Dominate Your Day: Do the Things that Need to be Done

increase-productivity-1600x700Everyone is busy. At every company of every size, there are fewer people, doing more work, and wearing more hats, than ever before. Consider it the new normal.

You have people in your office that complain about how busy they are (whether they actually are or not), and others that simply acknowledge and accept the new normal and plow ahead (hint: don’t be a complainer).

You’re busy, we know that, but are you productive? Are you getting the things done that need to be done, or are you checking off trivial work from your To Do list just to feel a sense of completion?

I used to feel so overwhelmed. I felt like a firefighter, just putting out a blaze here and a blaze there, and never getting ahead. Struggling just to keep my head above the proverbial water. Through a long process of trial and error, and more errors than successes, I found some ideas that work for me and allow me to get a bit ahead of the game. I want to share two ideas that have had a massive impact on my ability to get important things done, keep on task with important projects, and not let the urgent overwhelm the important.

The Big 3

This tip came from the book Organize Tomorrow Today, and it has had a huge impact on my personal productivity. The concept is beautifully simple: Identify three actions or activities that will move the ball forward in a meaningful way, on your most important projects, and do those things before the day is over.

That’s it.

After you’ve identified your Big 3, select the most important one, and highlight it, because you’re going to get this done no matter what. You need to commit to getting all three done before the end of the day. But you must complete, absolutely must complete, no question about it, not going home until its done, the one you highlighted. Seriously, commit to getting it done, no matter what.

For me, identifying my Big 3 works best when I take ten minutes in the afternoon, but well before I’m shutting down for the day, and use that time to plan for the next day. I’ll usually set some time aside around 3pm to think about the next day because by then I’ve likely completed my Big 3 for the current day, but I have plenty of time and energy remaining to think about tomorrow.

I have found that doing my most important activity first thing in the morning, immediately upon arriving at the office at all possible, allows me to get that one most important thing accomplished. Once I’ve accomplished the one most important thing, then I can use that momentum and move onto the remaining two items on my Big 3 list. Let that ball roll down the hill.

If you will commit to the Big 3, you will see results. The trick to using this tip successfully, of course,  is to simply do it. You have to be committed to the list. Actually scheduling in to your day time to accomplish your Big 3 is helpful, and that leads to the next tip…

Time Blocking

I don’t know where the original concept of time blocking came from, but J.D. Meier introduced his version of the concept, called Time Boxing, and Cal Newport discusses a similar idea in his book Deep Work. No matter what it’s called, or where it came from, it has significantly impacted my focus and productivity in a positive way.

The idea is deceptively simple: On either your Outlook calendar, or physical calendar, you block out time (or draw a box around a block of time) and assign yourself an activity, or group of related tasks, that you will work on during the block of time. This is a great way to both accomplish meaningful work, or get moving on a task that you dread doing. When you block off the time to work on a specific task, you give yourself permission to focus all of your attention on energy on this one specific thing, and ignore everything else.

Another advantage of time blocking is getting going on a task you dread. When you block the time, you can work on the dreaded task for only the amount of time in the block. So when the time is up, you’re done. It’s an easy way to psychologically make the task less terrible, because you’re only going to be working on it for however much time you’ve assigned.

I may take this to the extreme, but I implement Time Blocking by scheduling every minute of my workday. Around any previously scheduled meetings, I schedule time blocks to accomplish my Big 3 for that day, to check and respond to email, to make and return phone calls, complete daily administrative tasks, to work on different projects that need attention, and time to set my Big 3 for the next day.

I suspect that you would be insanely productive if you didn’t have to deal with any unexpected interruptions during your work day. I know I would. But those things happen, and if someone higher up the food chain thinks something is an emergency, then it’s an emergency and must be handled. Those things cut in to your day and will impact your time blocks. The best way to deal with this is to build some buffer time in to your schedule so that blocks can be shortened or lengthened as needed. Just adjust was necessary and move on.

The only things that get done are the things you plan to do. Be intentional with your time, accomplish your Big 3 early in the day and ride the momentum all the way to awesome town!

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