Everyone has had the experience of not having enough hours in the day to accomplish everything you need to. Given the busy lives that we all lead, staying organized and staying productive can be a challenge. It is easy to get caught up on the wrong path and waste valuable time you need to get things done. Take some advice from ten of the world’s most productive people about staying on task and staying productive.
1. No Email in the Morning
Author of The 4-Hour Workweek
Tim Ferriss has a brilliant strategy for handling the ubiquitous time-sink that is email. He spends the first few hours of the day ignoring it. According to Ferriss:
“You might need to get into your email to finish 100% of your most important to-dos. But can you get 80 or 90% done before you go into Gmail and have your rat brain explode with freak-out, dopamine excitement and cortisol panic? Yes.”
2. Create a System for Certain Tasks
When you have something you work on everyday it is best to create a system to handle it efficiently and without getting overwhelmed. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com has come up with a strategy for staying on top of emails that he calls “Yesterbox.” Each morning when he boots up his computer he only answers emails he received the day before. As he explains on yesterbox.com:
“The great thing about this is when you get up in the morning, you know exactly how many emails you have to get through, there’s a sense of progress as you process each email from yesterday and remove it from your inbox, and there’s actually a point when you have zero emails left to process from yesterday.”
3. Limit Decision Fatigue
Each time you have to make a decision you use up a little bit of your limited supply of mental energy. To make the most of your cognitive reserves eliminate unnecessary decisions and simplify others. Take an example from productivity gurus like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Albert Einstein andwear the same outfit every day. By not spending time and energy on picking out clothes, you have more time and energy to devote to more worth-while things.
4. Handle Things Once
When swift action or decision-making is required, use Harvard Business Professor Robert Pozen’s OHIO strategy and Only Handle It Once. If you get an important email that requires your attention, reply immediately and move on to the next task. Keep your day moving and keep easily finished tasks off your to-do list.
5. Prioritize Tasks
Sometimes the best strategies for staying productive are the most obvious. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stresses the importance of getting easy tasks out of the way in rapid-fire succession:
“I think a simple rule of business is, if you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of progress.”
6. Take Vacations
In a world where everyone is always fighting to get ahead it might seem counter-intuitive to go on vacation, but more and more companies are adopting policies that make time away from the office mandatory. Taking some time to clear your head and relax can do wonders for your productivity when you return. Follow Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s philosophy:
“I pace myself by taking a weeklong vacation every four months.”
Similar to taking regular vacations, getting a good night’s sleep will recharge your brain and improve your ability to stay on task. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington swears by the strategy of stepping away from a perpetually busy schedule to get the necessary amount of rest (at least 7 hours a night). Not only are you more able to make decisions when you’re rested, those decisions tend to be of better quality and you are less likely to feel overwhelmed by them.
8. Stay Fit
Take a page from Virgin CEO Richard Branson’s playbook and treat working out like it is part of your job. Many productive people (and scientists alike) find that engaging in at least 20 minutes of moderate intense exercise each day keeps their brains working at a high level and their energy levels high to match.
9. Start Early
You may not love the idea of waking up at the crack of dawn but a surprising number of the world’s most productive people love to get a head start on their day by starting early. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz takes advantage of working at a company built on foundations of caffeine:
“I get up around 4:30, and naturally the first thing I do is make some coffee.”
10. Keep a Routine
Let’s end with a tip from one of the busiest and most powerful men in the world, US president Barack Obama. The secret that keeps him from getting overwhelmed when the going gets tough is to keep to a strict schedule. In addition to only ever wearing blue or gray suits, the leader of the free world insists on his morning workout, dinner with his daughters, and having a late night block of time devoted to reading and preparing for the next day’s work. By limiting uncertainty, he is able to stay maximally productive.