Do fewer things well
Having a productive day starts off by generally understanding the important goals you are working towards and blockers that will get in your way. This doesn’t start on the particular day but actually days, weeks, and months beforehand by doing a few things well.
Break Down Goals
What are the important goals you are working towards? This sounds simple, but it is not always easy to distill goals cleanly. Once you have your 3-4 goals, then you need to break them down into sub goals, tasks, and projects that then get sequenced.
Know Your Priorities
As time moves forward, the priorities for your tasks and projects increase. You should have a list of things that are important and urgent (fires) and things that are important and not urgent. Ideally, you don’t have many fires to deal with (though they always come up) so that you can allocate your time to reduce fires going forward. My goal is to get so good at this that I can spend most of my time being proactive and less time being reactive.
Identify Your Blockers
Any goal is going to have challenges associated with it. If not, it would be trivial and not worth setting as a goal. Writing down your blockers turns them from vague stress-inducing problems into challenges that you can think through.
The night before, start a list of things that you need to accomplish. At the end of the day, see how much you accomplished and also look for things that seemed important the night before but weren’t so important today. Use this process to see how well you plan ahead prioritize and refine that process over time.
Do Fewer Things Well
It is easy to get in a state where you are doing a lot but don’t feel like you are accomplishing anything well. This oftentimes causes more work over time and is a common trap. I make the mistake sometimes where I get proud of myself for how many things I can handle and how much I can multitask. Don’t mistake motion for movement.
Tackle Your Distractions
Take a hard look at what triggers you to get distracted and develop a coping mechanism. These distractions can be loud coworkers, a messy workspace, foot traffic, etc. Sometimes I forget to eat, and when my blood sugar goes down, I lose focus and take a long time to accomplish basic tasks. Sometimes I’m able to catch myself in that state and I get up and grab a snack. Ideally, you don’t get a sugary snack or anything heavy, because that will give you a rush and then drop you pretty hard, but sometimes we all need comfort food.
Ultimately being productive boils down to knowing what you are trying to achieve, knowing what order you need to get things done and committing to doing the work. Identify and aggressively remove barriers that keep you from making forward progress. These are all simple steps that take a lot of work to tune for great results.
This question originally appeared on Quora: How can people organize themselves for a productive day?
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