The key between a waste of a day and a productive day isn’t just about crossing things off your to-do list, but about knowing that you worked on the really important things in your business, that you moved forward on an important project. It’s the difference between being proactive, rather than reactive – it’s taking control.
So here are 5 steps you can follow to create the framework for a productive day:
1. Know what your most important tasks are for the day
If we don’t have goals and priorities, we focus on nothing – we let the things that come up determine how we’ll spend our time.
Some of these important tasks are deadline-driven, but others are more subtle: they are the things that are important to do but that we can ignore because they aren’t urgent. One way to keep these in front of our mind is to think in terms of RESULTS. In other words, if you own your business, these could be the tasks and activities that create sales, or bring in income. If you work for someone else, these are the things that you would be rewarded for with a promotion or a raise – they are the results your employer pays you for.
Action step: define some of those important but not urgent activities in your business or career. Keep in mind that it’s important to be specific. For example, most of us can write down “get more clients” or “make more sales.” But I want you to break it down further – what activities get you more clients? what activities get you more sales?
2. Have a plan and a commitment to those important tasks
When you write things down it helps you connect to the task and gets it off your mind. And putting it into your calendar ensures you find a pocket of time when you could actually do it.
Action step: schedule the time into your planner or calendar as an appointment with yourself and treat it with the same respect and commitment as you would treat an appointment or meeting with someone else.
3. Work with your body clock
We all have times during the day when we’re more alert and times during the day when we feel tired or with less energy. For most people, the morning is their most productive time of the day, but listen to your own body. Protect your peak time and whenever possible, use it for activities that require thought, courage, or concentration. “Down” times are best for low-value or activities that don’t require much thought – errands, processing emails and mail, and filling out paperwork, for example.
Action step: become aware of when your peak and down hours of the day are and note the things you could leave for those times. If you currently have a routine that works against your natural tendencies, start by making just one change and notice the impact on your productivity.
4. Eliminate or reduce outside interruptions during that focus time
Turn your cell phone off and your email during that time. This one really scares most of my clients because they feel they need to be available 24/7 – many times, though, phone calls and emails are simply used as crutches of distraction. So make sure you’re realistic as to how accessible you really need to be – the key is to balance responsiveness with getting the rest of your work done.
Action step: decide what an acceptable turn-around time is. For example, it might be acceptable in your business to return phone calls by the end of the day and emails within 24-48 hours. Then educate your clients as to what that turn-around time is – have your outgoing message indicate when you will return phone calls, and do the same thing in your email signature. Whatever that turn-around time is, whether it’s within the hour or at the end of the day, batch all processing of calls and emails during that time whenever possible.
5. Eliminate or reduce internal interruptions during that time
So the phone is off, the email’s turned off, no risk for an interruption, right? Except when we interrupt ourselves with a thought of something else we need to or want to do.
Action step: have one central place, like a notepad, right by your side whenever you plan on cranking out some serious work, use it to record any distracting to-do that pops into your head, and then get back to the task at hand.
Having a framework for a productive day doesn’t guarantee you’ll have one, or that emergencies won’t creep up, but it’s a good start – try it tomorrow and see what it does for you.
© 2009 Claudine Motto
Claudine Motto is a Time Management and Productivity coach who helps successful independent professionals shave hours off their day, get more done, and get in control of their work and life.
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