This post is all about how to have a productive day.
Most people would agree that time is without a doubt one of our most precious assets. Money, precious metals, and other investments can be purchased. A stock portfolio can be replenished, and even property can be upgraded. In this day and age, there are plenty of investment opportunities seemingly everywhere you look.
But time is different. Once it’s gone, it is simply gone. We can’t buy more of it. In today’s business environment, we need to make sure that each moment delivers maximum value.
To be clear, the purpose of this post is not that every moment should be planned or productive. Often, the ‘maximum value’ we gain from an experience has very little to do with how productive we are. Instead, you carry the enjoyment gained from the moment itself and the memories of the moment into the future.
Why Is Time Management So Important to a Productive Day?
A major reason to effectively manage time is to prevent stress and help you avoid cramming as the deadline draws closer.
And the results of poor time management can have a very real impact on your professional life. On the flip side, good time management can bring enormous rewards. If you cannot manage your time efficiently, you run the risk of reputational damage when you prove sub-standard work. However, the psychological risks are also dangerous. Providing sub-standard work can have a tremendously negative effect on self-image. The sense of loss of control can quickly have an adverse effect on every aspect of your professional life. This, in turn, can affect your personal life.
Often, to create true, stress-free mental space for serendipitous moments or times of relaxation, we have to find a way to ‘clear the decks’ of our day to day tasks and duties. This is the reason that time management skills are so important.
While some of being productive is about discipline, there is also a science and an art to a productive day. The strategies we’ve found that the strategies below can be useful in the continued quest for productivity. The majority of these can be used in professional work. But some can add significant value to the time we spend on both leisure activities and those precious moments with friends and family.
1. Prioritize and Work SMART
The first step in doing this is to prioritize what you should work on first. You may have heard the concept that if you cannot measure the a task’s results, you cannot manage it. But, this isn’t always 100% true. As noted above, there are some experiences that are about the experience itself and the resulting memories. And there’s no true way to measure intangibles like a memory or a great feeling.
But often, when it comes to getting things done, it’s incredibly helpful to measure results. One of the most useful ways of knowing whether you have prioritized correctly is to use the SMART method. SMART is an acronym to help people understand if they are applying the right criteria to each task. Those tasks should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
By applying these criteria you can have some measure of confidence that they will add value to your day. The key to applying measurement criteria correctly is prioritization and there are multiple ways to prioritize for a productive day.
If you’re the type of person who gets an instant boost from checking things off of your list, then prioritizing a task that you can complete quickly is a great way to check something off your list to get a morale boost and build some momentum. Alternatively, you could also choose to focus on the task that will have the biggest impact.
This is especially helpful if you are working on a project that affects others like co-workers who are waiting for your part of the project to be complete or nearly done before they can begin working on their part. And another option if you have multiple items on your list and you’re feeling stressed about a big deadline, then the wise choice may be to prioritize the task with the soonest due date.
Everyone has to experiment a bit to find the prioritization method that works best for them. Generally speaking, if you’re not sure where to start, it’s helpful to make sure that the tasks that you need to complete are ranked by urgency and importance. And, ideally, time-bound tasks should be at the top or close to the top of the list.
2. Tick Tock
Set a time limit for those tasks, especially the ones that are urgent. This will help to focus your mind. Initially, this approach may make you feel a bit stressed – but sometimes stress can aid in the completion of a task because the countdown can help motivate you to make every second count. A bit of extra effort in setting a specific amount of time to devote to a task can go a long way.
Even if you don’t get the task complete, working in this way can sometimes help you discover obstacles or blockers that you might have caught too late if you’d procrastinated and worked on the project at the last minute. Time ticks away extremely quickly, especially when a task is crucial. By planning ahead and utilizing time blocks for specific tasks, you may also find that you have time to delegate – and you will certainly find that, more often than not you will have more time to prepare adequately for that important meeting or presentation.
3. Take Time to Breathe
Urgency does not mean going full out to the detriment of organized thought or your general sense of well being. These types of prioritization exercises should enhance and not harm. Most of the time, if you begin working on a project in advance of when it is actually due, the end goal of working in this way is to avoid the stress of cramming at the last minute and risk delivering subpar results and planning to work in this way helps to ensure that you can also factor in rest.
It may feel counterproductive to schedule time to breathe, or walk away from the project, but human beings require some time to gather their thoughts in order to complete a task efficiently and avoid becoming flustered by a long list of things to do with very little time to complete the list.
One helpful exercise is to set aside some time to simply think about the tasks that you’re planning to work on. Take a short walk and visualize how to successfully complete the task. From there, determine which tasks can be broken up into manageable sub-tasks. This time away from actively working on the project will help your thoughts become clearer and you may find that task-oriented thinking is far easier when you’re not staring at a blank notebook or laptop screen.
4. The Importance of Organization in a Productive Day
Urgency has its specific time and place. However, proactive planning can do wonders for your goal of enjoying a productive day. We are surrounded by helper software, and you can regularly these tools to determine how they can help enhance organization. You may find new uses for tools you currently use. You may also find new tools that enhance organization by helping to assist you in the work you are doing.
First, your calendar can be an enormous help in allowing you to look at what you have on deck for the next day, week or month. If you often work in Excel or Google Sheets, you know how easy it is to go down a rabbit hole searching for a specific formula, and this is a problem Lumelixr can help with to help you find an ideal formula much faster.
A big piece of organization is to assign deadlines early so you can quickly determine if things are getting off track. You can track this manually with some careful planning. Or, you could consider investing in project management software like Trello, Monday, or Asana. These all help you visualize all of a project’s related tasks and sub-tasks, along with detail that shows how close individual items and the overall project are to completion.
Once you have your deadlines and roadmap outlined, set aside a portion of each day to work on sub-tasks. This will give you ample time to complete the mission-critical tasks well in advance of the deadline. Organization also allows you to look at every angle of the project from start to finish. This helps ensure you have access to the tools and human resources that are essential to the completion of a specific task. By planning in advance, you’ll also make sure that these assets are available when you need them.
During initial planning, you may realize you’ll eventually need to interface with someone in a different department or team. To ensure things stay on track, ensure that person will be available when you need them. To do this, set up the meeting sooner than later so that they have ample warning. Don’t wait until crunch time to ask a coworker for help with a project and find they are on vacation or simply too busy to meet.
Rather than let their schedule derail your own project, save unnecessary stress and schedule crucial meetings early. This give you confidence that you already have plans to meet on a certain date, at a certain time. And you can can make their job easier by passing along any preparatory material to them before the meeting itself. Working with others in a way that considers their own schedule is an easy way to expand your network with people who genuinely enjoy and appreciate working with you.
5. Remove Distractions for a Productive Day
That desk toy can be a source of distraction, as can that comfy couch in the corner. This is not to say that your workspace should not offer opportunities for some quality downtime. When you find yourself extremely mesmerized by the clicking sound of silver balls on a pendulum, it’s time to sweep your immediate surroundings for distractions. You may even want to change locations locations for a bit. The absence of distraction is key to a productive day that’s easy to overlook.
Learning to do Time Management Well Takes…Time
Proper time management can take enormous dedication and focus. We live in an age where distractions are everywhere and more easily accessible than any time in our history. For instance, social media alone can provide ample opportunity for simply wasting time – as can email. Most successful business people focus with a fierce concentration on their time management skills. In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours of dedication to really become proficient at a subject or skill.
If you can’t immediately implement every change you want to make, that’s ok. Be patient with yourself and continue making incremental progress. After all, you can’t cram 10,000 hours into the next 2 weeks.
Every hour along the way is that much closer to where you hope to be. Even if you don’t actually devote 10,000 hours to the skill of time management, if you organize and prioritize and regularly work on the tasks, you can still make progress. And that progress will help you avoid undue stress as the deadline for a project draws closer.