A truly productive day seems to be the long sought-after and oft-elusive goal of businesswomen, moms, and just generally, humans everywhere (Please tell me it’s not just me!). It’s a state that’s considerably important in my own life; so much so that I’ve devoted my life’s work to creating products that help people gain control of the day-to-day “to-dos” in their lives.
It’s a state that’s considerably important in my own life; so much so that I’ve devoted my life’s work to creating products that help people gain control of the day-to-day “to-dos” in their lives.
But I don’t claim to be perfect at it. I have days where nothing seems to get done, and projects where I have to request an extended deadline. There are often moments where I feel that I am failing at something or letting someone down. Still, I press on in pursuit of the secret to true productivity. Because I’ve realized that being productive isn’t about being perfect, it’s about prioritization and it’s about practice.
These are a few of the practices that have helped me get as close to perfect productivity as possible:
Review the Big Picture Plan
There’s been a lot of talk about resolutions recently for obvious reasons (happy new year!). Whether you’re setting resolutions, intentions, goals, or just generally designing your life based on how you want to live and feel, the desired end result is the same: to live our lives better, as the best version of ourselves, as often as possible.
I’ve realized that being productive isn’t about being perfect, it’s about prioritization and it’s about practice.
With that in mind, I think it’s important to review this big picture life plan (or your goals or resolutions or core desired feelings) often. Don’t just make a list at the beginning of the year or the beginning of the month or even the beginning of the week… and then forget about it. Our days—and the activities and people we fill them with—make up our weeks and our months and our years. It sounds obvious, but I think we seldom reflect on that when we’re mired in the day-to-day minutiae.
As you review the big picture plan for this year (or for your life), ask yourself: How does today’s to-do list get me closer to the life I want to live? Make sure you’re always viewing your day through that lens, so you’re clear on what you need to prioritize to get you closer to that ideal.
Plan Your Day the Day Before
It doesn’t really matter how you do this—you might use an online calendar (like Google Calendar) or a paper planner (like the Day Designer, ahem ), or even just a simple sheet of notebook paper. And you don’t necessarily have to plan exactly one day before. It could be two days before or on the Sunday evening before the week begins…just make sure you’re planning your day before it arrives.
Why is this so important? Because I guarantee you that when you sit down to write your to-do list on the day you have things to do, you’ll immediately hear the siren song of unanswered emails and unfed children clamoring for your attention and focus.
Some people like to list every single thing they need to get done in the day; others like to separate work tasks from personal tasks. Some people schedule an exact time and place for every task; others are content to just list their priorities and allow for them to get done when they get done. Don’t put too much time and energy into the how or the when—just make sure that you do it, and do it in a way that works best for you.
When you start your day with a plan, you’re much more likely to do those things you’ve prioritized for the day, instead of letting yourself be pulled by the tide of other people’s expectations and “emergencies”.
Do the Most Important Work First + Do the Hardest Work Next
After you’ve listed everything you need to do in a given day, consider the hierarchy of your tasks. This is important because most of us, if given the opportunity, will start our days with whatever is easiest—like rolling over in bed, grabbing our phones, and immediately scrolling through and answering emails (orrrrr scrolling through Instagram). Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is likely not the most important work you have to do on any given day.
Start with the important work first, then move on to the hardest task—these might even be one and the same. Brian Tracy has a great book called “Eat That Frog!”, which highlights this principle beautifully. The idea is that once you’re done with the important and difficult work—once you’ve eaten the frog, in other words—you’ll feel accomplished and productive (and likely more inspired to knock out the rest of your to-do list!) no matter what else gets done throughout the day.
Make Your Not-To-Do List
You must be protective of your time, because I promise you, very few other people or situations will be. Now that you’ve planned what you need and want to do on a given day, plan what you will not do. What are the people or activities or “to-dos” you can let go of (even if only for the moment) so that you can prioritize and focus on the work that you must do?
I know this seems silly or potentially unnecessary, but I encourage you to actually write out this list, too—make it very clear what you will not be doing to make room for what you will do. Then, when those people or situations or “emergencies” (hint: these are not actual emergencies, just situations that seem as if they are) pop up, you’ll already know the answer: NO.
Give Yourself Grace
This might be my favorite tip, no matter the topic: Please give yourself grace. It’s not all going to get done. That’s just the reality of life. And the sooner we can accept that and give ourselves the leeway to have good and bad days—days where we strike-through every item on the list and days where we crawl back into bed around 11am—the better we’ll get at identifying and doing what’s most important. And isn’t that the ultimate goal of productivity, anyways?
A perfectly productive day might still be a unicorn—at least, for my sake, I hope it is—but I hope you’ll find these tips helpful as you design the day that lets you live (and love) the life you’ve planned.