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May 14, 2018
If you spend very much time researching productivity, you’ll probably find at least 100 different ways that you could increase your productivity.
Honestly, for most people, that would simply increase their stress level.
I’m personally not a process-focused or systems kind of person. I know many people who are, and more power to you if you are. But I find it’s highly unlikely that anyone is going to do 10 different things, much less 100 different things to increase their productivity.
Frankly, I’m a hacker by nature, but, more importantly, I’m results oriented. If I can help someone get from point A to Z in 5 steps as opposed to 26 steps, I consider that a huge win. The process isn’t the goal; the results are.
Secondly, when I started my coaching practice, I was working a full-time job. I didn’t have an extra 10-20 hours a week to start a business like some other entrepreneurs.
But after I understood and mastered these three things, I actually found that I really didn’t need 10-20 hours a week either. It’s all about working smarter, not harder.
Here are a few things I’ve found that have made all the difference in my productivity. And, for you process people out there, maybe these are the first 3 that you start with.
Discover the time of the day when you’re working at your optimal level.
From all the research that I’ve done, we humans really only have between 1-3 hours in a day when we we’re really working optimally.
When I say that, I mean that we’re focused, mentally sharp, and high intensity.
Some people like to say that happens in the morning. One individual I read said that if you start at 5am, you’ll pretty much get a full day’s work in before the rest of the world is awake.
The only problem with that is I know a lot of creatives who hit their flow at night after everyone else goes to sleep. In the wee hours of the morning when the rest of us are deep under the covers, artists are hashing out new songs and whipping out works of art.
It doesn’t really matter what time of the day that happens. Just find that sweet spot of the day for you.
Work on your most important, most intensive task(s) during your best time.
Now that you know your most optimal time of the day, reserve that time for what is the most important, most intensive task(s) you will take on for the day.
These are the tasks that I think require the most focus and are perhaps the hardest tasks of your day.
And just a caution: this may or may not be your most creative time. Depending on your personal wiring, you may be able to hash out some impressive creative work during that window…Or not. And what I mean by that is creativity doesn’t always require an intensity of focus. In the future, I’m going to share some tips on creativity, and I find a lot of creativity is birthed when we’re not working intensely.
I like to think of that window as being a time when I know what I need to get done, but I need to have unbroken time where my focus can be fixed to allow me to knock it out.
Which leads me to number three…
Set boundaries and save all less intensive tasks for another time of the day.
You know your optimal time, so it’s up to you to protect it. You’ve got to set boundaries around your time.
What that means is that during this 1-3 hour window, menial tasks are off the table. Don’t check email. Don’t respond to texts. Stay off social media at all costs. You may even need to turn off WiFi.
What if your best time of the day is morning, but you spent 1 hour of it at the gym. Then I say, go to the gym at a different time.
I’m sure there are other important tasks in your day, but they are less important. They can wait.
How do I know this? Because they require a very low amount of brain power and very little focus.
The gym really doesn’t require a whole lot of focus and brain power. Use that to rest and recharge.
Conserve every second of your window for the really big stuff that needs you.
I’ve learned that 80% of an individual’s average workday is what my friend Abram calls, “fake work.” It’s stuff that really doesn’t require any real engagement in your cognitive abilities or passion. It’s work that a lot of people do that is visible proof that you could fill up an 8-hour day, but it’s not difficult.
You can save that stuff for after lunch when you’re only able to function in a lower gear.
I know some of us must check emails because of time sensitive responsibilities. In this case, just schedule when you check it. Allow yourself to work 45-60 minute intervals before taking a 10 minute break to check emails.
And here’s a quick bonus to help you stretch out your optimal time window:
Once you feel yourself fading or a little frustrated, take a 10-minute walk away from your computer screen. That short break will help you maintain your intensity and help you re-frame the problem by taking a short break from it. Blood flow refreshes your brain and helps you regain your focus.
Finally, you might find these 3 things are very much common sense. And I hope they are. Regardless, I find that most people don’t honor their design very well. If we do, I think we’ll get much more accomplished working smarter than working harder.
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Paul Dabdoub is a master coach trainer & mentor, speaker, writer, and entrepreneur, and an executive coach who’s literally helped 1000’s of people take practical steps towards their future.
Paul is the founder of Life Coach Training Institute - the largest life coach training school in North America and the #1 life coach certification online program.