Tell me you’ve had this experience: You start out with the best of intentions. Today is the day you’re going to slay your to-do list and bring home a major win. But…
Life happens. And it doesn’t just happen—it happens like a tornado. Suddenly you’re behind, and it feels like there’s no hope of catching up.
But what if you could stay ahead of the storm? I want to share twelve proven productivity hacks that will empower you to get a jump on the day and perform at your peak.
Some of these are face-palm obvious. Some are a little counterintuitive. But all of them work. These hacks have helped me maximize my time and have saved me countless hours over the years.
Start the Night Before
The best time to get a jump on the day is the night before. Positivity, preparation, and rest will get you in the right frame of mind and enable you start the day running.
- List three wins. Positive focus is one of the best ways to up your mood and boost your confidence. What went right? How did you move the needle? List your three biggest wins of the day. You can journal these or talk them over with your spouse. This will help cultivate the gratitude critical for success.
Identify your three must-do activities for the next day. It’s hard to win if you don’t know what the goal posts are. Use this time to identify and prioritize your activity for the next day. What will it take to make progress towards your targets? Make a to-do list in Evernote or drop them straight on your calendar.
Set out your clothes. One thing that slows us down is decision making. Whether we’re going to the gym or getting ready for an important client meeting, laying out our clothes the night before can help us step into the day with extra momentum.
Kill the lights. I’ve talked a ton about the sleep. It’s especially important for leaders. It’s easy to Facebook and Netflix away hours of our night, but we’ll never perform at our peak without rest. When we try to skate by on six hours—or fewer—we’re killing our productivity. Cat videos and Madame Secretary can wait. Flip the switch and hit the sack.
Maximize Your Morning
The morning hours are some of the most important of the entire day if you want to perform at your peak. This is the time to prepare yourself spiritually, intellectually, and physically for the stress and strain of the day.
- Feed your heart and mind. The quality of your output depends on your input. Prayer and Bible-reading are vital for my mornings. So are select blogs, books, and podcasts. It’s like stockpiling ideas for creativity.
Exercise your body. Like sleep, the research on exercise is clear. If we want to prosper physically, mentally, professionally, even financially, we need to hit the treadmill. I exercise regularly and consider it essential to my productivity. Surprisingly, exercise even improves work-life balance. And it’s a great way to stay up on podcasts and audiobooks.
Fuel your body. After running or strength training, I’m hungry. There’s an ongoing debate among health and fitness professionals about intermittent fasting. All I know is I feel at my best with a healthy breakfast. Sleep, exercise, and healthy eating work together to keep us fit and feeling great all day.
Focus All Day
After maximizing the morning, it’s time to seize the day. The trick is focus. There are a million distractions to throw us off task. But if we drill down on what matters most, we can work at our peak all day long.
- Get clear on your goals. You’re already ahead on this point because you’ve identified your big three tasks for the day. But this goes beyond the daily to-dos. If we want to win tomorrow, we need to say no today. Clarity on your short-term and long-term goals will give you the confidence to decline requests and opportunities that will become obstacles down the road.
Batch and dispatch. There might be people good at multitasking. I’ve just never met any. The answer is to work in focused batches. I divide my time so I’m working on major projects several times a week, plus smaller projects and maintenance tasks in between. I gain efficiencies by segmenting similar activities. Plus, I assign deadlines to keep me cooking.
Stop answering your phone. In fact, determine to never answer it except in cases of emergencies or planned calls. The quickest way to get swept up in someone else’s agenda is to accept their call. Build a buffer between you and anyone who might request your time: an assistant, voicemail, whatever. If it’s important, you can connect when it works for you. If it’s not, you just saved yourself a big interruption.
Turn off your notifications. What matters more, our work or random interruptions? It’s not just ringers. All pings, dings, and buzzers distract and break our concentration. If you’re working against a deadline, notifications are guaranteed to set you back.
Say no, but never yes, immediately. It’s easy to say yes and hard to say no. But if we want to perform at our peak, we have to reverse that. Think about how many yeses and noes you give in a day and what they cost you. I bet the noes cost nothing compared to the yeses. The answer is to never give a yes in the moment. Offer a “maybe,” “I’ll consider,” or “Let me check on my calendar.”
Are these hacks foolproof? No. Do they work in each and every circumstance? No again. And that’s especially true given the unpredictable side of our work. We’ll always have surprises that trip us up.
But when we’re operating at our peak, surprises might set us back; they usually don’t derail us. The good news is that whatever we’re facing, by starting the night before, maximizing our morning hours, and staying focused throughout the day, we can bring home the wins day after day.