My biggest productivity tip is very simple. It isn’t a fancy application for your computer. It isn’t a complicated process. It is very basic and very easy. Here it is:
At the beginning of the day, take out a blank piece of paper and place it in the center of your desk. At the top write the three most important things you want to accomplish for the day. These are the three tasks that are important enough that their completion will allow you to declare the day a success–regardless of what else gets done.
That is it. It is simple and easy to do, but if you follow that advice you’ll find your productivity will skyrocket. Your day is like a jar that you are trying to fill with three large rocks and sand. If you put the sand in first, you can’t get the rocks in, but if you put the rocks in first, the sand will fill in around the rocks.
The three important tasks are like the rocks. If you get them into place, everything else will fill in around them. But if you let all the less important things rob you of the time you need to spend on the important things, you won’t be able to fit them in at the end.
For this to work, you need to make sure that your three important tasks aren’t things that will take 12 hours. Choose something reasonable, even if it means breaking some of the tasks down into smaller steps. What is reasonable depends on what type of work you do. For someone who works alone in an office and is rarely interrupted, trying to accomplish 5 or 6 hours of “important task” work may be possible. For many people, it may be only a couple hours because the rest of the day will be taken up dealing with emergencies and interruptions.
Now, if you are someone with a computer-based task list, you are probably thinking that you can skip the piece of paper. In my experience, the process of writing down the three most important tasks on a physical piece of paper with real ink and then crossing them off is a very important part of making this work. It isn’t that having things on the computer is bad, but taking these three tasks out of your normal system and getting them right in front of you is a powerful way to stay focused.
The goal of this system isn’t to try to schedule every possible minute. The goal is to make sure you are making progress toward the important things and not letting them get crowded out.