According to a recent McKinsey report, today’s workforce spends 61% of their time managing work rather than doing it.
That’s insane. We can do better than that.
Productivity is fairly simple, in theory. Even if you have an overwhelming amount to do, the steps aren’t hard to figure out: Pick something important to work on (a task from your most important project, perhaps).
Focus exclusively on that task for a bit, finish it if you can. Take a few minutes break. Pick another important task after that, and repeat.
But it’s not that simple, because no matter how focused you are, there will always be distractions.
Everyone struggles to get work done everyday. Here is a summary of proven productivity systems, principles, rules, and habits to help you get real work done everyday without losing your mind.
1. Work on your MITs first thing in the morning
Your MIT is the tasks you most want or need to get done today. They should be identiied the evening or night before the morning.
I limit MITs to three.There will be more that I do during the day, but my focus will be to finish at least three MITs.
Do your MITs first thing in the morning.
If you put them off to later, you will get busy and run out of time to do them. Get them out of the way, and the rest of the day is gravy!
2. Limit your list
Make a long list of all the tasks you need to do … then make a short list of 1–3 things you really want to get done. Choose so that, if you got only these tasks done, you’d be proud of what you did today.
Start with the most important task, before checking email or reading online.
3. Fewer tasks are better than many
With the overwhelming amount of information coming at us, there’s also an overwhelming amount of requests and things to do. It’s just not possible to get to react to all tasks every day especially when you have your own MITs to deal with.
And it’s not even desirable to do a huge task list — you’re just spinning your wheels. Instead, focus on the few tasks that make the most difference — to your company, to your career, to your life.
4. Write a stop doing list
Every productive person obsessively sets To Do Lists. But those who play at world-class also record what they commit to stop doing. Steve Jobs said that what made Apple Apple was not so much what they chose to build but all the projects they chose to ignore.
5. Set and stick to daily goals
Without a clear focus, it’s too easy to succumb to distractions. Set targets for each day in advance. Decide what you’ll do; then do it. Keep your to-do list close to you to remind you of what needs to be done today. Whatever you do, stick to it and make sure you get it done.
6. Use the first 90 minutes rule
The basic principle of the first 90 minutes rule is to start your day by spending the first 90 minutes on your most important task.
The human body operates on cycles called “ultradian rhythms.” According to research, during each of these cycles, there is a peak when we are most energized and a period when we are exhausted. You are most active in the morning.
Do your best work when you have the most energy and willpower!
7. Do the worst first
To defeat procrastination learn to tackle your most unpleasant task first thing in the morning instead of delaying it until later in the day. This small victory will set the tone for a very productive day.
Plus, you are more productive and have a lot of brain energy in the morning.
Or better still, identify your peak cycles of productivity, and schedule your most important tasks for those times.
Work on minor tasks during your non-peak times.
8. Use the Pareto Principle
In every area of your life, you can work out the few things that are really important to you and the few methods that give you what you want.
There are lots of simple, painless ways to start this “stripping back” process so that you can begin applying the 80/20 Principle and reaping the practical benefits in your everyday life.
The Pareto principle is the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of the value of a task comes from 20% of the effort.
Focus your energy on that critical 20% to get a lot more done every day. Your productive time should be spent on tasks that deliver the most results.
The key to making the 80/20 Principle work for you is FOCUS!
9. Putting accountability to work
Put structures and systems in place to measure and record your progress. Schedule regular appointments to check in. It can be over email, mobile or in person. If possible, schedule these times in advance so that they’re not lost or forgotten in the busyness of everyday life.
Move beyond mere talk and commit to specific actions that will move your goals forward, and agree with someone else to hold you accountable.
10. Don’t work on a task more than once
Starting now, don’t set things aside hoping you’ll have time to deal with them later. Ask yourself “What do I need to do with this” every time you pick up something from your email list, and either do it, schedule it for later, defer it to someone else, or file it.
Don’t put things on hold only to deal with them again later. Learn to handle incoming tasks once and move on.
How many times have you opened the same email only to close it and open it again at another time?
Once something new gets your attention, if it’s not on your list of things to do within the day you should delegate it or reply, especially if it takes not more than five minutes to respond to it.
11. Find your flow
Identify your peak cycles of productivity, and schedule your most important tasks for those times. Work on minor tasks during your non-peak times.
It’s important to organize your day around your body’s natural rhythms, says Carson Tate, founder and managing partner of management consultancy, Working Simply.
Tackle complex tasks when your energy’s at its highest level.
12. Embrace deep work.
“Focusing intensely without distraction for a long period of time on a cognitively demanding task” is how Newport defines deep work. Block out time. Schedule time on your calendar to work on your work. Have daily deep work sessions.
Go Airplane Mode for these sessions.
13. Slice and dice
Break complex projects into smaller, well-defined tasks and focus on completing just one of those tasks at a time. Give yourself a fixed time period, like an hour, to complete the task.
Don’t worry about how far you get. Just put in the time and get started.
14. Use the Pomodoro technique to slice and dice
The Pomodoro Technique, strictly about time-management was developed by Italian entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo.
It focuses on working in short, intensely focused bursts, and then giving yourself a brief break to recover and start over.
The technique requires a timer, and it allows you to break down your large complex task into manageable intervals. Once you break your work into focused time blocks, you can manage it for the rest of time allocated for it.
The act of timing can boost your productivity, not to mention what you learn about your real time usage.
When you measure, you can optimise where necessary.
15. Use the Eisenhower Method
The “Eisenhower Method” stems from a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
Separate the truly important tasks from the merely urgent and those that are not important.
Allocate blocks of time to work on your most urgent and important tasks and spend less time on rarely urgent and not important tasks.
16. Set mini-milestones
When you begin a task, identify the target you must reach before you can stop working. For example, when working on a book, you could decide not to get up until you’ve written at least 1000 words.
Hit your target no matter what. And move on to the next one after a short break.
Embrace small chunks of time. Work in small blocks.
17. Focus, don’t crank
Today, more and more people are realizing that when you constantly switch between tasks, you get very little done. You actually tend to procrastinate on the important stuff, and use multi-tasking as a way to postpone doing things.
Instead of cranking through a lot of tasks and multi-tasking, learn to focus on important tasks and single-task.
18. Write shorter emails
If email takes up a lot of your day, the simple change of limiting yourself to 4–5 sentences per email will make a big difference. First, it’ll drastically shorten the time it takes to write or respond to emails.
And second, it’ll shorten responses to your emails, which means you’ll spend less time reading email. Never send an email that’s more than five sentences long.
Take the number of words you think your email should be, cut that number in half, and that’s what your word count should be.
19. Don’t plan meetings that require more than thirty minutes to complete
Seriously, cut out all the unnecessary meetings. If you do have a crucial meeting in mind that requires a long time-span, it’s better to split the meeting into two or more parts.
And stop scheduling that 4 p.m meeting. Most employees mentally check out after 4 p.m! Don’t waste your productive time in meetings that end up with more things to do.
20. Keep meetings lean
The traditional way of doing business includes company meetings throughout the day, taking an hour or more usually. This can eat up half of your day or more. Add to that individual meetings — at lunch, or having drinks, or just a one-on-one in the office — and you’re meeting more than you’re producing.
Meeting (usually) suck!
Meetings can be vital for discussing goals and establishing a forward vision. Left unchecked, they become bloated affairs, eating up hours (or in extreme cases, even days ) of your time without anything important being decided.
21. Plan to Optimise
Identify the processes you use most often, and write them down step-by-step. Refactor them on paper for greater efficiency. Then implement and test your improved processes.
Sometimes we just can’t see what’s right in front of us until we examine it under a microscope. Repeat and stick to productive routines and processes that work best for you.
22. Learn to delegate
Learn to trust people with critical tasks in all areas of your life. When you learn to effectively delegate tasks you actually find that it is easier to keep the stuff you cannot delegate better organized.
23. Start a gap reading habit
Use reading to fill in those odd periods like waiting for an appointment, standing in line, while the coffee is brewing and commuting to and from work.
If you consistently stick to it and read at least one article every day on a subject that means a lot to you or even on personal growth articles, that’s 365 articles a year. You can use Pocket to save articles for later reading.
24. Procrastinate consciously
Delay non-critical tasks as long as you possibly can. Many of them will die on you and won’t need to be done at all.
25. Do it now!
Recite this phrase over and over until you’re so sick of it that you cave in and get to work. Embrace the “Now” habit.
26. Whatever you do, don’t overload yourself!
Work doesn’t have to be monotonous and done in 8-hour shifts — it can be fun, and done in productive bursts.
People tend to pile too much on themselves for a single day, overestimating how much they can actually do.
Get into the habit of choosing only two or three most important tasks to do for the day and take time to refresh for another day.
Originally published at medium.com