Even if you have your schedule under control, you have not won the productivity battle yet. Everyone knows, showing up is not enough. You have to deliver results. You have to be productive.
How can you accomplish everything you need to do? There are definite steps to a productive day. It is important that you make these steps a habit. They are not that hard to follow. You just have to be consistent. If you commit to the process, you will be successful. Just give it 3 months and you will see what I mean.
Steps to a productive day
Review your day in the morning.
I know, you already reviewed your day last night, but it is important you refresh your memory. Besides, something could have changed while you were sleeping. It is always good to make note of your first appointment and all your commitments. Take this opportunity to eliminate some of those commitments from your schedule. Decide what not to do and focus on big stuff. Can you delegate any of your tasks? Always look for ways to de-clutter your day.
Schedule your most important tasks.
First, think about the tasks you have on your list for today. Make sure what you plan to do is what you should be doing. Your weekly project review gives you perspective. Planning out your work day and tasks gives you control. When you are in control, you will not react to changes in your hectic day, but get through it having accomplished your major goals.
Find chunks of 40/60/90 minutes in your day to schedule uninterrupted work. Define critical tasks that you must do and tasks that you should do but aren't urgent. Don't forget to schedule time for thinking about any pending projects. Schedule your big tasks for the time when you are most productive. Do your most important tasks first. Any essential activity or conversation should have time assigned to it. Make an appointment with yourself on your schedule and keep it.
Plan, when you are going to answer phone calls, reply to emails, run reports. Switch types of tasks to stay productive: mix up high intensity analytical tasks with routines that does not require a lot of brain power.
Do "if/then" planning: at 4pm I will reply to all emails I need to today. Have a plan B for your most critical tasks.
Schedule your personal calls after your business hours. If it is not possible, schedule them right before a meeting or lunch. That way you will get off the phone as quickly as you can.
Be efficient as well as effective.
Complete your tasks quickly without sacrificing quality. Know the goal of each task. Know what absolutely has to happen for the task to be completed successfully. First, deliver that. Other enhancements are secondary and, often, unnecessary.
There are several main reasons for procrastination.
- The outcome is not defined. If the destination is fuzzy, the road is unclear. Start with the project and its goal. What does it mean to you, your career, etc? How will the project look like when it is done? How is this particular task going to get you there? Is this the right next action to complete the task? Define the outcome of the task and do it already.
- You do not have energy for the tasks at hand. Even if you are determined to be productive, sometimes you are just out of energy by the end of the day. That's why you schedule your important tasks first and pick the time when you are most productive. Learn and plan better tomorrow.
- You have to many tasks and you feel overwhelmed. If you are overwhelmed, it means that your priorities are messed up. Look at all the tasks for the day and decide which ones are worth doing and when. Eliminate non-essential tasks. Be realistic: scheduling and trying to accomplish a million tasks a day are going to give you an ulcer. Only your major tasks should be on your "to-do" list for the day. The rest you will get to when you have time.
- You are doing something you do not like. This one is easy. Outsource. Seriously, there is no reason to do everything yourself. Stop fighting and be honest: you are never going to learn how to do this thing you hate. So, give someone else the opportunity to shine and impress you.
The key to completing your task list is accountability. If you are not accountable, you will be slacking. Notice, that you missed a couple of "meetings with yourself" and did something else instead? Stop that. Keep these appointments and knock those items off your to-do list. If everything fails, get a "productivity buddy". Have a phone call at the end of the day and report on your progress.
Time Management is a misnomer, in my opinion. We cannot manage time. It exists without our permission or direction. We can only use it effectively. Time is also a scarce commodity and is easy to waste. You are the one who decides what is a waste of time and what is worth doing. Keep your eye on the goal and the prioritization will come easy.
Evaluate your processes often. Is the way you are doing things the best way to do them? How can you make the process more effective and more efficient? Are you wasting time on formatting fonts and margins? Maybe, you will save time by hiring an assistant to do that?
Don't multitask. Instead, switch between analytical and routine tasks for better productivity. Take breaks and go out for lunch. Face it, if you are burned out, it is not going to help anyone.
De-clutter your home and your life. Start with de-cluttering your calendar and task list. Find a place for everything. That way you will not be wasting your time looking for things.
I will share tips on how to stay productive in my next post. Now, go get those tasks done.
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