Although it sounds like a contradiction in terms, it's easy to procrastinate about productivity. Being more productive sounds great in theory, but it also sounds like a lot of work. The problem is, like a lot of things, people tend to try to do everything at once and end up burning out shortly after they start. And that leads to a downward spiral of less productivity, less satisfaction, and less free time.
There is, however, a better way. Instead of taking on the overwhelming task of trying to simultaneously incorporate all the productivity advice you've heard, take it one hour at a time. Look for ways to make the most out of every part of your day, and you just may end up with more hours left over to do the things you really want to do. Here's an example of how to make small changes in your productivity every hour of every day.
6 a.m. Start your day with some exercise. It doesn't matter whether you walk, run, or hit the gym. If you want to work out, doing it first thing in the morning is the best way to make sure that it gets done. And it kicks things off with a great energy boost that makes your first hours more productive.
7 a.m. Eat something. When you're running late, you may be tempted to skip breakfast. However, taking 15 minutes to eat something substantial instead of losing energy or snacking all morning will save you time and make you more likely to get things done right up until lunch.
8 a.m. Plan your day. Take a few minutes to update your to-do list, glance at your calendar, and plan how you'll spend your time. This is the single most important step in making your day as productive as possible.
9 a.m. Check your e-mail, then go offline. Delete any messages you can. Respond to anything that will take less then 5 minutes to answer. Add anything else to your to-do list. And after that's done, set your e-mail to "offline" before you check it again. Otherwise, you risk spending your whole day volleying e-mails back and forth. Repeat this step no more than once every hour, unless you're waiting for an urgent message.
10 a.m. Do the hardest thing on your to-do list. What's nagging you? What's the one task you're dreading? Chances are it's preventing you from focusing on other work. Get it out of the way. There's a very good chance that it's not as bad as you think it is, and worrying about it certainly isn't going to make it any better.
11 a.m. Make one trip around the office. Instead of getting up every time you need to deliver something, retrieve something, get a drink, or visit a co-worker, save as many steps as you can by holding deliverables in an out basket. Then, when you have to do something that just can't wait, get a few other things done while you're up and around. Short of going to the bathroom, it's rare that you absolutely have to leave your desk for any one thing. A lot of times, however, we do so because we're avoiding work--like that thing you should have taken care of at 10 a.m.
12 noon. Go out to lunch--and walk, if possible. Yes, there are days when going out to lunch is impossible. But whenever you can, get out, get some air, and take a walk if you can. Give your eyes, your back, and your brain a rest, and you'll come back feeling re-energized and ready for the afternoon.
1 p.m. When you have a meeting, set limits. Start every meeting with these two statements to keep everyone focused:
- We're going to conclude in 60 minutes (or however long you need)
- We're here to talk about (subject) and decide (outcome)
2 p.m. Sometimes, you have to pick up the phone. E-mail always seems more efficient than other forms of communication, and it often is. But "easier" does not always equal "more efficient." Remember, there are times when you just have to pick up the phone:
- When a client/customer prefers to communicate over the phone
- When the e-mail you're about to send will only lead to more questions
- When you're trying to schedule a meeting with one person not using the same calendar software as you
- When what you're planning to say is critical, controversial, or risks being misunderstood
3 p.m. If someone comes to your office, give him your full attention, or ask him to come back. If someone visits you in your office, he either:
- Thinks what he has to say is important or complex enough to warrant a face-to-face conversation, or
- Is just trying to avoid work
4 p.m. Get ready for tomorrow--the office edition. What tasks do you need to set in motion, or what do you need to prepare for, in order to get ready for the next work day? Any meetings in the morning that you need to be ready for? Any files that you need to find? Take every action you can anticipate.
5 p.m. Leave work on time. It's rare that there's something on your desk that absolutely can't wait until tomorrow. Your time is better spent getting a break from work and feeling like you've had time to yourself.
6 p.m. Eat something healthy. You can't be productive if you don't feel good. There's no substitute for exercise and eating right.
7 p.m. Relax. Do something fun. Turn off your brain. Play with your kids. Goof off. You don't have to be productive all the time.
8 p.m. Get ready for tomorrow--the home edition. Anticipate everything you need from home for the next day. Set out the clothes you plan to wear, including your exercise clothes for the morning (which makes it a lot easier to get out the door). Get your work stuff ready to go. Shine your shoes if you have something big planned the next day. Do anything you can that you'd otherwise have to do in the morning.
9 p.m. Read. Learning is one of the best ways to stay productive, and reading is still the best way to discover something new.
10 p.m. - 6 a.m. Sleep*. Until we find a substitute for sleep, one of your greatest productivity tools is putting your head on the pillow, shutting your eyes, and doing nothing for eight hours.
What other recommendations do you have for staying productive every hour of every day?
*Have trouble getting to sleep? Check out these suggestions from Gretchen Rubin on The Huffington Post.
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