Being productive is all about getting stuff done. It’s not about being busy. Yet the two things are often confused. Have you ever had a day where you feel as though you haven’t stopped from beginning to end, yet you don’t seem to have actually achieved anything? We’ve probably all had those days from time to time. Days like that can be frustrating to say the least.
Often people think about productivity in terms of busyness, looking at how much they do. But actually you need to flip that around. Productivity is not about how much you put in, it’s about how much you get out. It’s possible to achieve more in an hour of calm focused work, than it is in a whole day of running around like crazy.
We’re often told that time is precious and that we should spend it wisely, that we should make the most of every day.
So how do we make sure we have a super productive day? And more importantly, how do we do it without killing ourselves?
To have your most productive day ever, the best thing to do is actually prepare for it the day before. In any given day each of us have a finite amount of mental energy, which starts high and then gradually throughout the day depletes as we use it to solve problems and make decisions. To maximise our productivity we need to understand this and plan our day around it.
The morning is when we have our most energy so we need to use that energy wisely and not waste any of it on trivial mundane decisions and tasks that we can complete the day before. So the night before, we can get things ready for the next day.
Decide what you are going to wear the night before. Lay out the whole outfit. Make sure it is clean and pressed and then hang it up ready for morning.
Get everything else ready that you need for the next day. Prepare your bag with everything you need. If you take your lunch to work, make it the night before and leave it in the fridge. If, for example you take a swim at lunchtime, make sure you have all your swimming gear ready, if you read on your journey, have your book ready, if you listen to podcasts, make sure you already have them downloaded and ready to go. Have everything you need ready in the kitchen to prepare your breakfast as well.
Having all of this ready means you won’t need to make decisions first thing in the morning so you’re reserving your mental energy for the tasks that really need it. It’ll also make you much faster getting up and getting ready the next morning.
The next thing is to ensure you get a sound night’s sleep. A full 8 hours of good quality sleep will leave you refreshed and ready to go in the morning so do what you can to ensure you get a decent night’s sleep.
These days I avoid caffeine altogether, but if you do drink caffeine throughout the day, make a point of not drinking it in the evening so that it has chance to get out of your system before you try to settle down for the night.
Try to minimise your use of devices in the evening as well as looking at a screen late on can stimulate your mind and make it harder for you to relax.
Go to bed at a reasonable time, leave some water by the side of your bed and set your alarm for the morning of your most productive day ever.
When your alarm goes off in the morning, however tempted you are, don’t hit snooze. Snoozing sends a signal to the brain right from the moment you wake up that you are going to be putting things off. Today, you are not going to be putting anything off. You are going to take action.
Sit up and drink some of your water. Rehydrating first thing is crucial to get your brain working at full potential. You’re replenishing water the body has used overnight. It helps to get energy flowing and your brain and body working properly.
Next get out of bed and get moving. The best way to wake up your body and mind properly is to do a short burst of exercise. It doesn’t matter what you do, this is about upping productivity, not fitness per se, though that may come as a by-product of doing this over time. Whether you choose to spend a few minutes on a yoga mat, a mini workout that you can follow on your phone, or simply a good bop around to a favourite tune is entirely up to you. A short burst of exercise will get the blood pumping around the body, energising your body and mind and get you ready to take on the challenges of the day ahead.
So now you’re up and awake, you’ll need to get yourself freshened up and dressed. Having your clothes already laid out means you’ll get through this process a lot quicker.
You’ll also want to get something to eat before you start the day. Never skip breakfast. This is another way to boost your energy first thing in the morning, so use it wisely. Fill yourself up with slow burning, energy releasing foods, such as porridge, fruit and eggs. Avoid sugary foods wherever possible. Although they are often very convenient and will undoubtedly give you an initial rush of energy, you will be in a sugar slump before too long with less energy than you had before you started so keep in mind something that’s going to make you feel good for the next couple of hours, not just for the next few minutes.
When you’re ready, before you leave home, spend a few minutes to focus. Sit in a quiet place, clear your mind and think about what you are going to achieve today. Spend a few minutes focusing on what you need to achieve today and why. Keep it positive. Focus on the benefits of doing something, rather than looking at what will happen if you don’t do. It’s always more motivational and inspiring to focus on the positive, rather than thinking of negative thoughts, which can end up paralysing you through stress.
Minimising travel time makes a huge difference to time efficiency, so if you can work from home and eliminate your commute that is the ideal scenario. If however, you do need to travel to another location there are ways to make your commute productive.
If you are driving, you are able to listen to a podcast or audiobook. Choose something that doesn’t require a huge amount of concentration as obviously you need to pay attention to your driving first and foremost but something energising and motivational will get you fired up and enthusiastic for when you do arrive at work.
If you take public transport you are able to do something a little more involved, such as reading. Depending on the length of your journey you could potentially tackle a few small tasks to get you ahead for the day, for example, brainstorming titles for your next blog post, replying to emails or sharing some social media updates from your phone.
When you arrive at work, the first thing you need to do is spend a few minutes planning your day. Brian Tracy says, “every minute spent planning saves 10 minutes in execution.” Sometimes when you’re fired up you can be tempted to dive straight in to the thing that’s on your mind, but reign yourself in. It only takes a few short minutes to come up with a comprehensive plan for the whole day at work. Having a plan is crucial to your productivity. You know exactly what you need to be doing and when. If you don’t have a plan, you won’t be able to stay on track to achieve everything you need to achieve during the day, simply because you won’t know what you need to achieve.
Start by making a note of everything you need to get done today. Write everything down. Get it all down on paper, don’t worry at this stage about getting it in order.
Then you need to prioritise. Look at everything you need to do and determine what is the single most important task that you absolutely have to complete today? Make that the task you complete first.
Remember, how I mentioned earlier that the reason you did as much preparation as possible for today tomorrow to make things easier on yourself for the morning? You’ve been conserving the majority of your energy to deal with your most important task this morning. That’s why you’re going to do it first, when you can give it your full attention. You’ll be able to concentrate better and make decisions clearly with more confidence. You’re not going to waste this energy on tasks that don’t require a lot of thought. You’ll also be able to work quicker and get tasks completed.
So when you make your plan for the day schedule the order that you’re going to do things in so that the more important, higher value tasks are carried out first thing in the morning and leave the less important, less taxing tasks for the afternoon, when you will have less mental energy, but it won’t matter.
Getting your most important task out of the way earlier on also has an empowering psychological effect. When you complete something that you really need to do you feel happy and motivated. Seeing something ticked off the list gives you energy and enthusiasm to move on to the next thing. Conversely, if you keep putting something off for the rest of the day that is important and challenging it has a negative effect. For one thing if it’s a difficult task you’ll be aware all day that you have to deal with this later. This reduces your capacity to focus fully on the other tasks that you’re working on throughout the day so you won’t fulfil them as efficiently. It has a mentally draining effect as the longer you put things off, you tend to raise their significance in your mind, which can have a stressful effect. It can also mean that you slow down throughout the day in order to further put off tackling the task in question. Much better to deal with it quickly and move on.
Plan your day out in small chunks. Organise your day so that you break it down in to hourly, or half hourly chunks, allowing a short break at the end of each chunk. Within each chunk of time complete a particular task, either a small element of a larger task, or a collection of similar smaller tasks batched together.
Follow the Pomodoro Technique to rattle through your tasks throughout the day by treating each small time slot as a deadline. You have to complete your task within the timeslot. Work full on and with complete focus on completing your tasks within its slot. Within a half hour period work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. Every 4 units take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.
Timing yourself and giving yourself a deadline spurs you on to complete a task quickly. Having a short deadline enables you to give your full focus, as it’s not too much of a stretch to concentrate entirely on completing something for 25 minutes. It keeps you on point and keeps you moving.
At the end of the 25 minutes you must take a proper break. Get up and move away from your workstation. Utilise your break properly. Get moving somehow, whether that’s taking a short walk, stretching out or doing some other short exercise, anything to get the blood pumping around the body again. Drink some water to rehydrate yourself, maybe have a healthy snack if you fancy one.
Do something you enjoy doing, but don’t do anything that gets you too absorbed as you do need to get back to work again very shortly after. Having these breaks is key to your productivity. It keeps your energy up and helps keep your body and mind refreshed for tackling the next short burst of work.
When you plan your day make sure you have a note of the time that you are going to finish and stick to it. this will give you something to work towards throughout the day. If you have a plan of something to do that evening that will help keep you focused throughout the day on getting finished on time so that you can enjoy that activity later on. It could be that you’re going to a class later on that evening, or perhaps visiting a friend, but even if you’re staying in alone, still have a plan for the evening, whether it’s watching a film or curling up on the sofa with a good book, knowing that you’re looking forward to doing something later that evening will help you stay focused on getting everything done on time and getting the most out of both work and leisure during the day.
When you’re making your plan for the day, factor in a few minutes at the end of the day for a quick review of the day. Look back on what you have achieved. Congratulate yourself on what you have done well. If anything has not gone so well consider how you would do things differently next time. Also, while the events of today are still fresh in your mind write a quick to do list of tasks that need to be completed tomorrow. This will save you time the next morning on your planning step.
After that, pack up your things and finish for the day. Congratulate yourself on having a productive day. Do something for yourself during the evening to reward yourself and o take good care of yourself.
You’ll find if you make it a priority to have a productive day it’s quite surprising how much you can achieve in just one day, and providing you make looking after yourself by taking regular breaks and fueling yourself with healthy foods it’s not tiring either. Try this for just one day and see how easy it is to have not just a productive day, but a productive week and beyond.