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At the end of each day, plan tomorrow. Create a productivity framework. Refine your routines. Practice physical health and fitness. Begin with the end in mind. Five powerful ideas that you can put into action to really drive your productivity. This isn’t a quick fix; you’ll need to put some time into thinking about and practicing each idea but the immense gains in productivity are well worth it.

1 – At the end of each day, plan tomorrow

This is such a simple yet immensely powerful tip. A little bit of planning for what you want to do the next day will ensure you don’t fiddle around wasting time when you get to work in the morning. This also dramatically reduces the impact of interruptions, as you already have a plan and don’t need to constantly think about what you should be doing.

It needs to be kept simple and flexible.

A very rigid daily schedule where you’ve specified every hour is not going to help. This just results in you spreading yourself too thin, not accomplishing anything, and being constantly stressed that other work priorities and meetings are stopping you from following your schedule.

Something I’ve found that works very well is just writing down your 3 most important tasks for the next day. The next day when you get to work, jump straight into the first task and work on it for an hour before opening your Inbox and checking your calendar and email.

2 – Create a productivity framework

Ever felt like you have so many new high priority tasks popping up that you never get time to spend on those things that are important for your long term development but not urgent needs of your current job?

Having a productivity framework in place will help you manage your workload and ensure you spend time on those continuous improvement activities that will help you learn and develop.

Don’t make your framework some masterpiece that you think you’ll never change. To be effective in today’s constantly changing world, you will need to re-invent yourself once in a while and also tweak your framework. Not every month (or you will be spending all your time on frameworks rather than doing any work), but whenever you sense your framework isn’t helping you anymore.

For me there are 6 elements I put on a page, kind of like an infographic:

  • Goals / Focus Areas
  • Backlog of Tasks (Autofocus)
  • Team VMB / Agile Board
  • Program / Project Master Schedule
  • Cutting Waste Lens
  • Most Important Tasks

The goals give the framework direction; they can be SMART goals but don’t need to be. The backlog of tasks is where you write down everything you want to do, including those continuous improvement tasks that will help your development for your future career. I learned from the Asian Efficiency newsletter that the act of writing things down enables you to clear your mind, rather than holding onto and tracking every thought; allowing you to focus.

The Autofocus system by Mark Forster works very well for a task backlog. It’s a low tech solution (doesn’t require time spent configuring technology that you can’t always access) that drives a little and often approach to make sure you do spend time on the important but not urgent tasks.

You need to maintain a good macro view of the organisation, the program you’re working on, your team and the schedule of upcoming work at each level. Having this awareness ensures you are prioritising appropriately so will make a good impression on your boss, and you’ll be able to lead your peers.

There are many sources of tasks that will come your way; some of them will be non-value adding tasks like attending certain meetings where you are spectating rather than providing input. That’s where the waste cutting lens and defining your most important tasks comes in. When you decide to work on something or whether you’ll be attending meetings, think about whether you should even be doing the activity at all.

3 – Refine your routines

Getting to work early – an hour before the majority of your crew, and getting straight into your day will start you rolling, and the momentum will keep you powering through the rest of your work. The running start will make you feel productive and give you that incentive to keep going till you get things done.

How do you do it? Make the mundane tasks in your morning and evening routines as efficient as possible, e.g. by preparing your clothes, lunch, etc. the night before so you can grab it and go in the morning. Asian Efficiency calls these morning and evening rituals, and refining these will help you avoid spending time and using your decision making energy on the routine and mundane tasks.

4 – Practice physical health and fitness

The well-known, age old, golden rule for a long and healthy life is: everything in moderation; including health and exercise. You can’t think quickly without having a healthy body.

To keep your energy up and help you be as productive you need to, keep these three things in mind when thinking of your routines:

  • Physical exercise
  • Healthy eating
  • Getting enough sleep

5 – Begin with the end in mind

One of the habits of highly effective people from Stephen Covey’s book is to begin with the end in mind. There are two levels from where you should view this habit: The end being your life as a whole, and the end being achievement of your goals (say, for the year).

Think about how you want to be viewed by the world at the end of your life. These are your core values. Before you react to situations that occur in your day to day life, think about whether this way of reacting will contribute or detract from your core values and how you want to be viewed at the end of your life.

When determining what tasks you put into your backlog, and what gets through your waste cutting lens, consider whether those tasks will contribute to your goals or just evaporate your time.

Together, these perspectives will guide your prioritisation and influence how you react when adverse situations occur.

Delving deeper

Some of main influences for me that you may like to explore are:

  1. Asian Efficiency blog – Many practical and detailed articles about different aspects of productivity
  2. Autofocus – Mark Forster’s paper based task management system
  3. 7 Habits of highly effective people – Stephen Covey’s excellent thought provoking book
  4. Look into time management or productivity courses your organisation may offer
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