To successfully increase productivity for an extended period of time, it is essential to have a well thought out plan in place. Sure, you may get lucky and be ultra-productive for a few weeks or months, but eventually, the absence of a solid plan will lead to increased stress and burnout. Trust me… I’ve been there.
But once I had a handle on my stress and anxiety, I turned my focus to a full proof plan that would allow me to increase productivity while still enjoying the finer things in life…
“Dude, how in the world do you find time to do all of that?!? It’s like you get 25 hours in a day…”
This was a friend’s response after hearing about my revolving priority list (below). It wasn’t a beat-my-chest brag sesh’.
…Just a regular conversation about current events.
…My friend started planning the intervention right there… “Hey man, it’s alright to take a day off. We all need to enjoy some down time once in a while.”
In response, I pulled out my calendar and showed him the 15 minutes of scheduled “down time” with the fam at 4:15 every afternoon! (I’m joking – the man had a point).
But there are a few times in life that call for a strong flourish of activity to make significant progress:
(Starting a business, turning a side-hustle into a full-time job, becoming a parent, or just taking control of your physical fitness and scheduling gym time…)
If it’s all Netflix, de-stressing, and downtime, you’ll find it hard to attack those goals and passions in life. Or at least you’ll find it difficult to make meaningful progress.
“I just don’t have the time…”
How many times have you heard that or even said it yourself? I’ve been there before and sure, it can be true if that’s how you set your mind. But I’ve found that if I don’t Make-The-Time then I never seem to find it.
And after implementing this plan, I started to climb back out of my hole. I was refueled with new business ideas, kept thinking of new blog post topics, and was again working out regularly. That 10-Step plan to eliminate stress was my foundation… But then I had an ever increasing task list and I needed a system to make significant progress!
There were family goals, business goals, blog goals, and a vacation that needed to be planned. Each one of these tasks (and so many others) required my full attention. But no matter how bad I wanted to knock each of these goals out and move onto the next – my process lacked efficiency.
So I puttered along for a while…
I’d get distracted with new ‘fires’ that popped up throughout the day and by the time I sat down to write or work on a business project at night, I’d be all out of mental energy. After about 2 weeks of crazy high output scattered in 800 different directions, I decided that I’d need a Step 2 to channel my productivity for maximum effect.
Here’s how I managed to increase productivity and find 25 hours in a day!
1- Define your schedule and write it out – then wake up early
Life is complicated. You don’t have to be working 3 jobs alongside growing a family like me to realize that…
And with all of those different inputs coming at you each day, if you don’t have a system in place to reference when something needs to be done, you’re going to go crazy. It’s not a matter of “if” – it’s really more of a “when”. So, in order to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself, you need to define your roadmap.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I want to mention one of the most vital points:
Wake up early
So many successful people swear by the simple practice of waking up ‘early’ in order to achieve more. From generals to business leaders, I’ve heard waking up early referred to as a ‘must do’ all over some of my favorite podcasts (e.g. Jocko Podcast and The Tim Ferriss Show), books, and in personal conversations I’ve had with some incredibly successful high achievers.
Waking up early sets the tone for your day, gives you free time that would otherwise be elusive and allows you to achieve some level of accomplishment before many peers are even out of bed. It reduces my stress, gets the blood flowing, and ultimately sets me up for the best day possible. I swear by it.
Here’s what I’m talking about (and what my average weekday looks like):
5:10 – Workout
5:50 – Cool down, water flowers (yeah – it’s a thing I do this time of year), check notification to start the day clean from electronic inputs
6:30 – Leave for my day job (30-minute commute – typically with podcasts or business calls)
7:00 – 3:30 – Day job and working on breaks for the business or blog
3:30-4:00 – Commute home (more podcasts or business calls)
4:00 – Either second workout of the day or go get my daughter from school (.5 miles from our house, so I’ll normally take the long way to get a 2-mile run in – she loves to ride home on my shoulders…)
5:00 – 7:30 – Family time/dinner / give my daughter a bath (my wife is pregnant with some intense morning sickness so the housework/dadding falls to me these days
7:30 – 8:00 – Bedtime routine
8:00 – 8:30 – Manage the dental practice (can extend to longer in the evening if needed – I have frequent phone calls with our team for business / personal development work. We’re just getting the hang of this thing but with a year in the books, we’ve grown revenue 18.5% and earned 140 5-star reviews. I’m very proud)
8:30 – 10:30 – Blogging
10:30 – Lights out
You can see where a lack of focus and organization could torpedo my day – along with my mental state
So, to combat the sheer volume of activities, and the potential disorganization, I manage my schedule through a 2-pronged system:
A Shared Google Calendar for family events
A detailed use of the Todoist app to track all of my To-Do items.
I love the old standby of a Google Calendar for 2 reasons
My wife and I have shared access, and thus I have a lower probability to forget something that shouldn’t be forgotten (insert male-stereotypically forgets things joke here). And the second reason I love the Google Calendar is the customizable alerts. Can’t beat the virtual heads-up!
When it comes to the Todoist app – there’s no better way I’ve found to track tasks
Now I’m able to tag tasks with different sources (business, blog, personal, etc), I can sort by day, shuffle tasks around… It is very easy to keep my schedule and tasks visible and up to date throughout the day.
I didn’t get the appeal of Todoist until I actually tried it out, and now – I’ll never look back.
2- Prepare the night before
The majority of my productivity for a day is done the evening before. It may seem like a burden when you’re tired and ready for bed, but I’ll take 15 minutes before my bedtime routine to make sure I’m set up for the day ahead. Coming down my stairs and seeing that all of the below tasks are done and ready for me simply sets up for an efficient and stress-free morning.
My night prep includes:
Review Todoist and my Google Calendar for the next day – This is to prepare myself mentally and to see if I need any unique items for the day ahead
Cleaning up the dirty dishes in the sink – I’ve read a similar tactic from Scott at Making Momentum recently and the main point is to reduce clutter and distraction for your morning. If you wake up and come out to a scattered and dirty kitchen, whether you agree or not that does have an impact on your mental state. As Scott says – “Win the morning, win the day.” This is one step toward winning the morning
Prepping my lunch – This includes setting out my lunchbox, fruits, and refrigerated items so they’re ready for me to just grab and go
Presetting our coffee pot – Every task that’s removed from the morning lends to a more efficient start of the day
Setting my bag out – I’ll have my computer, notebook, and any items needed for the day with it
These 15 minutes are vital to me getting the most out of a day. If I’m running behind in the morning and taking care of those half-dozen tasks, I’m more stressed out and by default, I’m using some of the precious mental capacity I have available for my day.
It’s so easy to and beneficial to knock these tasks out the night before.
3- Have a set bedtime
There is a definitive line for me when it comes to “adequate sleep” and that’s 6.5 hours.
If I get anywhere from 5.75 – 6.5 hours, I’m good to function for a couple of days before it catches up with me. 4.5 – 5.75 and I’m good for one day.
On the flip side, 6.5 – 7 is the golden zone. 7+ and I’m a little groggy throughout the day… Can’t explain why but I’ve been living with myself for a while now and it’s the pattern I’ve seen.
Throw the numbers above away but keep the concept. Pay attention to how you feel throughout the day and take note in your notebook (something I always have with me), of how many hours you slept the night before alongside how you feel today. After a few weeks, you’ll start to find some interesting trends.
From those trends, you’ll be able to see what your golden zone for sleep is for you…
But don’t be afraid to take it a few steps further. For example, not all 6.5 – 7-hour segments are created equal. If I get 6.5 hours that start at 11:00pm or later, I’ll feel much worse than if my sleep started 10:00pm or sooner.
4- Workout in the morning
I could literally write a book about this step… But let’s see what I can do with 300 words:
There is an immeasurably significant difference between 3 things:
A lack of stress wondering when you’ll find time to fit a workout in today
All the health benefits that come with exercise (strong muscles/bones, weight control, reduced risk of cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease,…) – just earlier in the day
A general feeling of dominance and accomplishment over those who are not up at 5:10am. It may be egotistical but it’s the truth and I feel better mentally with that in my back pocket
Again back to my notebook – The absolute best days I have start with an early morning workout. It doesn’t guarantee success but success finds those days more often than those that start cold…
I’m not counting but I’m thinking that was under 300 words…
5- Be intentional with your time
It’s great to have scheduled tasks and appointments for your day ahead. That’s half the battle.
But if the tasks are irrelevant and unimportant, and if your scheduled meetings are not helping you advance toward your goals – you are moving backward.
I choose my meetings meticulously. Do we need to meet in person? Can we talk over the phone? Is it worth my time to talk with this person? Am I advancing my company or blog in the short or long term by taking this call? What am I giving up that could be more valuable?
These are all questions I ask myself when making decisions about conversations, meetings, business relationships, etc.
Choose your company wisely. And more importantly, choose how you spend your most precious resource wisely… You don’t get the time back.
Yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily. What do you aim to accomplish in those time periods? If you know what your destination port is, you’ll know in what direction to steer your ship.
I got bored with writing mine on a piece of paper and taping them to the mirror so I wrote a full-fledged post about my goals (and I’ll keep doing that moving forward). If you’re not a blogger, I’d stick to writing down your goals and posting them somewhere you’ll see them every day in the morning and at night.
6- Do one thing at a time
It can be so easy with all of the tasks scheduled out on Todoist to try and complete 4 things at once. I’ve had exactly a 0% success rate with this approach.
I am most successful when I focus all of my efforts for a set time on one task. For example, as I write this post, I have turned off all notifications on my computer, my family is asleep, and my phone is face down. And do you know what? I’m producing.
Alternatively, when I’m trying to write and answer messages, I don’t do well. Or, more importantly, if I’m trying to take a business call during my set family time (4:00-7:30), I’m neither a good father nor a good CEO at that moment.
The call can wait, the wife and daughter cannot.
8- Take a lunch break
If you’re 100% “on” all the time, you will eventually burn out. Period.
Whether it’s 30 minutes at lunch, 2 hours with your family, 20 minutes to meditate in the morning, or 45 minutes of reading before bed, you need to make time to unplug and recharge.
Since that rough period, I now make a point to schedule time to smile and laugh throughout my day. That can be a bike ride with my daughter after work (she’s riding, I’m running), a lunch date with my wife, a call with mom and dad, … You get the idea. Pick an activity that gives you joy and add it to your Todoist app.
9- Get up and move during the day
My day job has me behind a desk for a significant portion of the day. If I’m content to remain sedentary, my energy level will plummet and take with it my desire to do anything of value.
To fight this lack of ambition, I’ll do a few things:
I get up to take a lap around the office every 30 minutes or so
If I need to talk with a peer – I forgo the email and just walk to see them when it’s possible
I have a Todoist task item to do 50 push-ups/day while I’m at the office
As long as I’m getting up and moving, I’m not sitting behind my desk thinking of reasons not to eat the doughnuts sitting in the break room that someone brought in this morning…
I’m a firm believer that healthy decisions beget healthy decisions. So I get up and move.
10- Surround yourself with people who support you
This goes for just about anything in life, but most especially when you’re trying to be Level 10 productive. If Monica (my wife) wasn’t looped in on the decisions I’m making, and more importantly ‘why’ I’m making them, I’d have a treacherous road ahead.
Rather than her just seeing me typing away on the computer at night, or waking up at 5:10am (and sometimes accidentally waking her up only to fall back asleep), and wondering why I’m taking phone calls in the evening during family time, I make a point to make her the biggest part of my world.
“I’ve got ___ thing for ___ reason later today.” Or, “I’m meeting with ____ to talk about ways to improve our marketing position this afternoon.”
For a few weeks when I was starting to ramp back up again, I hadn’t taken the extra steps to get her involved in my process. And it worked alright based on the trust we’ve established over a decade together…
But ever since the day she showed her interest in my goals outside of our business, I’ve been thrilled to discuss the “why” with her and to learn from her advice and suggestions
She isn’t just an observer on the sidelines, she’s my star running back, and I need to make sure she’s involved in the gameplan
This doesn’t stop with who you choose as a spouse
Are you choosing to spend time with people you trust and who support you toward your goals, or are your relationships a drain on your moral and emotional capacity? Life is short my friend, choose your friends wisely… Because as we discussed above – you won’t get that precious time back.
11- Make sure you know the ‘why’ of being so productive
If you work at maximum productivity level for the greater majority of your life, you’ll look up one day only to wonder how life passed you by…
Why are you working your tail off? What is your end goal? You need to make sure you know the answer to that question before the words come out of my mouth. Because if you’re not being intentional with your time, you’re breaking rule (Step) #5.
For me – I want to have the option to work full-time on my blog and at our family business someday soon
That’s why I work crazy hours all the time… I’m sacrificing some time now for a life of freedom later – and I’m loving the journey!
There’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach to maximizing your productivity, but this is the plan that has worked well for me. I’d urge you to experiment with your schedule, your apps, and how you structure your time – then just pick the approach that works best for you at the time! Don’t be afraid to learn, grow, and adjust course as you move forward – and most importantly, make sure to enjoy the journey! We don’t get the time back!
What did I forget that should’ve made the list? Or, what are some things that you’ve done to help boost your productivity? I’d love to hear in the comments section below!
Thanks for reading!
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