Productivity is hot these days, and like any hot topic, there is no shortage of information on web about how to be productive. This often leads to information overload. The next thing you know you are spending all day learning how to be productive and not actually doing anything. So...being a constant student of productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness (those two are very different FYI), I have condensed this information into a short list for you. It is important to remember that everyone's brain is wired differently and therefore what ultimately works for one person may not work for another, but out of the chaos of productivity science, several standout rules have emerged that apply to today's business world. Here they are:
1. Do not start your day with email.
The majority of the people you know begin their day by sitting down at their desk, grabbing a fire extinguisher, and then putting out fires. If you choose to do this, be aware that your day is automatically dictated by everyone but you. Luckily you have the power to change this. Each day should begin with 10-15 minutes of careful reflection on what you would like to accomplish. Layout your single top priority, then three or four other tasks you plan to accomplish that day. Scheduling your entire day - even breaks, time to check emails, meetings and meals - will grant you full power to follow through on your daily objectives. That is exactly how Benjamin Franklin found time to manage so many successful projects. This simple change in your daily routine will shift the balance of power back to you. It is your day; you decide what to do with it.
2. Goals -> Milestones -> Tasks.
A goal is the big idea, the grand dream, the big win at the end of the year or even the decade. The goal is what you ultimately want to accomplish. However, you cannot put “build space station, explore new worlds” on your to-do list. You must first subdivide the goal into milestones that are achievable in the near future, and then determine what tasks need to be done TODAY to move toward that milestone. Break it down during your planning sessions and complete that next task today; this is how you get to the milestones and ultimately achieve your goal.
3. Multitasking is a myth.
The concept of multitasking is myth. Science tells us that the brain simply does not handle multiple tasks at the same time. More specifically, it does not handle multiple tasks WELL. This is why texting and driving is possibly the stupidest thing you can do. Human brains are designed to focus on the task at hand, and then move on. Learn from this and stop trying to do six things at once. Read, work on the proposal, make a sales call, prep for the big meeting. Pick one thing you will work on, get after it for your allotted time, dedicate yourself to it, and then move on. I am going to repeat this for those of you who decided to do something else while reading this: you are terrible at everything when you multitask. Stop multitasking and realize your true potential by single tasking instead.
4. Breaks are not helpful, they are absolutely essential.
The human brain can focus on any given task or project for 60-90 minutes at an absolute MAXIMUM. After this amount of time, the brain's ability to produce any meaningful work declines dramatically. Divide your day into 60-90 minute sections and then take a break. The break is the most important part. It allows the brain to recoup its energy, recover, and prepare for the next project. Schedule breaks, lots of them...take a walk, get outside, change your environment and surroundings, allow yourself to DAY DREAM. Commit to actually allowing your mind to rest for 15 minutes. When you return, switch to a new project for 60-90 minute section of your day. The results are nothing short of astounding.
5. Sleep and exercise will maximize your potential every day.
If you want to excel at school, work, and life in general, you have to exercise. The human brain developed in a state of motion and this has never been undone. Exercise increases the oxygen flow that is the fuel for your brain and maximizes your thinking, learning, and cognitive potential. This is beyond all of the other health benefits - this is pure brain power we are talking about. Sleep is very similar. If you do not get enough sleep, your cognitive abilities begin to drop off at an immense rate. Sleep is also the time when you brain moves into cleaning and repair mode, something you should not miss. If you are driven to succeed, sleep and exercise will put you ahead of your competition. That is not a recommendation; it is a fact.