28 Random Thoughts on Being Productive and Managing Time (and Stress) More Effectively

Orange moonA new year is upon us, and with it comes the annual ritual of setting big goals, hopefully, both personally and professionally.

With this in mind, I thought I would brain dump everything I've learned in recent years about managing time and stress more effectively and being more productive.

Of course what works especially well for me won't work for everybody. Some of these tips would most likely get you fired. Some are beyond obvious in the benefit they provide. But, as I've learned, that doesn't mean everyone is willing to embrace them in their own lives.

My hope is that there are a few nuggets you can incorporate into your unique life.

Some of these habits and rituals will ebb and flow for me throughout the year but most of what I've outlined for you is consistent with my day to day life.

Here are 28 random and loosely connected insights that just might change your life.

  1. Being productive (without burning out) starts with a healthy body and mind. Eat a substantial, healthy breakfast and a lighter lunch for energy that will carry you through the day. Every day. Don’t skip. Don’t be that person who says, “I’m too busy for lunch”.
  2. Drink a ton of water throughout the day. I shoot for at least five 20oz glasses in a day. I put five rubber bands around my glass at my desk. Finish a cup… remove a rubber band… repeat. Yes, I’m an odd duck.
  3. Lack of sleep is not a badge of honor like some people like to believe. It’s just stupid.
  4. Speaking of sleep… Nothing recharges the body and mind like a 25-minute nap. Even if you don’t fall asleep, the rest is enough to restore your energy.
  5. If you’re super-ambitious, try a coffee nap. Kick back a double-shot espresso immediately before your nap. The caffeine will kick in after you wake from your 25-minutes of bliss.
  6. Speaking of coffee… Did you know there are optimal times to drink it? Check out some of the science. If you’re pouring coffee down your throat the second you step out of bed the caffeine really isn’t doing much for you. It’s actually competing with your body’s natural “wake up” processes. Wait at least 90-minutes before your first cup of coffee. I know, sounds terrible. But trust me, you’ll notice the difference.
  7. Set time aside to prepare for the next week. Review your calendar and obligations and the most important tasks that need to be completed in the week ahead. If you’re super-human you’ll do this Friday afternoon before you wrap up the current week. I prefer Sundays or first thing Monday morning.
  8. At the end of each day prepare for the next day. Similar to above. Don’t be that person who shows up at work without knowing exactly what needs to be accomplished that day.
  9. So you’ve planned out the week ahead and the next day? Awesome. Now remove 30-50% of your tasks you’re aiming to accomplish. Us ambitious folks tend to overestimate what we can realistically accomplish in a week and grossly underestimate how much extra crap is going to get dumped in our laps. Which leads me to…
  10. Be prepared for everything to go to hell. It just happens. It only takes one phone call or email to blow up that perfect schedule of yours.
  11. For managing my tasks and to-do lists I use a simple, free app called Workflowy. I’ve been using it for over five years and have never found a better to-do list app.
  12. Focus on your most important task or project first thing. If you push this to the afternoon you won’t have the energy and focus required and it will likely get bumped for something seemingly more urgent – most likely someone else’s crap you have to deal with.
  13. Speaking of crap… Meetings. Don’t have them.
  14. If you must have a meeting, then it must 1) have a specific and important purpose, 2) have an agenda attached, 3) only include the most important people, and 4) have a hard stop time.
  15. Always confirm your meetings 24-hours in advance. Ever show up to a consultation at someone’s home and they weren’t there? Yeah, GRRRR…
  16. And don’t schedule meetings for Mondays. Keep your Monday clear for more important things. It’s the first day of the week, folks. A great Monday is the first step to a great week.
  17. The Pomodoro Technique works. Check it out. 25 minutes of focused work, five minute break. Repeat three times then take a 30-minute break. This is a great way to dial in your focus and work in short bursts.
  18. Take more breaks during the day. 30-minute lunch? Make it 45. Add another break in the morning and afternoon. Go for a walk. Take your nap. Stare at a wall and drink your afternoon coffee. Your body and mind needs long periods of rest throughout the day. If your boss has an issue with that feel free to pass along my phone number.
  19. If your boss does call I won’t talk to him. That’s because I don’t answer my phone.
  20. Turn your phone off for blocks of time (ex- 90 minutes) to focus on important tasks and projects. Mine is off as I write this.
  21. Schedule your phone calls. Don’t let someone else blow up your agenda for the day because they have a bug up their ass. Make them wait.
  22. Remove your social media apps from your phone. Or, at a minimum, turn off all notifications. Distracted people get nothing important accomplished.
  23. Texting and instant messaging can be valuable but we’re not smart enough when it comes to using these tools. We let it become a distraction and burden on our time and mental energy. Turn it off for blocks of time.
  24. I’m finding that I have more focus without music playing in the background. This is a hard one for me.
  25. Email, email, email… Get it off your fricking phone and don’t keep it open on your computer. Close it!
  26. Check email twice each day. Don’t check it first thing – it’ll only send you down a rabbit hole and get your day off track. Get something important accomplished first before opening the inbox.
  27. If you’re one of those people who constantly has hundreds of emails in their inbox because you don't clean it up regularly then I can’t help you. Please stop reading and disregard everything you’ve read to this point.
  28. Incorporate a firm “shut down” time in your daily schedule. And be bullish about it. Mine is 4:30 M,W,F and 2:40 T, TH when I pick up my son from school. Shut down means exactly that. I’m done working. There will be no late night emails or catching up on projects.

Whew... that was a lot.

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image credit: orange moon

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