You know those days when you rest your head on your pillow at the end of the night and feel completely fulfilled by the activities that day—sleeping well, proud of the day's accomplishments. I'm writing this article to help you have more of those days.
The average American life expectancy leaves us with an estimated 28,730 of them. It would be impossible (and undesirable) to feel that way about every day. Still, an attainable goal is to achieve more of them than not and accumulate as many productive days and fulfilling experiences as possible along the way. It's achievable with a few core principles, a recipe for a great day that can be followed and replicated. One that provides enough structure for meaningful momentum but also enough flexibility for spontaneous and exciting experiences. Your days deserve a thoughtful recipe of action. They're the chunks of experience that will end up defining your life.
To respect the day is to be prepared and ready for it.
The following five principles will encourage you to be mindful of the direction of your day. They'll place your lifes' steering wheel firmly in your hands and give you the tools to navigate effectively. Here's the list:
To maximize productivity, you have to know what the desired result is. If you're unclear where you want to go, how can you know the best path to get you there? You can't. You have to see the target to hit it, and you have to know what's vital to your life in order to decide the best actions. This is a broader piece of advice. It helps you improve your days but is essential to life in general. The antidote is simple: Know your priority.
Write a sentence stating what you want to develop or receive from your days (or weeks, months, years). The timeframe does not matter. It's not permanent but should be meaningful to you. Let's use a typical example:
If the goal is: I want to make more money.
Now list out all the tasks you're planning to get done in the next few days. Take your time, list all of them. Once you're complete, review the list and put a '$' symbols beside the tasks to rank their value - Give three ($$$) for the tasks that move you closest to your goal, two ($$) for a step-down, and one ($) for the least effective. Leave blank the tasks that do not affect your finances and avoid them.
This isn't just about work and financial goals. It's organizing your lifes' priorities during a chosen timeline. Suppose your goal is to share and create incredible experiences with your spouse and kids. List out everything you could potentially do throughout the day. Then rank them. Out of all the things you are doing, which ones serve you that desired outcome? Some won't and are unavoidable, but at least you what is the priority.
You should already have clear goals in life that you've broken down into daily tasks. If you don't, that's the first step to achieving high-level productivity! Don't waste precious days being busy without meaningful progress. The cost is a life that feels more like something you watched pass by than something you played an active and significant role in. The passivity will haunt your future self.
Accomplish this by asking the question:
If you're unsure, be mindful of this at your work and throughout your day. Some people are night owls, and others are morning birds. Figure out when is most productive for you, not just which time you enjoy most. You may be a night owl, but if all you can muster up the energy to do is watching Netflix, then that's not your most productive time. As an example, I've discovered I am most productive about an hour after I wake up. After giving my brain time to wake up and during that first cup of coffee, my creativity and productivity are in peak states. On the other hand, my favorite fantasy author (Brandon Sanderson) finds his best writing time between 10 pm - 2 am each night. He's an exception, though. Most people do their best work in the morning.
Once you figure out your window of peak productivity, schedule your most important work for that period and ruthlessly eliminate all distractions to it. Lifes' schedule can sometimes feel like an impenetrable obstacle but try your best to optimize for that window. It's critical, and you should try everything possible to do your most important work within it. Sanderson tried to adjust his schedule once he had children; working till 2 am and sleeping in wasn't working. Shocker. However, he quickly realized that his writing was struggling, and his output was weak. He and his wife discovered the priority was his writing production (See #1!), which brought home the bacon. Eventually, they worked out a deal and figured out how to get back to his regular writing schedule.
I also face obstacles to my peak productive hours. My favorite writing is about an hour after I awake, but I'm still working full time. So I wake up early three days per week to get personal work in before I work my day job, and then I protect my weekend mornings ruthlessly. At least one days' whole morning is left free to write.
Just a little bit of mental investment ahead of time equals a world of difference the next day. Preparing reduces cognitive friction to the essential tasks before the day starts, giving us a much-needed head start. As I mentioned, my weekend' mornings are for writing. I always have a loose draft and outline of what I want to write about completed earlier in the week. I never want to wake up and sit down to write with no idea or concept of what I'm writing. It leaves too much space for your brain to find and deliver excuses. Which always happens!
That's for preparing, but planning is just as powerful. Every evening, markdown three things you want to accomplish the following day. It's a simple way to set intentions for the next day, and the likelihood of you accomplishing those things skyrockets.
Lastly, if you're willing to invest the time, creating an outline of your day provides structure, so your brain doesn't have to think about what the next 'to do' is. It's done by creating clear start and stop times for the activities of your day. When you run, when you eat, when you work, what you eat and what you work on. There is no guessing, so moving from one task to another comes easier and with a higher success rate.
All of these steps reduce the mental friction in completing your most important work. They also force you to reflect on your time management as you see what things get done compared to what was planned. You'll quickly see for yourself how often we overestimate what we can achieve in a day. The insights gained from consistently prepping, planning, and outlining are critical for living a rich and balanced life.
This is a recent habit that's become vital to my routine. Usually, our goals will come with an extensive range of tasks to complete in order to achieve them. Rather than breaking these up and spreading them out into little chunks every day of the week, block out entire days for your most important and crucial work.
Schedule an entire day to complete vital work and remove menial distractions. Over time, your brain gets used to the schedule, and so do the demands from those around you. It will be easier to eliminate wasteful distractions and have a highly productive workday.
The most challenging thing about having consistent, highly productive days is wrapping your mind around mountains of work, day in and day out. We all want to have had a productive day, but nobody gets excited about starting a long day of work. The solution is to shrink the workload to a manageable size so your mind can get behind. For example, if my goal is to write a rough draft of this blog post on Tuesday night, I will not leave that as an open task. I'm going to commit (which I'm doing right now) to 30 minutes of 100% focused effort on this one task. Writing an entire draft is daunting, but 30 minutes to brainstorm a concept? Very doable. There are three magical benefits to time blocking:
If you find yourself procrastinating on big projects, it's most likely due to the task at hand being too large and ambiguous for your mind. This causes too much mental friction. Shrink the tasks into very tiny chunks of focused time, and it will not only be easier, but you'll be better for it. The best student in class does not cram study on the final night before the big test; they've been studying all year incrementally.
I hope you gained some insights from these strategies and you employ them in your life to make the most of your days. Being proactive and intentional will optimize your day for what's truly important to you. These are high-leverage activities that offer huge returns on your time, don't pass them up!
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