Let’s admit it, a lot of us (most?) have way too many days where we end the day without feeling like we did anything productive. The whole “did I move the ball closer to the goal line?” feeling. We know we’re not alone. Shane Parrish wrote in a post—Most of what you are going to do or say today is not essential—with a pretty grim view that we’re all just going to meetings, drinking coffee (aka brain/creativity fuel), and answering emails with out getting our “work” done. The problem with Parrish’s post is that, beyond a great quote by Marcus Aurelius, he doesn’t offer concrete solutions.

So I will.

Before we get going on some tips (five in fact) on how to really get more done, here’s the Marcus Aurelius quote:

Most of what we say and do is not essential. Eliminate it, you’ll have more time and more tranquility. Ask yourself, is this necessary.

Blinding flash of the obvious. Stop doing the inessential things. (hand smacks forehead) Gee, why didn’t I think of that!?! We’ve all thought this, we all try to do it, we all fail. So let’s try that again.

Five tips to carve out time to work

And before you think I’m going to include something like FILO (first in, last out) you’re wrong. Okay, maybe if you’re a morning person come in early when it’s quiet—then leave at a sane time. If the office works 9 to 5 and you come in at 7, then leave by 3. This isn’t about working more, it’s about working better.

  1.  Carve out “Do not disturb” times. It might not be the same time for everyone (or maybe it should be), but set aside an hour or two every day when you aren’t to be disturbed. Use this time for your heavy lifting brain work (proposals, writing, presentations, strategy). Don’t use this time to just answer emails. Use this time for tasks that need a block of uninterrupted time to do well.
  2. Try No Meeting Days. Asana (a great project management tool) has “No Meeting Wednesdays”, and unless it’s really urgent there are no meetings scheduled for those days. Those are the days for serious work.
  3. Use a simple, 5 item, hot list. One of the problems I’ve found with getting things done is that when you have a moment to get something done—you don’t know what to do first. Try a simple—pen and paper even—five item hot list of things to get done that day. Make sure you have items that can be done in a day or in a few minutes. “Revamp company strategy” is too big, think smaller pieces. When you cross something off your list you feel good. Don’t add anything until the following day.
  4. Try the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro (yes, tomato in Italian) Technique is based on the idea that we can only really focus on a task for about 25 minutes at a time. After 25 minutes we need a little break (like 5 minutes) to keep our minds’ fresh. It’s a clever, simple technique that forces some discipline and focus to what you’re doing. And it does work for a lot of people.
  5. Turn off the freakin’ notifications. One of the points in Shane Parrish’s article was that when you sit down to do something, everything else is clamoring for your attention. So don’t let it—shut them off. Quit email. Silence your phone (the “Do Not Disturb” mode in iOS is great for letting important calls come in without needing to set your phone to silent). Close, quit, or mute anything that would distract you from the task at hand. If you want to get work done…then everything else can wait.

These are five tips that I use every day or when I really feel under the gun to get things done. These tips aren’t Earth shattering or hard to do—okay no meeting days might be hard to pull off—but can have a huge impact in your day-to-day work productivity. Give them a shot and let us know in the comments if they help (or you have other tips).

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