Updated: Mar 31, 2021
By: Rena Gadimova
Shape your most productive workday one simple trick, these three hacks, in six easy steps.
We all want to be more productive. Get more done in less time. Meet goals. The quicker and easier, the better. Give us the one simple tip, trick, hack, or habit and we’ll be on our way. We also know that boosting productivity during the workday is easier said than done.
Although we generally know what we want to do, we don’t always know how to do it or where to start. Your most productive day will necessarily be built uniquely for you and by you.
The good news is that there’s a wealth of actionable insights to be gained from experts such as Nir Eyal, Tony Robbins, and Stephen Covey, who have developed strategies backed by science and informed by their intimate understanding of what it’s like in the business world, down to the nitty-gritty grind of everyday office life.
This comprehensive article has all the tips you need to unleash your productivity and efficiency – follow the advice below to reach your full potential.
Failing to plan is planning to fail
It all begins with a plan. With the seemingly endless opportunities for interruption or distraction, it’s necessary to schedule your day with intention and purpose for every moment. That sounds rigid and uncreative and boring at first glance, especially if you’re not someone who naturally likes schedules and plans and to-do lists. However, the ultimate gains are worth it.
If the most successful and productive people plan their workday and they still get distracted and find themselves wasting an obscene amount of time, then where does that leave everyone else?
Some strategies may seem obvious, but they are foundational for building your most productive workday.
Understand the value of your time
Have you ever had those moments of realization that you’ve just wasted a huge chunk of time doing anything but the most pressing tasks?
Warren Buffet has famously said that “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” Guard your time jealously. Focus on what matters most to make the best use of the universally non-renewable resource. Learning to say “no” is one of the most valuable habits to achieving your goals and using your time wisely. Buffett said of time, “It’s the only thing you can’t buy.”
In his discussion of compiling, evaluating, and scheduling the day’s to-do list, Nir Eyal says, “Think of all the ways people steal your time…and how little we do to protect our time…our most precious asset—our time—is unguarded, just waiting to be stolen. If we don’t plan our days, someone else will.”
We all have tasks and appointments that we don’t have control over scheduling. But understanding your natural temperaments and tendencies will help you plan your order of operations. Are you a morning person and do better kinds of work in the morning versus the afternoon when you’re ready for a siesta? Or do you take a few hours and gallons of coffee before you’re ready to engage with people? Plan your day accordingly, as much as possible, and avoid working against yourself. The understanding of your biological clock is critical when it comes to building a productive workday.
Employ the 80/20 rule to build a productive workday
Tony Robbins and others recommend this application of the Pareto Principle to your task list. Robbins employs this rule in the Massive Action Plan (MAP) concept, “Your MAP is simply the specific steps, or actions, you need to take in order to achieve your result…most often, a small number of actions make the biggest difference in your ability to achieve your result.”
The 80/20 rule operates from the view that 80% of your results and productivity come from 20% of your work – the work you do best and most efficiently. Focus your attention and effort on what you do best and outsource or delegate the rest if possible.
Manage and use your time with intention and purpose
Discussing the power of meaning and purpose in one’s life, Nietzsche said that one who has a why to live can bear almost any how. Inspiration and motivation master Tony Robbins reshapes Nietzsche’s proverb to talk about the power of purpose from a slightly different angle – one of persistence, perseverance, and innovation in the face of distractions, setbacks, and disappointments.
Robbins says, “The “why” is the most important thing to know because that’s where all of the emotional juice and fuel is to keep you going when the challenges show up. And if you have a big enough why, you will figure out a way of how to do it.”
Before writing down the endless list of “what we’re going to do,” Eyal echoes Nietzsche and Robbins, “we should begin with why we’re going to do it.” What is your why that drives you to innovate and find the how?
Make your to-do list, then prioritize and schedule
Eyal uses a method called timeboxing, where every minute of his time is accounted for on his schedule. This sounds extreme, but it includes sleep, work (of course), family time, and even free time.
“To create a weekly timeboxed schedule, you’ll need to decide how much time you want to spend on each domain of your life,” he says. The domains begin with you and radiate out into relationships and work. Checking email and scrolling social media can both be a distraction or staying on-task, depending on whether you scroll social media during the time you’ve scheduled for it or not.
For example, schedule time to check your email and respond to texts all at once instead of checking at every notification. It takes about a minute to regain focus on the task at hand, and those minutes add up when we check every message as it lands, resulting in a less productive workday.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as well as First Things First, Stephen Covey discussed the four quadrants method to determine which items are important, urgent, unimportant, and non-urgent, and scheduling the days and weeks based on those classifications.
Habit 1 being proactive. Think ahead. Set goals. Develop your strategy for achieving those goals. Most of all, Covey says, proactive people focus on their circle of influence – the things they can do something about rather than reacting to things, people, and events that are beyond their influence.
Find methods that work for you and take control of your time.
Help your future self be more productive with precommitments
In his book Indistractable, Nir Eyal talks about “the power of precommitments” as a way to help your future self to resist distractions or temptations and stay focused on your true goals. For example, Eyal says, “we precommit to our financial security by depositing money in retirement accounts with steep penalties for early withdrawals.” We can apply this principle to our workday by keeping our phone out-of-sight or using programs to block internet access if we’re doing work offline and tend to get distracted by interesting articles about how to be more productive.
Stephen Covey opens a chapter in First Things First, saying, “Anything less than a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant.”
Increase productivity while you (get enough) sleep
We’ve seen the articles and studies emphasizing the importance of getting enough sleep if we want to be our best and most productive selves, not to mention live healthier lives. Memory, cognitive function, mental sharpness, creativity, collaboration, and getting along well with others all show the effects – positive or negative – of the quantity and quality of sleep you get on a regular basis.
Research by the American Academy of Sleep Studies led experts to recommend at least seven hours of sleep per night. And Hult International Business School conducted further research among professionals and found that even a half-hour less sleep than the recommended minimum had participants “struggling to stay focused in meetings, taking longer to complete tasks, and finding it challenging to generate new ideas… and a reduced motivation to learn and be less able to manage competing demands.”
Identify, neutralize, and manage the distractions. In Indistractable, Eyal separates the internal and external triggers for distraction that assail us throughout the day. Wherever you work, in the office, at home, or on the road, understanding what’s going on when you get distracted is the first step to counteracting and managing your responses to those triggers.
Eyal explains the science of why we get distracted and end up turning to our phone or food or chatting with co-workers. The root can almost always be traced back to the need to alleviate psychological discomfort. Whether it’s the discomfort of a difficult task, a painfully boring meeting, or a toxic work environment.
“Distraction starts from within,” Eyal says. “Learning practical ways to identify and manage the psychological discomfort that leads us off track” will help us manage our time successfully and stay focused.
Internal triggers include hunger, sadness, and other bodily conditions that cause discomfort and motivate us to alleviate them. External triggers include everything from emails and phone notifications to co-workers wanting to chat, contributing to a less productive workday.
We’re hardwired, Eyal says, to satisfy and alleviate these discomforts as quickly as possible, and at the same time to never remain satisfied for long. He quotes research published in the Review of General Psychology that says, “If satisfaction and pleasure were permanent, there might be little incentive to continue seeking further benefits or advances.” Eyal elaborates that our ancestors evolved to “perpetually perturbed, and so we remain today.”
The good news is that we can learn our own internal and external triggers and take steps to manage them so that we avoid more distractions and become more productive and successful in achieving our goals.
Eat the frog, now or later
Mark Twain once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
Which camp are you in when it comes to eating frogs? The frog, of course, is the task you really don’t want to tackle for whatever reason – it’s difficult, it’s tense, you’re not sure what to do. The bottom line is that the task is unpleasant and you dread having to do it. That’s the frog, and eventually, you have to eat it. Some say to eat the frog right away and get it over with rather than marinating in anxiety. Some advocate taking on some easier and more enjoyable tasks to get yourself warmed up for the dreaded frog.
Be flexible and adaptable to fluid and quickly changing contexts
No plan or schedule is going to be exactly how your day goes all the time. Things come up. Life happens.
Covey says in First Things First that “to ignore the unexpected (even if it were possible) would be to live without opportunity, spontaneity, and the rich moments of which ‘life’ is made.” He advises keeping a list of top priorities in view should time open up or an opportunity arise to attend to those priorities.
Eyal suggests scheduling in time to do the things that would be considered distractions and counterproductive such as scrolling social media or thumbing through a book or reading the rabbit hole of articles you’ve bookmarked for later. If it’s scheduled and time is allocated to those activities, then, according to Eyal, you’re not straying from your day’s planned activities.
Hit the reset button: step back and regain your perspective
It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and work from deadline to deadline. Soon you’ve lost perspective. Ever have one of those moments where you look up from your work and wonder, “What am I doing? Is this my life?”
Sometimes you just need to hit the reset button to regain proper perspective and remember what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Stephen Covey, in First Things First, emphasizes the importance of not only maintaining a daily schedule, but a weekly planner and taking the time to review your “first things,” your mission, vision, and principles – reconnect with your highest priorities – and return to your daily tasks refreshed and reoriented.
He calls it “sharpening the saw.” The things you do and the ways in which you take care of yourself for healing and growth as an individual. Whether it’s exercise or reading or meditation or working to improve your empathy.
Ultimately, how you structure your most productive workday depends almost entirely on you and how you work best. It depends on you knowing yourself – what distracts you, what motivates you, what priorities are most important to you now and looking ahead to where you want to be in five or ten or thirty years. Get enough sleep. Know where your strengths and weaknesses are, and how to leverage and improve those areas to your advantage for greater productivity, efficiency, value, and meaning.