Earning back your day will lead to increased productivity, freedom, and in an ideal world, increased happiness.
I’m very deliberate when I say earn.
It won’t be easy — it will require adjustments to habits, sleeping patterns, and, in some cases, changes from the people you live and work with.
1. Deliberately Plan Your Day
The night before, write down a list of tasks you want to accomplish the following day.
Be specific and keep the list short, if possible.
If you haven’t done this yet, write down a list for today… I’ll wait.
Here are my tasks for the day:
- Write a company blog post about hashtags trending in Nov
- Write a personal blog post about time management (this)
- Conduct 2 demos (already planned ahead of time)
- Showcase a new feature to a client
- Meet a friend for lunch
- Go rock climbing
You should notice a couple things here.
I include both personal and work goals in my list because, in fact, they are competing for my time.
I also try to be as specific as possible. I’m not working on marketing today. I’m writing 2 very specific blog posts.
At the end of each day, check your progress to ensure you accomplish everything you wanted to. If you didn’t, take a second to reflect why. Maybe priorities changed, you lost track of time, or you deemed the task no longer important.
That’s okay — just ensure this doesn’t become a reoccurring habit.
Having a friend hold you accountable also helps keep you honest, especially if it’s someone you respect.
I send weekly accountability check-ins to my girlfriend and my two advisors — Noah Kagan and Taz Patel.
Coincidentally enough, I learned this technique from Noah’s OkDork Podcast. If you haven’t listened to it, add it to your iTunes.
2. Organize Your Day
Now that you know what you want to accomplish today, it’s time to plan how and when you will accomplish it.
First, always start by delegating any blocking tasks that others are waiting on.
Occasionally, my business partner, Ross, needs me to release some update, create a graphic, or simply reply to an email before he can move forward with what he’s working on.
By unblocking him, we are now working in parallel and should accomplish twice as much in a given time period.
Next, assess your cognitive ability.
It changes throughout the day for everyone and the pattern is almost always the same — peak, trough, and recovery.
What changes from person to person is when they hit each stage of the cognitive journey.
Some people, like me, peak in the morning, hit a midday slump around lunchtime, and then recover in the afternoon/evening.
Other people are better analytical thinkers at night and hit their trough in the morning when they are sleepy and groggy.
Step 1 is figuring out what schedule you are on.
This theory of cognitive trends is established in detail by author, Dan Pink.
Now that you know what schedule you are on, it’s time to plan out your day.
Of course, anything that is high-priority or non-negotiable should happen first. Then segment your tasks/goals into 3 buckets — analytical, admin work, creative.
Since I’m a morning person, I dedicate my morning to analytical tasks. For me, this usually involves programming and other product work.
My afternoon is for some personal tasks and admin work. Running errands, conducting demos, meeting with clients, etc…
And since my recovery period comes in the afternoon, I spend the last bit of my day on creative tasks — marketing, blogging, strategic planning, etc…
3. Shift Your Day
If you’ve discovered that your cognitive ability doesn’t peak during normal work hours from step 2, it’s time to shift your day.
This is the part that will likely require change from others — people you live or work with.
I peak in the morning, so (lately) I strive to wake up at 5:45am. Not only am I a better analytical thinker at this time, I also have fewer distractions. My dog is usually napping, there aren’t delivery people knocking every hour, and there’s something gratifying about waking up before the city bustle.
If you’re more of a night owl, it may make sense for you to run errands and do admin tasks in the morning. Meaning you might not start working until 10am or 11am when you’re in recovery period.
Have a productivity tip that you think will help others? Add it in the comments below.