We often get overwhelmed from thinking about everything we have to do, how far away we still are from our end goals, or how there's never enough time in a day. But when we catch ourselves brooding over these things, we've got to snap out of this mental paralysis, which can cut us short of our potentials, pile on our stress, and undermine our abilities to actually get things done.
To help you start each day strong, check off your to-do's with ease, and end each day fulfilled, here are my top 9 productivity tips you can implement right away.
1. Start your day with focus, flow, and fuel
The hours immediately after you wake up can set the tone for your entire day. So it's super important that you come up with a morning ritual perfected to your own needs. While everyone's jumpstarting routines may look different, try to include practices that help you (A) establish focus, (B) stimulate your blood flow, and (C) nourish your body with fuel that sustains.
Focus, flow, fuel. Write that down, if you have to.
(A) To build focus, you can do 5-20 minutes of concentration meditation (drawing attention to the present rhythms of your breath); journal about what attitudes you'd like to take on for the day; say your top goals of the day out loud; or follow a guided mindfulness practice on Apps such as Insight Timer or Head Space. These are just some ideas to help you get started, but play around with it and see what you enjoy doing most. Even better, mix it up throughout the week.
To not scatter your brain, avoid checking your email and postpone reading the news until later.
(B) For a natural energy boost in the morning, do something that will pump up your blood flow. For example, you can take a quick shower; warm up a little and stretch; go for a running, swimming, or speed walking session; do some resistance training; or even just to do 100 jumping jacks wherever you are.
Again, your options are limitless. So test the waters and find out what works best for you.
(C) To keep your mind and body energized throughout the morning and early afternoon, eat breakfast! But not just any breakfast. Incorporate foods that don't have high glycemic index numbers (meaning they won't spike up your blood sugar and lead you to a sugar crash). Refined carbs like white bread, white pasta, and white rice, or foods rich in artificial sugars like many commercial cereals, pastries, and breakfast bars are high in the glycemic index. Minimize these, if you can.
Instead, maximize in your breakfast complex carbs (e.g., whole grains, oatmeal, muesli, quinoa, potatoes), high quality proteins (legumes, nuts, seeds, or animal products from healthy environments), and fiber (e.g., fruits and veggies) -- ideally from unprocessed, whole foods as much as possible.
And, try not to eat until you're stuffed. Because that can put you back into snooze mode. zzzZz.
2. Remember your intentions and goals
Next, to get you mentally hyped up for everything you're about to do for the day, think about what your optimal self and life would look like in 5 to 10 years. This is called the "Best Possible Self" exercise. Where do you hope to go, and what grand goals would you like to achieve? Envision that as vividly as possible. Hold on to that proudness, confidence, joy, and excitement for a moment. Then come up with ways to remind yourself of these goals in times of sluggishness. (Think vision board, journaling, voice memos, masterminds, mentoring, coaching, etc.)
Afterwards, connect the dots to see how what you're doing today can be a direct or indirect stepping stone towards that dream. As impactful or not your actions today may be for your future, every baby step counts. And keeping your intentions in mind can help keep you focused.
3. Be specific and realistic with your to-do's
Only you know how you roll best. What's realistic in terms of what you can actually get done in a day? Yes, be ambitious with your 10-year, 5-year, and annual goals.
But be as practical and specific as you can with your daily and weekly tasks.
When in doubt, break down your individual to-do's into tinier elements. Because by starting with these little, simple steps, you'll be able to actually get them done, cross them off your checklist more easily, and build confidence in your ability to take meaningful strides. This confidence, in turn, can keep you on track and continually fuel you forward.
4. Time-block your day with built-in breaks
Have you ever been surprised at how productive you can be under time pressure? The Parkinson's Law explains that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Which means that when we set deadlines for ourselves, we increase our chances of getting things done faster.
So try time-blocking your day into hourly chunks (including built-in breaks per hour) and filling each of those slots with one important task each. I've found that in any given day, I can accomplish 2 - 5 specific to-do's this way. You might only get one down to start with. Or maybe you'll get eight.
The key is, again, to start little, and then to build on it. And, the other key is to find a work-break balance that you thrive on. Mine goes roughly like a 45-min work to 15-min break ratio, but it changes every day, and I'm fine with giving it that flexibility. For you, it might look like 30 : 30, 50 : 10, 55 : 5, or ever-changing as your day progresses.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution.
And though this has worked wonders for many, maybe it'll feel too rigid and structured for you altogether. But only you can tell, so you've got to just dive in and experiment!
5. Tune out the noise and go into airplane mode
Hopefully, you'll be able to implement a Focus practice in the morning to help you stay on track throughout the day. On top of that, though, during each work block, you can also ensure you maximize productivity by tuning out the noise.
Go into a mental airplane mode, if you will.
Close every irrelevant window on your computer, and put away anything that might distract you in your workspace. With Time-Blocking, you'll have frequent, dedicated play time, so you know you just have to hang in there a little before getting a break. And with smart, specific planning, you can also be at more ease knowing you've put aside time to do everything you need to do.
For each work session, just do that one thing in front of you and let everything else go.
6. Set specific times to check your email
Three. That’s the optimal number of times you should check your email throughout the day to reduce stress (and save time to be more productive).
I used to check my email a million times a day. Almost on autopilot, my fingers would mindlessly unlock my phone and drag the inbox downwards to refresh. Refresh. Refresh.
But that constant anticipation for something new to appear… it definitely induced unnecessary stress for me. If there were nothing new, I would get antsy. And if there were something new, I would get antsy, immediately carried away by how I should respond or by the contents of the message. My focus would shatter, breaking away from what I had been doing in the moment.
Do you also feel subconsciously consumed by your inbox? If so, try setting specific times dedicated to checking and responding to emails. Rarely will real emergencies come to you via your inbox, so take control of your focus by choosing when you want to deal with it and when you want to leave it alone. After all, email is just digital snail-mail. With set times for handling them, you can be at more ease when you need to do other things and focus more completely on your task at hand.
7. Set up repeatable processes and systems
When I realized the power of processes, it changed my life. What I mean by that is a specific way to do things. Or a method. By seeing the patterns of everything I was doing and finding ways to systematize them, I was able to save so much time! And you can, too.
So pause here and examine your routine and what you have to face on a regular basis. Do you always get asked similar things about your business that you have to personally answer? Try setting up an FAQs page to link people to or create email templates with blanks to fill in. Do you often go back and forth trying to schedule calls and meetings? Use an automatic scheduler such as Acuity Scheduling. Do you frequently have to come up with new ideas for articles, projects, or social media? Try following a pre-set process such as 1) brain-dump, 2) narrow options down, 3) run ideas by peers for feedback, 4) finalize and execute, or something like that.
These are, of course, just examples. But you get the point.
By having pre-structured paths to follow, even when the situations might vary, it'll help you knock things out faster and guide you forward when you feel stuck.
8. Be gentle with any of your non-progress
No matter what you end up getting done or not at the end of each day, be gentle with yourself. Sometimes, we just have those days when we want to sleep in longer, watch TV shows all day, be alone and do nothing, or to be outside in the sun surrounded by loved ones. And that's okay, because these are what can keep you balanced, grounded, and recharged so you can keep getting back at it and keep getting back at it.
In this sense, you can look at these moments of "non-progress" as progress. Rather than beating yourself up for not meeting any deadlines (which can hurt your confidence and slow you down), embrace your imperfection and recognize your needs instead.
At the end of the day, change what you can't accept and accept what you can't change.
9. Celebrate every baby win like a champ
Because our brains are wired to amplify the negatives and downplay the positives (negativity bias), we have to outsmart ourselves by consciously celebrating every win we get. At the end of each day or week, look at back at it and acknowledge yourself for every baby goal you accomplished.
And I mean every tiny, inchworm step you took, whether that's reading something that gave you a lightbulb moment, sending out an important email, or just learning that journaling in the morning really helps your focus.
Life's a marathon, not a sprint, as they say.
Every break for water and fuel can keep you on track. Every rest you give yourself to heal from burnout and injury can help you come back stronger. And every stride forward, no matter how big or small, will take you closer.
If you feel stuck in an area of your life, burnt out from overwhelm, or paralyzed by a lack of motivation or know-how, let me help you power forward with practical action so you can finally reach your huge milestones.