Every year one of the top New Year’s resolutions is to be more productive. While it’s truly a great resolution, the road to extreme productivity is bumpy, winding, and with constant detours. Everyone starts out their year getting so much done, hitting the gym every day, turning in projects early, creativity at an all time high…and within a month it all falls back into your old routine.
Why isn’t anyone actually making productivity stick?! And if we can’t be productive…what hope do our other goals have?
The truth is, this is a struggle that pretty much everyone encounters – and that many of us battle constantly. We end up frustrated, or even worse, we try to make up for the poor production by grinding out extra hours, and ultimately sacrificing even more of the most precious resource we have: time.
Yup – it’s all too true for so many of us – and the fact is, once time is gone, you can’t get it back.
Ultimately, we’re all seeking total time freedom – the means to do whatever we want with our time – which is why, as entrepreneurs, we try to create a business that provides that financial and time freedom in the first place.
But it takes hard work to get to a point where you have both of those things. This doesn’t mean however, that you have to grind out weeks or months of 18 hour workdays and lose out on life in the process. You can have both, now.
The bad news: You will always have to work on your productivity (it’s part of working on your systems and improving yourself every year).
The good news: Once you get a system down, this is your foundation to build upon and takes a whole lot less work from here on out to keep improving yourself.
Before we go into the 7 steps for extreme productivity, the pre-step to productivity scheduling is narrowing down your goals. What do you want to accomplish this week? This month? This year? Then create a list of actionable steps that lead you to each goal.
For example, say you want to run a marathon in September. One action step might be to run 3 miles every day for 3 weeks. The next action step might be to run farther or increase pace. Basically, you want each goal to have 4-5 action steps to it.
Once you’ve figured out what you need to do to accomplish your goals – it’s time to implement these 7 powerful methods that have proven successful for many (myself included):
Organize Your Time Into Blocks
Working for long periods of time without any breaks, and chaining different projects or meetings back-to-back, leads to excess fatigue and poor productivity – basically your brain turns to mush much faster. That’s easy to understand, since we’re humans and not machines (most of us, anyway). Studies have shown that dividing work into blocks, or predetermined periods of work time with rest periods in between, produces very high productivity as compared to regular working patterns. For example, three 90 minute blocks (4.5 total work hours) will often times be much more productive than a typical 8 hour day that has no particular scheduling pattern. Here are a couple examples:
- 60 mins work / 15 mins rest / 60 mins work / 15 mins rest / 30 mins work / 30 mins rest
- 90 mins work / 15 mins rest / 90 mins work / 15 mins rest / 90 mins work / 60 mins rest
Different jobs will require different organization of time. Figure out what works best for you, keeping true to the work/rest pattern, and making sure you don’t exceed 120 minutes of focused work time without a rest period that follows.
Also very important to mention: even if you fail to be productive during your work block: don’t skip the rest time. This is crucial and will allow you to re-center yourself and prepare for the next work period.
Effectively Utilize The Rest Time Between Working Blocks
The time between work blocks is intended to recharge your battery. Use the time however you can best accomplish that. It should be something that allows you to free yourself from the previous task. Some people like to relax or meditate during the rest periods. Others might want to call a friend, or listen to some music. I sit at a desk most of the day, so actually prefer to move around, get outside if I can, maybe do a few short exercises like jumping jacks or push ups to get my blood flowing.
NOTE: If you’re going back to the same task, it’s good to write yourself a note of where you want to pick it back up, so you can hit the ground running when your next work block starts.
The work block system is only effective if you can effectively eliminate distractions during each block. Outside of emergencies, the idea is to completely remove distractions like email (more on that below), phone calls, or walk-in interruptions. Myself, I like to think of it as a challenge – how much can I get done in the next 30 or 60 minutes? Then – it’s go!
We know how powerful the draw of email or Facebook can be. Here are some useful tools to give you no choice:
- Cold Turkey – use Cold Turkey to temporarily block social media sites while you work.
- The Email Game – The fastest, most fun way to manage your inbox in the fastest time.
Map Out A Typical Week
Think of the top functions of your job and dedicate specific blocks to those functions. Diagram a typical week and allocate the necessary time to each responsibility, based on what it demands. If you’re a Marketing Manager, it might be: project management, team leadership/training, forecasting & analysis, and new strategies. Maybe you’ll dedicate one day to each function, or if not, you can dedicate each work block to a specific function. Doing this consistently for each week will make it easier to plan out your time and ensure you are balancing out your responsibilities.
Group Time Sucking Tasks Together
Things like email and voicemail that eat up tons of time throughout the day should be grouped together and have their own dedicated block of time. By grouping these tasks together, you’re doing two things:
- Reducing the number of times it takes to do each action – ie. open and scan the inbox, pick up the phone or listen to the voicemail service.
- More importantly, you’re improving focus during other work blocks by eliminating the distractions that these can cause.
You might need to dedicate multiple short blocks like this, however checking your inbox three times a day is a huge improvement over the 50, or even 100+ times that many people do.
Plan Time To Plan
I like to dedicate 30 minutes on a Monday or Friday to planning the week ahead, then about 15 minutes each morning to make any adjustments for the next day. Don’t neglect the importance of this. I often will take this time to ask myself, “Is what I’m doing right now and what I have planned getting me closer to what I want to achieve?” Answering this question and then planning out the specific steps for the days/weeks ahead gives me confidence and eliminates a lot of wasted activities.
Plan Time To Play
This is where this system really rocks. Just like it’s important to schedule blocks of work time, it’s hugely important to schedule blocks of ‘play’ time. I’m a staunch believer in time for self – time dedicated to doing something you love, that’s about you. I like to play basketball and run, and am fortunate enough to have a flexible schedule where I can do these things at a variety of times. At least every other day, I make it a point to plan a block of ‘play time’ for activities like these. It might only be 30 minutes, but incorporating them into my schedule makes me happier, and actually much more productive. Afterwards, I have more energy, a good attitude, and attack whatever I’m doing with a much clearer mind.
Remember – productivity planning is personal, and these methods are meant to be mixed and matched to your own responsibilities and personali
Figure out what works for you and you will: reduce stress by knowing what to expect, feel a greater sense of accomplishment by seeing more things get done in less time, and be enjoying more of the precious time freedom we all seek – starting today.