complete guide to productivity

The Complete Guide to Productivity

Let’s face it.

We all want more time in our lives.

It could be an evening to spend more time with our family and friends, a 30-hour day to grow our business, or simply time to close our eyes and relax.

If you would like to make more effective use of your time, maintain your energy levels throughout the day, and achieve your goals faster — read on.

I’ve already written a few pieces on how to have more time and avoiding the 9 to 5, but this is going to be a complete guide to productivity.

In this complete guide to productivity, we’ll discuss:

  • Scheduling
  • Goal Priortization
  • Getting Help
  • Productivity Treasure Chest

This is going to be longer post so I recommend either grabbing a cup of joe or brew some tea before digging in.

Scheduling

Scheduling your day, week, and even month ahead of time is going to be crucial for maximizing your time and getting things done.

As Peter Thiel says, “a bad plan is always better than no plan at all.”

So how do we schedule our time in order to be more effective?

The 90 Minute Rule

You may have heard about the 90 minute rule applying to your sleeping cycle. The rule is that we want to be sleeping in 90 minute cycles, and should be timing our sleep durations to wake up at the right times.

The 90 minute rule also applies to your working cycle.

We should be working in 90 minute segments, where we’re giving a 100% of our focus on a single task or a series of similar tasks for a maximum length of 90 minutes.

Here’s what my calendar looks like as an example:

Personally, I usually give myself a deadline buffer of an hour and 20 minutes because I know things will always take longer than expected.

Ideally, you should batch tasks that require similar physical or brain activity.

For example, I do all of my creative work such as writing blog posts, or copywriting in the morning. If I have to schedule calls or interviews that involve getting on the phone, I try to batch all of those together as well.
You could even batch and schedule social media browsing into your calendar, and use that time to unwind — guilt free!

After the “90 minute” interval, take a 30 minute break to do whatever you can to energize yourself (coming soon), whether it’s stretching, going for a walk, getting on a call with a friend, eating. Discover the activities that energizes you and perform them during your rest periods.

Remember not to give yourself more time than you need, the less time the better. As Parkinson’s Law suggests, if we give ourselves 3 hours to do something, that’s exactly how long we will take — no matter what the task.

However, if we give ourselves an hour to do the same tasks — more often than not, we’ll find a way to get it done.

In other words, try to trick your own brain to be more productive!

Pareto Your Life

The Pareto Principle was introduced by an Italian businessman, Vilfredo Pareto, who noticed that 80% of land was held by 20% of individuals.

The theory was expanded into almost every aspect of our lives — business, happiness, wealth, and yes time management.

Think about how you go about your day, week, or month.

What’s the 20% of your efforts that will result in 80% of your achievements and results?

Do you have large clients that are bringing in 80% of your revenue?
Or maybe you could focus the 20% of your time sending that special someone a surprise gift/note that will provide the 80% of your happiness.

Now let’s go a step further.

Theoretically, we can apply Pareto’s law twice. Let’s apply Pareto’s law to that 20% of your time that garners 80% of your impact. Without getting into the mathematics, the goal is to find 4% of your time spent garnering 64% of your impact (Boring explanation: 20/80 ing the original 20% of your effort resulting in your 80% impact)

The point is to take a step back at to analyze your end goals and achievements, then find how and what will get you there faster.

This brings us to our next point…

Prioritize Your Goals

If you’re like most people, you probably have a list of tasks and goals to accomplish on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

How you priortize these activities will be the ultimate determinant of whether you are effective in getting what you want done.

The Morning Routine

  1. Be selfish in the morning: It’s okay to be 100% selfish in the morning.

In fact, it’s a necessity if you want to be productive. What most of us do is wake up in the morning and immediately check our emails.

This means we are starting our day under other people’s agenda — not ours.

The most successful people leverage their mornings to invest in themselves, whether it’s meditating, exercising, or simply sitting down and eating a healthy breakfast.

This is often the only period of time during our day to reflect, energize, and prepare ourselves for the day ahead of us. Treasure your mornings.

2. The cold shower: A cold shower beats a cup of coffee any day.

Here’s how to do it:

The next time you take a shower in the morning or night time, depending on your style, go through your normal routine in your normal shower temperature.

Once you’ve finished, turn the hot water off and go completely cold.
Hold for 10–15 seconds, then go completely hot.
Hold for another 10–15 seconds, then go completely cold for 10–15 seconds.

What this does for our bodies is it opens up our blood flow and gets our immune system going, which not only wakes us up, but is a healthy routine for our bodies.

Now if you want a shortcut, you can go straight to the cold for 10–15 seconds, which should do a hell of a job waking you up.

3. Get Creative: Studies have shown that we’re the most creative in the morning because our prefrontal cortex is the most active during and after sleep.

This means that any creative work, whether it’s writing, brainstorming, and ideating, should be scheduled during the initial hours in the day.

As mentioned above, I normally do my writing or strategic planning in the morning, and it’s very effective.

If you want to know how to be more creative, check out this post.

Make Your Top 3 List At Night

Now it’s time for your night routine.

Before you head to bed or before you leave the office, make a list of the Top 3 things you must get done tomorrow that will result in 80% of your results.

Make sure it’s no more than three, and if you can go further and identify just one task that will reach your 80%, then that’s what you should put down.

Personal note: what tends to work for me is writing my top 3 list on a Post-It Note and sticking it on my computer so I can visually see it the entire time.

Create a Not To-Do List

It’s just as important to know what you shouldn’t do because it will help you focus on what you should do.

Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter & Square, is a big advocate of creating a Not To-Do List.

Credit to Lifehacker

Now reflect on the bad habits that are distracting you from focusing and getting your best work done.

  • checking email too often
  • going on facebook and instagram
  • having many tabs open
  • working too long

You can also combine this with your To-Do List on the same Post-It Note, so you’ll be able to see it the entire time. Often, being able to see your Not To-Do List will be more effective.

Getting Help

As entrepreneurs or simply Type-A individuals, we have the tendency to want to do everything ourselves. It’s hard to imagine others taking over and delivering the same type of quality results that we have.

Truth is, there’s only so much we can do ourselves in 24 hours. Not only do we need to think about the opportunity cost of doing admin tasks, we need to think about growth.

How many successful one-man businesses have you heard of?

There will come a certain inflection point in our careers, where there will be a direct ROI on the time we spend working. We always have to look at the opportunity cost of what we’re doing.

For example:
Let’s say you’re able to make $500 in 3 hours by taking coaching calls, getting on the phone with a potential client, or selling your products online.

However, you’re currently spending 3 hours per day cleaning your house, doing laundry, cooking, etc. Then it would make sense to hire a maid for $100–150 for those 3 hours to do those tasks for you, while you can spend your time growing your business.

Even if there’s no direct ROI, you should be looking to outsource the tasks that are not focused on growth or what you’re not good at, so you can free up time to focus on what matters.

3 Lists of Freedom

Here’s a powerful exercise created by Chris Ducker, that is going to change the way you think about your time.

First, grab a pen and a notebook.

Now create 3 columns in your notebook with the categories:

  • What you HATE doing
  • What you CAN’T do
  • What you SHOULDN’T be doing

Take some time with this, and fill these out throughout the week as you keep track of the unproductive tasks you are doing.

Here’s an example of what this looks like:

Virtual Assistant

Now that you’ve designed your 3 Lists to Freedom, it’s time to search for your first virtual assistant.

Here are some places you can start looking:

You can find a good virtual assistant for around $10/hour. Now it’s important to note that you do get what you pay for, and investing that extra $5–10/hour (if you have the budget) will be worthwhile in the long-run.

Companies such as Zirtual and TaskBullet have starter packages where you can pay $200–$400 a month to get started. If you’ve never hired a virtual assistant before, starting with a smaller package like this would be a good idea.

When looking at which tasks to outsource initially, Chris advises starting with tasks you hate doing. This will help you appreciate the value of your assistant, as you’ll be able to see them as an opportunity to do work you love rather than work you hate.

Reminders

A virtual assistant isn’t the only person you can get help from to stay productive.

We can use our smartphones to set up reminders to keep us on track.

Here’s how it works:

Download a reminder app such as Any.do, Dueapp, or you could use Google Calendar and download the app on your phone.

Set up an event that occurs every 3 hours with the title of the event being:

Is this what you should be working on?

Feel free to change around the title if you can find one that will better motivate you.

At the end of the day, we’re all humans and getting distracted is inevitable in a smartphone crazed society. Creating a system of reminders that will keep us grounded can do wonders if we’re constantly being distracted.

Treasure Chest

Here is a treasure chest of resources I suggest checking out to increase your productivity!

Recommended Apps:

Recommended Books:


Recommended Blogs:


You’ve reached the end! I appreciate you taking the time to go through this guide.
I hope it was helpful, and I’d greatly appreciate it if you could share this!

What is the #1 thing you learned from this guide? Let me know ☺

Published by

Sean

Sean is the founder of The Growth List, helping you create a business around your lifestyle. He often contributes for The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, and AskMen. His new favorite movie is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

7 thoughts on “The Complete Guide to Productivity”

  1. I have reading robin sharma blogs from last 2 months and i think he is the finest one which keep motivated people, resources you have listed are helpful and evergreen. I will recommend proofhub for your must have apps list. btw thanks for recommending books too i will check them out 🙂

  2. Thanks for these great tips! It may seem trivial but the top 3 list at night and Not-To-Do list really helps put things into perspective.

    One that I deem as very important should be added in this list – a dedicated time for exercise/sports during the work week. I play ultimate frisbee twice a week. This 1-not only helps me get through the ‘groundhog’ days but also 2- helps control my stress level as a natural mood booster, and I think better too.

    1. top 3 list is a gamechanger!

      agreed, if I find some time to update the article, I’ll be sure to add it.

      Thanks for your suggestion Shelyn!

  3. Length one but its very informative.. seems like a book written on a single web page… waiting for more useful stuff from you bro..

  4. Hi Sean,
    I found an app that I think would go great on your productivity list! The website is auratech.io. I’ve been using the app for the past month an I really like how I can view my achievements without being hounded by my never-ending to-do list and how the app records everything I log since I have been using it. If I ever feel like I can’t accomplish my goals, I can just check my daily and past achievements and I feel much more motivated to accomplish the things I have on my to-do list. Could you check it out and let me know what you think? Thanks!

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