If you are like me, and like just about everyone else in the work world, you struggle with trying to get the most out of each of your days. Instead of becoming fanatical in managing your time to the minute, focus instead on increasing your productivity. The trick is to be as productive as possible within the time available to us.
I've compiled the following list of Top 10 Tips from top CEO's, Executives, Entrepreneurs and Clients. All are ideas that they practice and have found to be instrumental in increasing their productivity, enabling them to make the most of each day. Some you may be doing. Great! However, pay attention to those you aren't and determine which would bring you the most value and implement it. Don't try to do them all, start by focusing on only one value-filled idea and make it your own. When it becomes part of your daily routine, revisit the list for another idea to try.
Here's the list, in no particular order...
1. Pace. Many of us lead relatively sedentary lives. We sit during our commute, sit at our desks during the day, sit on our commute home, during dinner and in front of the tv. Although we may fit in some workouts during the week we can boost this each day by pacing periodically throughout the day. Pace while brushing your teeth, while waiting for your coffee to drip through, while talking on the phone, during commercial breaks. This small addition to your day can add up to hundreds of extra miles walked by the end of the year, but serves to increase your energy and focus each day.
2. Plan Tomorrow Before you Wrap up Today. Knowing what you need to accomplish, before you hit the office each morning enables you to stay focused and not be pulled off track by someone else's agenda the minute you cross that workplace threshold in the morning.
3. Assign Times to Tasks. Most people's to-do lists are just a running list of outstanding activities, not necessarily an accurate picture of what they expect to accomplish each day. Assigning a timeframe to each task though ensures that you are not overscheduling your day. Let your to-do list signify what you are actually intending to accomplish that day, using a secondary list to highlight all outstanding actions that are working their way onto your to-day list at some point. This provides a much clearer (and mor realistic) approach to creating your daily schedule, giving you a much clearer and more positive picture of what you have achieved at the end of each day.
4. Eat Breakfast. Yes, I know we have all heard about breakfast being the most important meal of the day, but that doesn't necessarily mean you follow it! Just as your body needs fuel to operate efficiently, so too does your mind. If you want to operate at your peak level of productivity you need to ensure that both your body and mind are being given the fuel they need to operate fully for you.
5. Top 3 - First. Don't make the mistake of coming in to the office and engaging in 'warm-up' activities like email. If you have planned your day before you arrive you can then use your morning to clear off your big ticket items. Most people's minds are at their peak functioning in the morning. You haven't yet depleted your resources so it makes sense to apply them to your biggest, more challenging tasks first. Save the afternoon for meetings and smaller, less important activities. Additionally, if your day gets away from you and 'run out of time' then you are leaving less important activities unfinished rather than that big project with the looming deadline.
6. Create Productivity Rituals. The more that you ritualize your productivity actions, the more habitual and automatic they will become. Our minds and bodies like routines. Go to bed at a set time, wake up at a set time, plan your day before you leave the office, routinize when you check emails (not every time it pings!), when to exercise, when to eat. Writers train themselves for set times that they write. It is a scheduled habit that prepares their mind to write at that scheduled time. Creating routines that train your brain when it needs to be focused (ie: top 3 first thing in the morning) helps ensure that it is focused in that time. Other routines simply help you to engage in activities utilizing little brain power, saving up your energy and focus for the activities that need it.
7. Use your Waiting Time. We all have the inevitable times where we are forced to wait upon someone else's schedule. A client is running late, we're standing in line somewhere, airports are notorious as are doctor's offices. Rather than simply reading email, use this time more productively by always having podcasts and articles downloaded. These are the types of activities we should all be doing regularly to keep abreast of new developments, to learn new ideas, but rarely find the time for. Use your Waiting Time (and Commute Time) to continue building your knowledge base.
8. Take a Break. I know that this seems counter-productive but it actually isn't. Research and studies clearly show that we are not built to maintain a high level of focus and productivity indefinitely. We tend to operate in 90 minute intervals. Pushing through this time without taking a break is likely only going to cause you to take more time completing a task rather than less. Taking a small break every 90 minutes has been found to increase productivity by relaxing and re-energizing the mind/body, allowing you to be more focused and targeted when you return to your tasks.
9. Hold Meetings to Timeframes. Most people expect a certain amount of wasted time in meetings and are therefore never disappointed. People tend to tune out in meetings which results in a less focused and directed meeting. Stay focused and on task, ensuring that others do as well. Odds are you will find that most meetings are completed in under the scheduled time rather than running late. Interrupting a meeting to announce there are only 15 minutes of the meeting left and directing the group to focus on the critical issues before the meeting is over typically results in a flurry of focus and decision making. Training yourself, and your group, to be that focused from the start will significantly reduce the time you spend in meetings and your frustration with them!
10. Uncover your Time Vampires. Where do you tend to lose time? You likely have a number of activities built into your week that inadvertently cost you time, decreasing your productivity. Paying attention to these activities and refining and streamlining them will often free up far more of your time than you realize. For instance, watching tv. I'm not advocating a complete boycott, but be mindful of the time you spend. If you tune in specifically to watch a particular show and it isn't on, or is a repeat, shut off the television rather than begin surfing. You now have freed up time for something else. You may also find that some of your time vampires are certain people in your life, that seem to take up far more of your time than they add value. Be strategic about limiting your availability. A ringing phone does not always need to be answered. When I am engaged in something that I do not want to be taken away from I turn off all of my electronic notices. Work to your timeframe, not someone else's.