Inc., suggests simply closing your door. “You’ll find that it’s much easier to make progress on your own work when you’re not being pulled in a number of different directions.”
- CREATE A LIST OF EASY TO-DOS
Carson Tate, author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Productivity Style, makes a list of tasks that can be done in 15 minutes or less. She suggests we keep this list with us at all times so we can convert those odd moments of time like waiting in line or waiting at the dentist’s office into productive microsegments of work.
“This list is also your go to when you feel the tug of procrastination. You can quickly complete a task, which gives you a little energy boost, helping you transition into working on a more challenging or complex project.”
- CREATE A LIST OF YOUR MOST IMPORTANT TASKS
Speaking of lists, Jones Loflin and Todd Musig, coauthors of Getting to It, have another kind of list to make you more productive: an IT list, or Important Things list. This list requires us to identify the three tasks or activities that would most effectively move us toward the accomplishment of our highest priorities.
“So much of today’s productivity depends on having the mental clarity to fully focus on the task of the moment. That can be difficult if there are items you haven’t addressed and they are holding some of your mental resources hostage.” Loflin and Musig offer these tips to help determine if any of our ITs may be limiting our productivity:
- An Essential IT: Something that if accomplished would significantly increase your ability to focus
- An Avoidance IT: This could be something you keep putting off, but your mind won’t let it go
- An Incomplete IT: Our brains are wired to not let go of something until it’s finished. Once you finish the task, your mental resources can be fully focused on the task in front of you.
- CONSISTENTLY SELF-EVALUATE
“Rigorous self-evaluation is the beginning, middle, and end of self-management. It is the essential habit of self-improvement,” says Bruce Tulgan, author of The 27 Challenges Managers Face.
Tulgan instructs us to constantly assess our own productivity, the quality of our work, and our behavior. We should continuously ask ourselves: “What can I do to get more work done faster?” “Should I revisit my priorities?” “Do I need to focus my time better?” “How can I eliminate time wasters?” “Do I need better time budgets?” and “Do you need to make better plans?”
“But remember: Self-evaluation is an engine of self-improvement only if you use the information you’ve learned from it,” he says. “Start on one small goal at a time—the smaller the better. Once you meet that goal, take another small step. Self-management and self-improvement come one small step at a time. It’s a never-ending process because there is always room to improve.”