I asked hundreds of CEOs, authors, speakers, entrepreneurs, business founders, journalists, and bloggers how do they ensure a productive day? Here are the best 15 tips to help you on your journey from managing your working day to developing a great work-life.
How to Have a Productive Day
The key elements of a productive day are to plan ahead, be clear about wording your daily goals, turn off mobile notifications, and focus on what matters. We all have external distractions (your phone) and internal distractions (the Chimp). Utilize your team and optimize your tasks, and you will have a productive day.
1. Focus on What Matters Every Day
My simple tip is to read the book “Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day.”
Nobody ever looked at an empty calendar and said, “The best way to spend this time is by cramming it full of meetings!” or got to work in the morning and thought, Today I’ll spend hours on Facebook! Yet that’s exactly what we do. Why?
In a world where information refreshes endlessly and the workday feels like a race to react to other people’s priorities faster, frazzled and distracted has become our default position.
But what if the exhaustion of constant busyness wasn’t mandatory? What if you could step off the hamster wheel and start taking control of your time and attention? That’s what this book is about.
2. Manage Interruptions
Most productivity hacks focus on the person trying to concentrate and get their work done, but many don’t consider outside interference.
Whether it’s family, colleagues, or friends, it’s important to set boundaries to let people know you aren’t available to chat or hang out because you’re working. For remote workers, this is an especially prevalent problem.
Working from home comes with many perks, but one of the downfalls is dealing with those at home who want to reach out to us whenever they feel like it.
To increase productivity, let others know you aren’t available to eliminate the chances of distraction. Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door and turn on the Do Not Disturb feature on your phone, so incoming notifications, calls, and texts are silenced.
Setting boundaries is crucial to your productivity, and the faster you set rules in place, the better.
Zakiyah Toor, Content Marketer @ IsItWP
3. Talk to the Chimp
Here is the toughest challenge.
Eliminating internal distractions is especially difficult because, according to Professor Steve Peters, there is a Chimp chattering away in your head, giving you background stress and alerting you to any subconsciously perceived threats.
I have read this book three times, and it is an amazing insight into how we work.
It is real, and you can deal with it by talking to the Chimp.
The Chimp Paradox changed my life.
4. Plan for the Week
Each Sunday, I take 15-20 minutes to plan out my week. I can set goals and priorities. And then each night I plan for the next day, which takes about 10-15 minutes. I’m able to look at what I want to achieve for the week and build to that result on a daily basis.
Doing this planning each night allows me to hit the ground running the next day. And I’m able to quickly reprioritize as I get new information during the day.
In addition, I use my calendar. I block off time to get things done, including work time. If you have meetings all day, you’re guaranteed to have to take work home. Actually, schedule time on your calendar. That way, your calendar reflects your priorities, and you get those things done.
One final tip I make sure to tackle my most strategic projects during my peak productivity. Instead of checking off a bunch of things on my todo list, I work on the most challenging tasks, since I’m at my peak mentally. To figure out your peak productivity, see when you naturally hit your groove during the course of the day. Make sure to block off that time so that it’s dedicated work time.
Suzanne Brown – CEO mompowerment.com, The Mompowerment Guide to Work-life Balance book on Amazon
5. Wording Your Action Items
I was working in Digital Marketing for Turner Broadcasting and a few non-profits for years before deciding to go back to school to be a professional counselor. I started my own practice as an entrepreneur in 2017.
I’m a follower of the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology by David Allen, and recently taught a workshop on it at a conference for private practice owners in Colorado.
One of my favorite productivity tips for reducing procrastination is in the wording of action items
I am very mindful of trying to write them in this format:
- action verb
- the object of that verb
For example, “Call sam to get the most recent budget numbers.”
This is particularly important for large, ambiguous projects that don’t always have clear, self-evident next actions (or important projects you know you’re likely to put off).
Writing them this way forces you to clarify what physical action needs to be done to move it forward. But it also reduces resistance you may have to take action when you scan your todo list for the day or the week.
Often items that are not written this way still have more thinking to be done to clarify the outcome.
Brent Sweitzer LPC RPT is a professional counselor in private practice in Cumming, GA.
6. Turn Off Notifications.
On your phone, on your desktop, everything. Noises, bounces, shakes, vibrations, everything.
Going into “Do Not Disturb” mode made me 10 x more productive, and it’s such an easy fix. Just check things when you need to or at specific predetermined times throughout the day, and you’ll get so much more done.
Here are a few of my other productivity and efficiency tips:
- Reduce the number of meetings you have each week. For example, I no longer take calls outside of Tuesday and Wednesday. Most things can be done via email, no calls needed.
- Have a strict meeting/call schedule and stick to it. Don’t make a 10-minute meeting into a 30-minute time waster.
- Get off social media. It’s killing time and creativity.
- Get a whiteboard in your room or office. Ideas come and go, make sure to get them all down.
7. Get Small Doses of Satisfaction
As CTO, I’m usually involved in several projects and have assigned lots of tasks to do and review. So sometimes the work can be overwhelming.
I’ve been using the same two tips for several years, and I have to say sometimes it feels I can’t live without them! I have my own kanban board in the office, apart from the big board used by the whole team.
The first thing I do (after getting my coffee mug) is to review my board so I can start thinking of the current tasks. My board is just next to my desk, so I can access it while still sitting down, this is very important for me as I use the kanban board dozens of times each day.
Every time a task is assigned to me, I try to split it into as many tiny pieces as I can, in a way that I can complete each of them in a few minutes or an hour max. Whenever I move a task from the “DOING” section to the “TEST” or “DONE” one, I immediately feel satisfaction.
That is the point.
I’ve found that spreading the pleasure received by completing a job in several small doses throughout the day makes me happier and more productive.
So, in summary:
Planning work ahead + Kanban boards + Small tasks = Self-satisfaction and performance improvement.
8. Schedule Your Tasks
One of my favorite productivity tips is to schedule your tasks. Many people know what they need to get done each week but simply choose what they’re going to work on when they sit down at their desks each day.
But, if you want to be more productive and get more done in a timely manner, then you should schedule all of your tasks for the week no matter how small they are. For example, many content marketers do this by creating a content calendar where they plan out what posts they’ll write each day, what day they’ll edit those posts, and so on.
This allows you to see what you need to get done each week at a glance, and it will help you stay on track. When you schedule all of your tasks in a calendar app, it’s much easier to manage your time vs. working on whatever you feel like doing at the moment.
Allison Hott, Content Marketer, OptinMonster
9. Use Inbox Zero
I recently read a Forbes article that cited that the average (office working) person spends 2.5 hours a day reading roughly 200 emails a day, of which 70% are totally irrelevant to them or their roles.
One of the biggest productivity hacks for me has been automating my email workflow to ensure I read and address only what I must on a given day. My goal is to keep my inbox at zero by the end of each workday. This has improved my health (had to get a stress coach years ago) and the ability to get things done.
Here are a few of my go-to tricks. First things first, do some manual work on the frontend to get our inbox into a respectable state:
- Apply new rules and filters
- Archive all emails that are more than seven days old
- Delete or Archive each email that has the term “unsubscribe” in it (which is typically a marketing email)
- Click on the down arrow in the Gmail search bar and open the create filter form
- in the field that marks “Has the words,” type “unsubscribe.”
- Select “Create filter with this search.”
- Check the “Delete it” box
- Select the “Create filter” option
Add these tools to level up your email organization and get your sanity back:
Slack – For internal communication with your team
Intercom – for external communication with partners/vendors
Followupthen – for free follow-up reminders, automated follow-ups when people don’t reply and SMS reminders to yourself on important details (conference call login details, etc.)
Wesley Cherisien is an Orlando-based Investor and Entrepreneur; learn more about his latest projects at wesleycherisien.com
10. Utilize Your Team
“Innovation can often be the key to productivity, as well as a bustling office environment and an open-minded culture. I’ve found that team members can be most productive when they are allowed to be creative, disruptive, and think outside of the box more often than not. A good kickoff each week to get the ideas flowing can be a brainstorming meeting.
Whether you have a new project coming up or are running out of time on an older one, having your team together in one room to support each other and lend the power of their minds is rewarding beyond belief.”
Alexandra Zamolo – Head of Content Marketing Beekeeper
11. Optimize Your Tasks
My favorite productivity tip is to schedule your tasks. Specifically, create a start time and an end time for them.
By scheduling when you start a task, you create what psychology calls an “implementation intention”, that makes it more likely you’ll avoid procrastination and start the task.
By scheduling when you stop a task, you create a mini-deadline that makes people who are deadline-driven work more effectively and avoid distractions. It also helps create a checkpoint, so if you can’t get the task done in the time allotted, you can consciously decide whether to keep working on it, to change your approach to the task, or to switch to a task that’s more important.
The benefit I gain when I do this is that I get to work faster and stay more focused while I’m working. It also helps me avoid getting too far down rabbit holes, such as what can happen when I’m doing Internet research.
12. Have a Productive Week
I’ve been an entrepreneur for over ten years now, and the single biggest factor in my success has been productivity and organization, so I feel like I have a lot to say about making Mondays more productive, which you could add to your article.
To have a productive Monday, start the day before on a Sunday night. Do a quick weekly planning session for 5-10 minutes every Sunday evening. This means that you can hit the ground running on Monday morning. You won’t end up wasting time deciding what you should be working on. You just do it.
In my early years as an entrepreneur, I used to start on a Monday morning by looking at the email that had come in overnight and working through that. This killed my productivity on a Monday as I’d inevitably end up responding to low-value emails. By implementing a quick planning session on Sunday evening, I’d know exactly what I was supposed to be working on and could just wake up on Monday morning and start working on that.
Another point on top of this is around priorities.
“Pick the hardest task of that day and complete it first before doing anything else.”
Even if you do nothing else that day, you will still make good progress and be productive this way.
It also helps avoid procrastination. Many people end up doing small or unimportant tasks just to make it feel like they are making progress when they really aren’t.
For years I would focus on the small, quick tasks first. This meant I kept putting off the more challenging tasks. These tend to be those that would impact the business the most. As soon as I switched to doing the hardest task first, my productivity skyrocketed.
Scott Watson Co-Founder of Wickfree Candles
13. A Tidy Desk is a Focused Mind
Messy table, scattered stationery, unadjusted chair, uneasy keyboard, or mouse, these problems can interrupt one’s effectiveness towards work. Personally, I make sure that my workplace is arranged nicely and appropriately. I have a specific pattern to place things on my desk, like what I put on my right and which is at my left. I prefer to keep my personal belongings other than my work desks like handbag, keys, or shades.
What benefit did you realize by using it?
First of all, it keeps me peaceful and fresh when I look at my surroundings clutter-free. I remain more focused on my work as all my work necessities are nicely placed near to me. Secondly, I always have space for any urgent workload if my employer comes with the piles of files to me. I enjoy my work for being organized.
14. Build Personal Relationships
Young people easily get demotivated – especially in large corporate organizations. Free coffee, office music, and motivation quotes will only get you so far.
My favorite productivity tip is personal bonding.
Developing a personal relationship with my young team bolstered productivity. They felt motivated, responsible, and they strove to achieve things.
Of course, in a large organization with many employees, it might be difficult or impossible to form a personal relationship. We recently started using employee engagement software (Clarity Wave) to measure and improve employee engagement, and we noticed a huge improvement in team mood and productivity.
15. Use Keyboard Shortcuts
I head the Marketing team here at Fueled, and it’s my responsibility to make sure the team is working as productively as possible. I’d love to share some tips & hacks I’ve learned!
As simple as it sounds, my biggest productivity hack is using and learning as many keyboard shortcuts as you can.
During my first few weeks at Fueled, I sat next to my manager, who would take my trackpad away and force me to learn my keyboard shortcuts. Although this seemed cruel at the time, it really made me learn my keyboard shortcuts and actually practice and use them.
I can confidently say that by using my keyboard shortcuts in Google docs, Gmail, Chrome, Slack, and on my MacBook, I have become an incredibly productive and efficient worker. I highly suggest managers train their employees to use keyboard shortcuts.
Ciara Hautau – Lead Digital Marketing Strategist @ Fueled
These are 15 of the best ideas and thoughts on productivity we have received. Do you have a better tip or hack? Submit your thoughts in the comments section below, or contact us here.