Having the most productive day ever can often feel impossible. Who has time for a productive day when you’re constantly being interrupted? Here are some suggestions to help your workday run smoothly even though some days will be rougher than others.
1. Prepare the day before
Before you leave for the day or weekend, clean up your desk, throw stuff away and make your list for the next day’s tasks so you know where to start. Double check your project management software for any impending tasks or comments, and jot those down in an online notepad or to-do list. This way you’re never walking into a situation blind; you know what tasks are at the top for the following day.
2. Block out time for deep work
Deep work means you’re focused and committed to a single goal for 90 minutes. It takes that amount of uninterrupted time to power through those important tasks. Deep work will be unique to each of us. For some, that could mean email replies, for others it could be figuring out those budget reports in spreadsheets. But no matter what, you’re focused for those 90 minutes.
3. Go monk mode
What’s monk mode? It’s similar to deep work, but it usually happens in the morning. People in monk mode avoid all emails, meetings, phone calls, Slack–all of it. They use that time to strategize or to finish a project while immersed in deep work. Monk mode could last longer than a normal deep work session (depending on what you need to do) and become a routine habit, such as mornings once a week.
4. Know your most productive time of day
Most people peak between 9:30 and 11am which fits in perfectly with the deep work mindset. The most productive people would have no meetings during that time. Nowadays, that’s generally impossible with remote work, conferences and managers traveling across time zones. Plane schedules don’t fit nicely into the most productive workday. But paying attention to your personal rhythms and knowing when you work best will help you.
5. Encourage other people during the day
Saying nice things and complimenting others on their work also helps you work, too. Why? Because appreciation strengthens your energy levels as well as theirs. And if you work closely with someone, their energy could directly affect yours as well!
6. Reward yourself with breaks
The Pomodoro Technique is effective because it makes us aware of how we’re using time. In that system, you plan out 25 minute blocks and then take a break for five minutes followed by a longer 15 minute break after two or three Pomodoros. The breaks are key feature because they also improve your focus. If you want to get more done, you have to stop every once in awhile.
7. Take walks
While thinking about your productive day, add in a walk. Walks during the day help you with difficult problems, increase brain power, creativity and mood. The exercise doesn’t hurt either!
8. Prioritize your work
With so much information cascading into your mind, you need a system for prioritizing your work. A popular method is the Eisenhower Matrix, where your work is divided into four quadrants, from Urgent and Important to Not Urgent and Not Important. Placing your tasks into these different categories will help you decide what’s important and what can wait.
Some people I know that use this system regularly place the quadrant on a whiteboard or a sheet of paper and divide up their tasks this way.
Many project management systems also allow for time estimates and priorities to help you decide what to focus on first. The benefits? You can take action on a task right away or decide to save it for later, much like the Get Things Done methodology.
9. Change what you consider “productive”
Okay, this one sounds weird so let me explain. My wife recently got a new job that involves more management. A couple of weeks in, she realized she wasn’t getting to her to-do list. Instead she was being interrupted by the people she needed to be managing. Now, there’s two things to remember:
- Her position was new, so her colleagues are settling in with her style. The demands on her time won’t be the same after she figures out the job.
- She was being productive, because she was helping her team be productive. She helped them clear roadblocks to do their work more effectively, which is the ultimate goal of any team.
She was being productive still, just not by her normal to-do list. She realized in the process that the goal of her work had changed and that she was balancing new responsibilities.
Creating a more productive day for yourself will help you achieve your goals even faster. But remember, adding in a lot of new habits at once won’t be possible. You’ll have to gradually work up to it. And to be honest, all of the points listed above won’t necessarily be feasible every single day of the week. You’ll have to try these out and then choose which ones make the most sense for your life and work.