Hi my name is Nick Brodd and seven years ago, after a particularly long and dreadfully unproductive day at work, I finally asked myself the one question whose answer would change my life in big ways: How do I set myself up for a productive day?
You see, I wasn’t getting any writing done at all, or any other of my most important tasks for that matter. Instead, for a very long time, I had promised myself that tomorrow would be a better day, only to fall back into the same ditch of procrastination and unproductivity before lunch the very next day.
I had finally come to the realization that I needed a strategy that would put me on the right path starting from the moment I wake up to the minute I go to bed. But, with so much fighting for my attention, how would I decide on what to work on first?
While the answer to the question didn’t come that easy to me, I have today refined that answer into five simple routines, I call the five productivity factors. They set me up for the most productive day possible, and it is these factors that everyone can start leveraging starting tomorrow.
- Act Like a Moviestar. Movie stars rely on scripts and so should you. What you spend time doing and thinking about each day ultimately forms your results and who you are. So why leave all of this up to chance by relying on temporary things like your will power or your motivations? Rather than leaving my success and happiness to chance, I started carefully mapping out all my routines from the early morning. A carefully scripted morning routine that laid down every single thing I do minute by minute was particularly useful when I first started designing a new lifestyle, as I never had to rely on my memory or impulse to get started. However, scripts still serve a great purpose for me today as I once in a while decide to tweak and upgrade my routines.
- Energize Yourself. I need exercise for many reasons. First of all, it sets my body up for success and makes me more productive. The increased oxygen levels energize my body while the endorphins I get from my exercise high make me happy. But while these should be enough reasons to do it, I am no different than anyone else. Some days it is simply harder to get going than others. To help me get started, I take out my exercise clothes the night before, making it real clear on every level that exercise is what’s on the agenda when I wake up. My mind soaks up this information while I sleep so that, the next day, I have no excuse for not hitting the weights.
- Get Early Morning Momentum and Impact the Success of Your Day. Have you ever accomplished something really important early in the day? Like writing a great book outline or a great few pages? How did it make you feel? It’s funny, but when you get important tasks done early in the day, it impacts the rest of your day. You will reap the fruit of that labor for a long time. I therefore consciously design my day so that I get this sense of accomplishment and fulfillment early in the day by doing my most important task (I write) the very first thing after exercising. By the time I finish adding a few more pages to whatever I am working on, I am all set to face the day ahead of me.
- Start Tiny and get Enormous Wins. While I think that big, hairy, audacious goals have their place in one’s success toolkit, I don’t think they are a generic recepe for success. The bigger the target, the higher the risk of failure because it’s easy to give up on something that sounds too impossible to achieve. And, like I mentioned in No. 3, when you achieve a goal, it is easier to keep keep yourself motivated. So set your targets accordingly. If you don’t have time to write 1,000 words every day, set a target you know you can achieve. Just write a page (about 250 words) or maybe just three paragraphs (about 100 words) a day. And if you don’t have time to do a 30-minute workout, do 10 minutes or even five minutes. Sticking to a habit is the most important thing when you get going and habits are more important than short-term results. Start with tiny consistent steps in the right direction and your habits will gradually evolve and you will see enormously big wins.
- The Quality and Quantity of Zzzzz. Not exactly the most exciting idea, I admit, but the quality and quantity of your sleep impacts everything from your mood and your ability to concentrate to your weight and even to your risk of being in an accident. On top of that, of course getting to bed too late simply means that it will be difficult to get up on time. I seldom fall asleep after 10 pm so that I am up and alert at 4 am when I wake up. I also try to squeeze in naps as often as I possibly can.
So do I ever deviate from these five simple productivity factors? Well, I actually fell off the routine this morning. This time it was for a valid reason as I had a very early flight to catch. But unfortunately I also have hiccups at times. When I do, I don’t beat myself up about it as I know that always focusing on avoiding failure is not the path to success. Instead, I do my best to learn from my mistakes and do better next time.
One simple challenge that actually took me some time to master, was my tendency to turn on the TV in the morning. I was always curious to see what had happened in the world while I was asleep without realizing that this habit often diverted me from getting started with what was most important to me. I therefore now have a strict no-TV policy in the morning. The same, of course, goes for other types of distractions, such as email, Facebook and the Internet.
I also think we should plan for mistakes and have a backup plan. For instance, I often have to get up early to catch a flight. I also once in a while get a flu. I know that these things will happen, so it is a matter of planning for them and having a plan for getting back on track.
So while I missed the morning writing and exercise routine this morning, I was making up for some of it this evening. That’s my default backup plan. The lost sleep will however never be found, but tomorrow the sun will rise again on me and all fellow authors out there. And at that time I will get another chance to practice.
It is very easy to fall into old habits, so my final tip is to only change one habit at a time. Evaluate what your biggest productivity opportunity is. Then focus on changing that thing and that thing only. Implement one new habit at a time and you will soon see wonders in your productivity.
Question: What’s your biggest productivity improvement opportunity and what do you need to do today to set yourself up for a more productive day starting tomorrow? I’d love to hear your answers. Please leave a comment below.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net