Improved Productivity: A 12-Step Program

Productivity can seem so elusive at times. It can be hard to prioritize, manage the workload and stay focused, but with a few simple steps and a good dose of discipline, you can be on your way to more control over your days.

  1. Plan your exit. Productivity for tomorrow starts today. Set a time to leave the office and stick with it. An hour before that time, have a wrap-up alarm remind you to start wrapping things up for the day, a great tip from organizational and productivity guru Julie Morgenstern in her book, “Never Check E-Mail in the Morning”.
  2. Plan tomorrow. Set your intentions and priorities for tomorrow during the last hour of your day so that you hit the ground running.
  3. Set your boundaries. At quitting time, turn off the computer (completely off so that you’re not tempted to “quickly” check your email), turn off the light, and shut the door. Don’t return until it’s time to work tomorrow.
  4. Honor a bedtime routine. Two or three hours before you want to be asleep, begin a routine of winding down. This will be different for every person, but it might include: no more phone calls or connectivity with the outside world (unless it’s an emergency, of course), no more talk about work, a bath or shower, a cup of hot tea, light reading, journal writing, no television, and lights out at a set time.
  5. Start the day off right. Wake up at a set time. Exercise or do yoga for fifteen or twenty minutes, unless you have another workout routine that you prefer. Eat a healthy breakfast (don’t skip this, as it affects your energy levels for the rest of the day). Set out with the right intention for your day by taking care of yourself first.
  6. Maintain your boundaries. Don’t immediately go to your office and start checking emails or news feeds. You’ll be at your computer all day. Take some time for yourself and other priorities in your life, or they’re less likely to get done later in the day, especially after work.  Have some coffee, write in your journal, read, or go for a walk. Just take some time for yourself before jumping into your work day.
  7. Avoid or limit email time. Avoid checking your email right when you go to the office, or if you prefer seeing if anything important is waiting, at least limit your time to fifteen minutes so that it doesn’t distract you from more important tasks. Email is a huge time suck; if you don’t control it, it will control you.
  8. Avoid or limit news feeds and social networks. This is another time-suck that easily distracts from other priorities. Set specific times for keeping up with the latest news and updates, and then be diligent about staying away from the distractions.
  9. Start with your list. Jump right to your list of intentions and priorities that you jotted down the previous day. You were probably much more focused and honest about what needed your attention when you were planning it out with a clear head. First thing in the morning, it’s easy to want to procrastinate or give too much importance to trivial tasks and to-dos.
  10. Check in often. Set yourself an alarm for every hour or two. Don’t let yourself get too far off base from your intention/priority list. If you do get derailed, at least you’ll not lose much time this way.
  11. Work in blocks. In a business, it’s easy to have a wide variety of different types of tasks. There might be client work, writing and publishing, and marketing-related tasks to be done. Groups these tasks and complete them in scheduled blocks of time, say two- or three-hour sittings.
  12. Stay disciplined. When you finish with a particular type of task, like work for a specific client, don’t pick up that client’s work again until his/her designated time comes back around again. It’s easy to be tempted to do “just one more thing” for a project, especially when clients are emailing feedback and updates throughout the day, but avoid the temptation. Treat all time blocks with equal importance, whether you’re working on client projects or doing lead generation tasks. It’s all important, and if you don’t maintain a balance between current work and future prospects, you’ll experience peaks and valleys with your revenue as well.

It’s not always easy to stay on track. Time flies, distractions can beg for your attention, and deadlines loom, making you feel pulled in one hundred directions and unable to keep up with the demands, but by approaching your work with purpose and discipline, it’s a lot easier to get things done and feel great about what you’ve accomplished.

What steps do you follow each day to stay on track and productive?

Photo by Flickr user SC Fiasco, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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