As dads, husbands, and professionals, there are many things vying for our attention – some that deserve it and some that are just pulling us away from what is most important. Although I don’t always follow this advice and I am writing this just as much for myself, these five strategies to get the most out of every day have proven very useful for me.
1. Have a Morning Routine, Even When You Can’t Always Stick To It
If you do a quick Google search of “morning routine,” it doesn’t take long to figure out that many of the most successful people in the world emphasize the importance of a morning routine. However, when I started thinking about what my morning routine might look like after reading about others’, I felt like it was impossible to make it work for me. I’m not a natural morning person and some of the routines I had read about would have me waking up at 4:00 and earlier. No, thank you.
Hal Elrod’s book, The Miracle Morning, was incredibly helpful for me because it gave me a general structure and I was easily able to make that fit into my morning. The biggest thing I’ve learned in figuring out what my morning routine would look like is that even a well-structured routine that is partially followed each day is better than rolling out of bed and letting the day simply happen to you.
2. Schedule Your Work Sessions
Parkinson’s Law states that work will expand to the amount of time you give to a specific task. Remember in college when we would wait until the last minute to start writing a paper because we claimed that we just “work well under pressure”? The truth is that it’s more likely we were walking examples of Parkinson’s Law in action. To test this, next time you sit down to check your email set a timer for 10 minutes. I guarantee you’ll be able to plow through more than if you were to sit down with no specific plan or time frame. Instead of working on projects or tasks with a plan to “work until I’m finished,” schedule a specific amount of time for the task and watch how much more effective and efficient your work becomes.
3. Set Self-Imposed Deadlines
One of the unintended consequences of our education system is that we tend to become reliant on external deadlines that are set for us. A test on this day, a paper due that day, long-term planning is not a requirement. I struggled with this mightily in the first few years out of college, and still do consider it one of my greatest professional weaknesses. There is so much power in setting your own deadlines on the way to a larger goal, which may also be a self-imposed deadline. This article about the art of the self-imposed deadline is an oldie but a goodie from the Harvard Business Review.
4. Give Yourself PTO Each Day
In our ever-connected world, it’s so easy to fill each day with work, and then go home and continue to be available for work-related activities, like email. Researcher Lisa Perlow has outlined the benefits of taking “Predictable Time Off” in which you are neither at work nor available for work communications. The mental health benefits of taking this break are well-known, but a surprising outcome is increased productivity when you are working.
After a long day at work, the time spent with my kids before they go to bed are some of my favorites but are no doubt draining. Once they’re in bed, it’s so tempting to jump on my smartphone, and that inevitably leads to checking email and sometimes getting back into work mode. A task that could wait until the morning has made its way into my thoughts and is consuming my mental energy. That’s why I try very hard to take this Predictable Time Off for a few hours each night.
5. Provide Structure for the Next Day Before Going to Bed
If this is not a strategy you currently practice, you need to start now. It only takes a few minutes each night but can have profound effects on your productivity the next day. Providing structure can seem counter-intuitive because it feels like you’re taking away freedom. But, in reality it allows you to focus on the most important tasks and reduces the temptation to be reactive and work on things that are urgent but not important.
For me, I try to schedule as much as my day as I can in Google Calendar in order to ensure that I have set aside enough time to accomplish the most important tasks. I try to leave 10-15 minutes between blocks of time in order to address unexpected things that come up and have a buffer for tasks that take longer than expected. As a teacher, much of my schedule is already dictated, so the time to work on other tasks including planning, grading, and administrative work is precious. If I realize that I have too much to do and can’t get it done the next day, I can identify the tasks that can wait until later in the week. Additionally, I like the visual that I get when scheduling on Google Calendar so I can visually see how much time I allot to different tasks.
What are your favorite productivity strategies for getting the most out of each day?
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