Creating highly productive days doesn’t just happen by accident. There are certain, relatively simple, steps that you could (and should) take on a daily basis so that you can set yourself up for a highly productive day.
Most people, unfortunately, fail to do this and that’s exactly why so many people struggle with being productive on a consistent, daily basis. They fail to prepare effectively and therefore they fail to produce productive days — which in turn leads to failure to achieve their goals.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
— Abraham Lincoln
Preparing for a highly productive day doesn’t have to take much time either. I’ve personally experienced that anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes is enough to save yourself a ton of time, energy and frustration the very next day.
And because this preparation is both so important and so simple, I decided to share the 5-step preparation process that has helped me get a lot more focused and productive over the last few months.
Step 1: Reflect On The Previous Day
One of the easiest but most overlooked ways to become more productive is to regularly reflect on your actions, progress and behaviour. In fact, most people never really question or analyze their own actions, and they continue to work in the same way as they’ve always done before.
But, if you want to get different results then you’ve gotten before, you have to adopt different ways of acting and thinking.
So, if you want to make tomorrow a highly productive day, spend anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes reflecting about your actions and results of today. Ask yourself a few critical questions, such as:
- What activities/products/people/actions have contributed to the biggest majority of my results today?
- What efforts/activities/products/people have consumed my time and energy but didn’t lead to a lot of results (if any at all)?
- What could I have done better in order to be more productive and focussed?
- What habits have been essential to my happiness, productivity, focus and energy?
- What were the blind spots and unforeseen events that happened, that I should learn from?
By reflecting on your day, you learn to identify both the actions, behaviours and strategies that you want and don’t want to continue with tomorrow. This is something that people hardly ever do, but it helps enormously in identifying blind spots and priorities — and therefore make you much more productive over time.
It’s because of a few minutes of daily thinking and reflection that I’ve been able to identify my most valuable tasks and projects with more clarity, which enabled me to grow my business and income faster than ever before — when I was still working with my head stuck in the sand, never thinking or reflecting about my actions.
Step 2: Set 1–3 Daily Goals
The second step to effectively prepare for a highly productive day is to set anywhere from one to three goals for the day. Either do this the night before your workday or early in the morning before you start working. To help you set your goals, ask yourself these two questions:
What thing(s), if achieved, would lead me to consider that this day would be a total success?
What thing(s), if achieved, lead to significant progress towards my bigger goals (weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly goals)?
You absolutely need to have daily goals (you can also call them intentions or targets, it doesn’t really matter) as they are essential to help you consistently make significant progress towards the achievement of your bigger goals.
Often, people know what they want to achieve somewhere far into the future, but fail to make meaningful progress because they don’t create clarity on what they exactly should be doing today. Therefore, they hardly make any significant steps towards their bigger goals.
Because of this lack of clarity, they then end up wasting more time during the day or they work on lesser important tasks and projects instead (something called ‘productive procrastination’). They still feel productive, but in reality, they aren’t. Their lack of preparation and planning leads to low productivity and slow progress.
Therefore, set 1–3 goals for your day so you remove any friction and gain the clarity on what it is that you actually want to achieve today. This way, you prepare for a highly productive day in which you make meaningful progress towards your bigger goals.
Personally, I recommend you set one goal as your top priority (more about that later) for the day so that you make sure you actually achieve this goal instead of procrastinating on it. Way too often, people only tackle their lesser important daily goals and then procrastinate on the most important goal, because it’s the most challenging or intimidating. Therefore, they still aren’t highly productive despite feeling very productive.
In fact, reaching peak productivity is all about tackling those tasks or projects that are your highest priority — as they move the needle the most towards the achievement of your bigger goals.
Step 3: Prioritize Your Tasks
Another key component of preparing for a highly productive day is to prioritize your tasks. If you merely keep a simple to-do list and don’t clearly identify what your priorities are, you’ll be pulled towards doing the easier (and therefore often lesser important) tasks while postponing the more challenging (and therefore more important) tasks. Again, this is called ‘productive procrastination’.
Our brain is simply designed to preserve energy and to avoid uncomfortable situations, so when you don’t prioritize your tasks, you’ll be at the mercy of the automatic choices of your brain.
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
However, when you clearly prioritize your daily tasks using an ABCDE List the night before (or early in the morning, before you start working) you create the ultimate clarity on what tasks you need to crush because they are the ones that will lead to the most impactful results and cause the most significant progress towards your goals.
This way, you make it much harder for yourself to procrastinate on your highest priority tasks, which is key to reaching peak productivity. In fact, because you’ve told yourself and your brain that task X is highly important, you’ll be more motivated to work hard on it because you’ve labelled it as highly important.
Therefore, assign an ‘A’ to the 1–3 tasks that are your highest priority for the day. These tasks have the biggest potential upside if you complete them and the biggest potential downside if you don’t.
Assign a ‘B’ to the tasks that are important and ‘nice’ to complete, but not as important as your ‘A’ tasks. These tasks have some upside if you complete them and some downside if you don’t.
Then, assign a ‘C’ to the tasks that are actually not that important at all. It’s okay if you procrastinate on these type of tasks.
Assign a ‘D’ to the task that you want to Delegate, as they can be done by someone else faster, cheaper or better — and you can spend the freed up time on ‘A’ tasks.
Then, at last, assign an ‘E’ to the tasks which you can Eliminate entirely. After all, these tasks weren’t necessary anymore.
For a detailed explanation of the ABCDE prioritization method that I use, check out the article ‘Forget A To-Do List, Use The ABCDE Method Instead’ that I wrote.
By creating your ABCDE list the night or morning before you start working, you set yourself up for a highly focused and productive day as you’ve gained full clarity on your priorities.
Tackling your highest priority task, again and again, is what will set you apart from the rest, as the majority of people often postpone and procrastinate their most important tasks — and therefore fail to make meaningful progress.
Step 4: Schedule Your Day
Based on your daily goals and your priorities, the fourth step in preparing for a highly productive day is to schedule it.
By scheduling your day, you remove the friction of when to work on what. Oftentimes, when we don’t have the clarity of knowing when we should work on what — or what we should do next — we feel inner resistance coming up that leads to procrastinative thoughts and procrastinative behaviour. By scheduling your day, however, you can easily remove this unnecessary friction.
“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”
Personally, I don’t like to plan my entire day down to every minute. In fact, I like to have some freedom and some ‘wiggle’ room. It’s how I enjoy my days a lot more. Therefore, I broadly schedule my day so that I know the sequence of when I should work on what tasks.
For example, I always schedule my most important tasks at the beginning of the day (I call this ‘eating my veggies’) so that I never procrastinate on it. Besides, the rest of the day feels like a total breeze after my most important task has been completed.
Usually, my most important task for the day is writing a blogpost on Medium. I know that it takes me about 2.5 hours to write, edit and upload an article, so I protect the first 2.5 hours of my workday for this task.
Then, I work on my A2 or A3 task for the day, which is something like email marketing or creating new courses. Then, I move on to my ‘B’ and ‘C’ tasks, which are things like checking email and responding to comments on my blog and social media channels.
I think it has never happened that I followed my daily schedule exactly the way I planned to — and this doesn’t really matter. In fact, I don’t believe that this should the goal of scheduling your day.
The truth is, every day is different. One day I’m finished earlier with my blogpost than expected and one day it takes me an extra 20 minutes. Instead of getting frustrated because it’s not according to the time that I scheduled it, I simply move on to the next task — following my pre-determined sequence of tasks.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin
In my opinion, scheduling the day is more about pre-determining the sequence of when to work on what tasks and roughly estimating how long each task will take compared to being a slave to your schedule. In reality, you’ll almost always be forced to adjust and adapt as things won’t go according to plan.
If you realize this and simply follow your rough schedule and the clear sequence of tasks, you’ve already removed a lot of friction from your workday.
Doing so helps you to remove the tiny moments of inaction and indecision in which you have to think about what to work on next, which is something that procrastination loves as inner resistance will find its way to you during those little moments of doubt.
Step 5: Get The Infrastructure Ready
The last step in preparing for a highly productive day is to get the infrastructure ready. This step is meant to remove tiny decisions from your morning/day so you can work frictionless and smoothly.
For example, pre-stage your clothing to make waking up easier, declutter your workspace and get your files/gear ready so you arrive at a desk where you can immediately start working — and know beforehand the specifics of your work so you don’t have to spend time and energy on figuring out what to do.
For example, I like to come up with a blogpost topic the night before I write it. This way, I don’t have the friction the next morning of having to come up with a topic.
Oftentimes, when I have trouble coming up with something to write in the morning, I feel more and more resistance towards writing. Procrastinative thoughts come up and I get more frustrated about not having a topic yet.
However, when I take a few minutes in my nighttime routine to come up with a blogpost topic, my subconscious mind can work on it during the night and I find it much easier to start writing, as I’ve removed a large part of the friction already.
By getting the ‘infrastructure’ ready before you start working, you take small actions and small decisions that will make your day a lot smoother. It might just take a few minutes, but it will save you a lot of time, energy and frustration the next day.
Now Do It
If you want to prepare for a highly productive day, make sure that you (1) reflect on your actions, results and behaviour of the previous day, (2) set 1–3 goals to gain clarity and direction, (3) prioritize your tasks to prevent productive procrastination, (4) roughly schedule your day to remove friction and (5) get the infrastructure ready so you can work smoothly.
Following these 5 steps either the night before or early in the morning will help you work with more focus, impact and productivity.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab
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