"Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort." ~Paul Meyer

"Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing... layout, processes, and procedures." ~Tom Peters

Every great leader, and leader to be, is constantly on the lookout for how to get more out of their day. After all, our biggest obstacle and constraint to future success is often ourselves. Luckily that is also the one thing that we can exercise the most control over. How successful you are in managing yourself will go a long way in determining how successful you are in general. Below are 20 proven techniques and tricks to get the most out of every single moment of your day:

1.       Use the two-minute rule – One of the best ways to keep your plate clear is to follow the rule that if it can be done in under two minutes, to simply do it immediately. If you’ve received the task, you’ve already had your workflow broken up, so you might as well have something to show for it.

2.       Schedule tasks, don’t list them – To-do lists are great for keeping track of things you need to do, but they aren’t as action oriented as they could be (how many things have been on your list for over a week). A powerful habit to get into is actually putting them on your calendar. It may be only a 15 minute meeting with yourself to get it off the list, but it is a wonderful way to take more control over your work.

3.       Consider the Pomodoro Technique – This is a great technique to hone focus and maximize your minutes. Set a timer and work for 25 minutes straight, without interruption, then spend at least 5 minutes on a break. The principle is that you need regular breaks to be at peak efficiency, and once you do this for a while, your mind starts to condition itself to make the most of those 25 minutes.

4.       Finish strong – Taking 5 minutes at the end of your day to review what was accomplished during the day (and not accomplished) and to plan out the next day helps you to work intentionally and start the next day strong. This also ensures you got to everything that you absolutely needed to throughout this day. For those with more chaotic workplace demands, perhaps you just plan out the first hour or two of the next day.

5.       Don’t check e-mail first thing – Highly productive people control their time. If you’re checking e-mail messages when you first get into work, you are putting your needs subservient to whatever is contained in the email. Try not to check for 1 hour. This gives you the opportunity to work your plan from the night before and get to your highest priority items. Besides, if it’s really an emergency, I guarantee you the person will find you during that first hour.

6.       Turn off alerts – Limiting interruptions is a key to maintaining focus. If you have e-mails popping up on your computer and instant messages ringing into your phone you won’t have more than a few minutes between interruptions. That’s a recipe for never being at peak focus and flow. There’s no reason you can’t maintain more control and check them yourself without a prompt when you think appropriate.

7.       Eat the frog – This is the euphemism for taking the worst things off of your plate first so that you can enjoy the rest of your meal (or day in this case). Often those difficult or uncomfortable items hang over our head and distract us throughout the course of the day until we take care of them. Eating the frog gets them out of the way immediately so you can focus. It also is a key to avoiding procrastination.

8.       Exercise – Many will say to exercise in the morning, and that really is ideal for a variety of reasons, but really it’s just important to exercise period. Being more physically fit helps you have more energy and focus over the course of the day. The 30-60 minutes you spend exercising will almost always result in 30-60 minutes of more productivity. So you’ll be in better shape, you’ll be better at your job, and it really doesn’t cost you any time.

9.       Cut all meeting lengths in half – Meetings suffer from “fluff” and a lack of focus. Get focused by putting a new time constraint on it. You might find that the engagement in the material goes up and the resolutions actually better because of that increased focus and engagement. And think about how much time you’ll get back over the course of a week if you had 15 minute and 30 minute meetings instead of 30 and 60 minute meetings.

10.   Say “No” – Especially to interruption. Remember that highly productive people control their time and focus. Ask that person who popped their head in the door if they can come back at 2:00 or in 10 minutes. But this also extends to tasks. Whether it is a flat out “no” or you just delegating the task out, you need to control what you are doing if you want to be at peak productivity.

11.   Eat breakfast – It’s cliché to call it the most important meal of the day, but even if it is a quick energy bar, get some nutrition in your system as well as that cup of coffee. I really shouldn’t need to spend any more time on it, if you want energy you need to eat.

12.   Don’t drown at the shallow end of the pool – This is about perspective. Too many of us are worried and stressed about the millions of little things vying for our time, so much so that they distract from the big and important things. Prioritize your way out of this by worrying about the important things more and the little things less. You’ll find your mind gets clearer and you get more done.

13.   Sleep – Athletes rest before their competitions and you should take a lesson from this and ensure you have your rest each night so that you are ready for “game day” the next day. Studies have shown that the effect of lack of sleep is similar to the effect of alcohol on your ability to focus. It’s another one of those situations where if you get the extra hour of sleep a night, you’re likely to more than make up for it with productivity increases the next day.

14.   Don’t multitask – Those who have mastered their own productivity know a secret. Nobody multitasks well. One of the foundations of being at peak effectiveness is focus. You get more done when you do less. By all means, put plenty of tasks on your plate, but only tackle one at a time. You’ll find the results are MUCH better.

15.   Know when you’re at your best and protect it – All of us have times of the day when we are more effective. For some it is the morning, for others it is the late afternoon (I’m not sure anyone is effective right after lunch). It is during this time when you should schedule your big decisions, big projects and important tasks. This is also the time when you should not tolerate distractions. Protect this time and use it.

16.   Unplug for at least one day on the weekend – It is difficult to “unplug” in today’s work environment. Most people are checking and responding to emails in the evening, on the weekend and even on vacation. Being able to completely unplug allows you to truly “recharge the batteries” and helps prevent burnout.

17.   Take notes and write down thoughts – Highly productive people are always great note takers. Having something to keep track of thoughts and notes ensures that you don’t forget anything and don’t have to waste any time wondering “what was that idea I had yesterday?”

18.   Check e-mail hourly – Before you start thinking that you need to stay right on top of your email, ask yourself what everyone does when you are away at lunch or in a meeting? Don’t let e-mail take away from your attention, focus and productivity. Master it by grabbing some control.

19.   Don’t answer the phone – This is perhaps the most controversial of the productivity hacks, but I’ll say it one last time, you need to control your time. Answering that phone call is ceding that control to the other party. Phone calls tend to be one of the lengthier interruptions of your day. It is generally much quicker to listen to the message left when you have a moment as opposed to getting caught chit-chatting with someone.

20.   Listen better – Feedback fuels your productivity. Too many people don’t fully leverage the information that they have coming at the from peers, subordinates, customers and bosses. A good rule of thumb is to practice asking at least one clarifying question when someone bring you information and to ask one question of the person you are giving information to. These questions help you to more actively listen, potentially gives you more information and generally open up dialogue. If you want to be more productive, get better information.

WARNING: Reading this list is great, but it is in the application that the power comes in. Take just ONE THING from this list and put it into place immediately. Once that’s in place for a week, you can move onto the next thing. Just one step today. I’d love to know which one you’ll be working on this week, so go ahead and write down what you’ll be working on in the comments. Go get’em!

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