As a Performance and Productivity Coach, I have seen it all:
Clients that are too busy with meetings and emails to work on their most important projects.
Clients that have an entire day to make progress on what matters most, yet they end up getting lost in the rabbit hole of unimportant work which starts with ‘Let me check this quickly’ and then one task leads to another until 3 hrs later they realize that nothing of importance is completed. Or even started.
Clients that are stuck in the hamster wheel of their own business. What they once loved when they started the company, has turned into their self-built prison made of responsibilities. They are working FOR their business instead of getting the business to work for THEM.
What they all have in common is one thing: If they don’t change something, things will get bad. Very bad.
If they don’t make time for and radically focus on what matters they risk:
- losing their job because they spend their time with emails and meetings rather than working on their targets
- going broke and having to find another job because the business they started themselves is not going anywhere due to their inability to do the work that matters
- burning out or ending up in depression because the business they once loved has turned into a nightmare and they just can’t deal anymore
And I didn’t even mention the general anxiety all of them feel. Every single day.
Am I being overly dramatic?
I don’t think so.
After all, these three clients hired me as a coach to help them fix their problems. And you don’t pay for coaching unless you are in pain.
The pain all of them feel is the alarming effects of not owning their day.
Here are the underlying causes for all of this:
- They let external factors control their day (email, meetings, other people needing something, notifications, etc.)
- They allow themselves to get carried away (getting lost on Medium, YouTube or Instagram, wanting to quickly check something and ending up spending 3 hrs on something interesting but completely irrelevant)
Luckily, there is a couple of very easy fixes.
Integrating the 6 simple habits from this article into your day can completely transform your life. You will get more done. You will feel less stressed. More accomplished. More fulfilled.
It’s like magic.
The only problem: This information is free. Thus, it’s worthless if you don’t apply it. Actually, even if you would pay for it, it would be worthless if you don’t do anything with it.
So if you want to get anything out of this article, you gotta do these things.
Take this information and create your transformation.
So here they are, the six extremely effective ways you can take back control and win the day:
1. Plan your Day the Night Before
Why you should do it: Planning your day the night before saves you so much time and energy in the morning because you already know what’s on the agenda. Try it once and you will see how it jumpstarts your day as you can immediately start working on your tasks instead of wasting valuable time trying to figure out what to do.
Here is how to do it: Note down the 3 most important tasks you need to get done tomorrow and ideally block them in your calendar. Then, screen your calendar and see what else is on your schedule tomorrow. Prepare for meetings by jotting down a few notes on the goal of the meeting and important points. If you need to travel somewhere, look up the best way to get there and note down the time you need to leave. Then, prepare your bag, clothes, gym bag and anything else you might need for tomorrow. Thinking ahead what you will have for breakfast, lunch and dinner also saves you tremendous time the next day (you might even want to bring your own lunch).
2. Block 2–3 Hours in the Morning for your Most Important Work
Why you should do it: Most people work best in the morning but choose to waste these precious hours with email and meetings. The effect: they start their day scattered and all over the place and already in a reactive mode. But after lunch, doing important work gets really difficult because 1) chances are their to-do list has filled with lots of other things until then and 2) they are tired and it becomes harder to push themselves to do important work (we rather choose something easy or fast to do or simply don’t have the mental energy for it). The long-term effects of this behavior are obvious: you never get to any of the important stuff.
But if the first thing you do in your work day is spending 2–3 hrs on a really important project, you win the day by lunchtime. No matter what comes after, you have already made progress on the things that really matter.
Here is how to do it: Don’t schedule any meetings before lunch and don’t check your email. Communicate this to your team if necessary. Take 20 min in the morning to reply to anything urgent if you really can’t keep away from your inbox. Then, put your phone in no-disturb mode. Pick an important project and define specifically what you will work on in the next 2–3 hrs. Define the outcome you want to achieve by the end of your working session. Go!
It also helps to go to a place where you can concentrate undisturbed and be by yourself. Consider working a couple of hours from home before you head to the office, put your headphones on or block a meeting room.
3. Batch Similar Tasks
How to do it: Batching means grouping similar tasks together in order to do them all at once instead of scattered throughout the day. You can batch your email replies by only checking and responding to email twice a day. You can batch your content creation by creating multiple videos, blog posts or podcasts episodes in one go. You can batch your food by meal prepping on Sundays for the entire week. The key is to find extremely similar activities and create a recurring timeslot for them in your day or week.
Why you should do it: Batching is like economies of scale for manual work: If you get things done in one go, you will be much faster because you can just power through instead of letting these tasks interrupt your day.
4. Start Each Task with Intention
Why you should do it: There is a big difference between “Let me check my email quickly” and “Let me take 30 min to reply to the most urgent emails in my inbox so I can then focus on writing a blog post without any interruptions”.
There is also a big difference between “This morning I will work on updating my website” and “This morning I will spend 2 hrs reviewing my website and noting down what I need to update and then create an action plan and timeline for it.”
The difference is INTENTION.
Being intentional about the outcome and being intentional about the time you want to spend on something can transform your productivity in ways you can only dream of. You will work more effectively, get more done and feel a lot less frustrated with yourself.
How to do it: Before you dive into a task, ask yourself: What is the outcome I want to achieve and how long will I work on this? Write it down and set a timer if that helps. Catch yourself before starting random tasks that “come to mind” while doing something else — these tasks are often a lot less important than what you were doing originally. Stop the “let me have a quick look…”— each task you start should have a clear time estimate, an exact purpose and an expected result at the end of your working session.
By the way: Being reactive instead of proactive is one of the 4 deadly mistakes that ruin your productivity. (If you are interested in learning about all 4 mistakes and how to fix them, you can sign-up for my FREE WEBINAR playing anytime here.)
5. Do a Daily Review
How to do it: Take 5 to 10 min at the end of your workday to go through any open tasks, plan the next day and check in with yourself:
- What was good today?
- What did I learn? What can I improve?
- How does my day look like tomorrow? What is most important tomorrow?
- What made me feel good vs. not so good today? How can I learn from this?
Why you should do it: Taking 5 min at the end of the day to review and reflect on your day is a powerful ritual that will help you stay on top of things, keep the focus on what is truly important and help you switch off mentally. Do it before you leave the office and observe how much more relaxed you are in the evening!
6. Regularly Pause to Set Up Systems
Why you should do it: Creating efficient processes or systems for something takes some time in the beginning but has the potential to free up a lot of time in the future. For example, learning keyboard shortcuts (thanks Danny Forest) takes some initial effort but can make you a twice as efficient computer user in the long-run. Another example is documenting a manual process and outsourcing it to your VA: you will have some initial work to hire and train your assistant but in the long-run, you will free up time from your schedule.
How to do it: Set aside time each month to think through manual tasks and processes and how they can be made more efficient. Start with a quick step by step process description and then think through each step:
- What unnecessary elements from this process (or the entire task) can be eliminated?
- How can this be optimized?
- How can this be automated?
- How could I delegate or outsource this?
Here are a few more ideas:
- Create a 4-Week Default Meal Plan with a corresponding shopping list that you rotate every month (meaning you cook the same meals every month but they are different every week). This will save you an incredible amount of time when thinking about what to eat, grocery shopping and cooking.
- Create a Capsule Wardrobe for each season so every day you’ll know exactly what to wear.
- Create templates for customer service replies
- Set up automated bill payments
You can also find more ideas in my Free E-Mail Course “Streamline your Life to Have More Time For What Matters”.
If you don’t run the day, the day will run you and you’ll forever be a slave of external triggers and internal triggers pulling you away from what truly matters every single day. You might not feel any negative consequences right now, but not owning your day is like eating fast-food for years: you won’t feel the consequences until it is too late.