Proven Steps To The Most Productive Day You’ll Ever Have
Do you know what the best thing about time is?
Everybody has the same amount of hours per day.
“Talk about an ideal democracy! In the realm of time, there is no aristocracy of wealth and no aristocracy of intellect. Genius is never rewarded by even an extra hour a day. And there is no punishment. Waste your infinitely precious commodity as much as you will, and the supply will never be withheld from you. Moreover, you cannot draw
on the future. Impossible to get into debt! You can only waste the passing moment. You cannot waste tomorrow; it is kept for you. You cannot waste the next hour; it is kept for you”
– Arnold Bennett
Stop for a moment and picture the most successful person you can think of.
What makes that person incredibly successful is that they have learned how to use their time efficiently and created a habit out of it.
And one thing they have in common with you is that they have the same 24 hours within a day.
That’s the beautiful part about it.
I read this quote couple of months back, and I was so stoked.
“Someone once told me the definition of Hell: The last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.”
Imagine if nothing existed, only you and a person that’s walking towards you – an ideal version of you.
This is the version of you that kept on going and tried to make the best out of their time on this Earth.
Here comes the good news.
The moment you wake up, you have a clean slate.
No matter who you were the day before or what happened, the moment you open your eyes, you have a completely new beginning.
Full control and power to direct your life the way you want it.
You must learn how to use this valuable resource we have because we can never get it back.
And the even better new is, after several years of experimenting with productivity techniques and tools, I’ve finally compiled everything I’ve learned that can help you become a master of your time too.
Disclaimer: if you were expecting a fancy version of a To-Do list, sorry to disappoint you. You won’t find it in this article.
So, Here Are The Proven Steps To The Most Productive Day You’ll Ever Have
This article consists of 3 parts:
- Assessing how you are currently spending time
- How to get more time
- How to use your time more efficiently.
1. Assessing how you are currently spending time
We are in the age of distraction.
Because of that, we need to pay special attention to what we spend our time on.
First, assess how many hours do you spend on each daily activity.
Once you have total daily expenditure, multiply it by 7. That’s total time spent on the activity in one week.
Do this for every activity, and then add all these times for the grand total.
Then subtract the grand total from 168 (total hours in one week).
- Internet & TV: _______ X 7 = _______ (your weekly total)
- Work or University:
- Socializing with Friends:
- Spending time with partner/family:
- Working out:
- Reading for pleasure:
- Preparing food / Eating:
Add up the totals: _______ and subtract them from the total weekly hour
168 – ______(your weekly total) = _______
This will give you the overview on how you spend time, but will also show you a gap that you are not aware of.
Next thing is to define biggest time wasters (activities that you spend time on, which are not contributing to your goals).
Go back to that list and be honest with yourself. Which one of those activities is a time waster, and which actually serve you well?
- Youtube (funny cat videos)
- TV (binge-watching season of Game of Thrones)
And I was spending a solid 5 hours per day, on these activities before I learned to use my time more effectively.
One useful way I combatted this was utilizing a google extension called StayFocusd (not misspelled).
This allows you to set a limit on time and websites you don’t want to spend time on.
It doesn’t mean you need to get rid of those activities together.
In fact, now that I have limited my time on the Facebook to just 10 minutes per day, I instantly write back to important things that matter to me and am able to stay more connected and focused than ever.
Evaluation of these items can give you a lot of insights, and can help you prioritize what is truly important to you.
Now that we have assessed where you currently are at, we’ll now move to the second important piece…
2. How to get more time
I’ve identified a couple of tips to really get more time out of your day.
Optimize sleep and get up early
Oh man, this took me 4 years to establish as a habit. Luckily, you don’t need to go through this by yourself. You can use my learning lessons.
By “optimizing sleep”, I mean that you should find the perfect time you should go to bed each night, and discover the ideal time you should get up in order to maximize energy and health.
Try to hit sleep cycles, which last for 90 minutes (1.5 hours)
It would look something like: 1.5 hours > 3 hours > 4.5 hours > 6 hours
You know how sometimes you sleep for like 11 hours, and you wake up groggy? That’s because you woke up during the sleep cycle.
On the other hand, have you ever woken up after sleeping for 3 hours and you felt wide awake and energized? Again, sleep cycle.
For me establishing a habit of getting up early had the biggest impact on my life, because it allowed me to focus several hours on myself and my biggest goals.
When it comes to getting up early, my suggestions are following:
- Go to bed at the same time
- Get up earlier gradually (If you are currently getting up at 8am, and your goal is 6am, start with 7:50am, then 7:40am, and so on, until you reach your goal, and then work on maintaining it)
Note: you might experience energy drops in the first couple of weeks. But that’s normal until your body adjusts to the new schedule.
Pro tip: if you experience a sudden drop of energy, take a 20-30 minute nap.
Reclaim dead time
Dead Time = time spent on activities that you cannot eliminate at this moment, but can be used more productively.
Example: commuting / working out / buying groceries
In order to be productive, find something you can do while being engaged in these activities.
Possible options include: listening to audiobooks / podcasts / reading books / using apps like Duolingo or Memrise for quick language learning.
The main idea here is to do something that will give you value while performing items that you already are committed to spending time on.
Now that you have found some ways to shave hours off your current time expenditure, let’s go onto…
3. How to use your time efficiently
I’ve done a number of different experiments, and these are the most efficient ones.
You should be smart about how you distribute resources. If you don’t have goals, it’s quite easy to waste time “by accident”.
That’s why it’s so important to purposely allocate your resources so that they line up with your long-term goals.
This is important because if you know what you are striving to achieve, you will be able to direct your attention to it.
Goals work like a lens of a camera.
If you set the lens and focus properly, you will be able to take a clear picture.
If it is out of focus, your picture will be blurry.
When it comes to setting goals, there are tons of guidelines. But here I would keep it simple.
Focus on one year ahead, and set from 3-5 main goals, for the most important areas of your life (work, health, social relationships, personal growth, travel, etc.)
Make your goals specific, and phrase them in a way as if you’ve already achieved them.
I am conversationally fluent (B2) in Chinese Mandarin by 1.12.2016.
All you need to do is write down yours and start.
Define high leverage activities to achieve your goals
Here you can implement Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule.
This principle states that 80% of results come from 20% of your activities.
To make this easier, I suggest you ask yourself:
If I could only do one thing on that list all day long, which item on the list would add the most value and help me get closer to my goal?
If you could do only one more thing on your list of key tasks, which would be the second activity that contributes the most value to me?
Finally, ask yourself what the third most important task is.
Create a morning ritual (or your “thing”)
An effective morning ritual is an incredible way to kickstart your day.
Your rituals should be created out of the high leverage activities you’ve defined above, which help you achieve goals.
If your goal is to start a blog, a high leverage activity would be to write an article every week.
Your ritual would maybe be to write 30-60 minutes in the morning.
Here are several super tips to make your ritual even more efficient:
Drink water (500ml)
Your body just went 6-8 hours without the water, it’s time to renew it.
Get a small win
Do something that will make you feel proud (like making the bed).
Nothing can kickstart your day like working out.
It can be any type of physical activity (a gym, yoga, walking, jogging, swimming).
Delegate, Eliminate, and Automate
We usually think that we need to do everything on our own.
We maybe can. But we don’t have to.
Out of all of the activities that you have to do, look at the ones which are not your HIGH leverage ones.
Of those items, decide which can be delegated to someone else.
See whether or not you can eliminate something, and in the end, see whether certain activities can be automated.
I used to spend every day at least 2 hours preparing food.
Then I calculated, that I can save those 2 hours every day if I bought food in a restaurant and had it delivered instead of prepping it myself.
Having freed up 2 hours, I can now decide on which high leverage activities I can invest it in.
In this case, it’s my writing.
Block Time (or “Schedule a meeting with yourself”)
You should schedule a meeting with yourself based on the high leverage activities you defined.
Start with the first activity you defined.
For me, that is 60-90 minutes of my time devoted to my blog.
Once I am in the office, I work with 150 people from 40 different countries, so I have a lot of interactions.
Because of that, I schedule two or three meetings with myself, where I do completely focused work on my most important items for work.
Work in bursts
This is actually quite interesting, your time is best utilized when broken into 2-3 bursts.
I find the “Pomodoro Technique” to be particularly useful. This technique was developed in the late 1980’s as a means for time management.
It typically means 25 minutes of work / followed by 5 minutes of break.
This will keep you relaxed, but also highly effective in those 25 minutes.
Get into the flow
Everybody has “THE ZONE!”
When you are completely immersed when working on something.
I get into the flow when I am working on something challenging that is helping me reach my goals.
(Give them an alternative way to get into the flow or discover how to replicate getting into the flow if they have gotten into it before).
PRO TIP: find music that works for you!
I am a big believer in naps.
After you finish a big chunk of work,
If it happens to you, simply find a corner of the office or your home where it’s quiet. Just close your eyes.
You don’t actually need to fall asleep, but let your body relax.
Have a buffer
If you have an important meeting or a project.
Always schedule a certain amount of time that you can count on, in case something doesn’t go according to plan.
If meeting is scheduled for
Or if the project official deadline is until 1.6.2016, yours can be 28.5.2016.
Like a fail-safe.
When things don’t go according to plan, chill
Even if you become an expert in productivity and time management, you will still have a lot of inefficiencies.
This is usually because we often depend on external circumstances.
If I schedule a meeting and someone is late, I just take out my kindle or podcast and make sure to use that time efficiently.
Track how you are investing time
Keeping a time log of your most important activities and evaluating it at the end of the week is an important technique.
This will allow you to see what causes the inefficiency and whether or not you can do it better next time.
Evaluate your results
Once per week, sit down for 30 minutes or so and go through the week.
What was productive? Focus more on that.
What was unproductive? Try to eliminate, delegate or automate.
Bulk up on tasks
Dedicate one day a week to do the following:
- Grocery Shopping
- Apartment Cleaning
Say not to meetings that…
…don’t have a specific outcome defined!
On average, I have 4 meetings a day. Each 30-60 minutes.
I usually ask what is the desired outcome, and in case one isn’t created, I ask to be excused until they need me to discuss my area of expertise.
Say no to email until…
…you finish with your morning ritual!
PS: don’t check email more than 2 times a day.
Don’t worry… if people need you, they will come to you.
Say no to things which are not supporting your goals
Beyond diligent tracking of your progress, the biggest thing that will help you stick with your resource allocation is learning to say no and keeping your life as simple as possible.
Remember that you are not saying NO to others, you are saying YES to yourself.
Not every minute of your life should be planned out.
After a productive week of work, reward yourself with a lazy couple of hours.
Something of a cheat day.
Develop a night ritual
At this point, you’ve had the most productive day.
All you need is a closure.
Benjamin Franklin always asked himself:
“What good have I done today?”
Think about the amazing things which have happened.
Do a tech detox (ie. enter “Amish hour”)
An hour before you go to sleep, turn off your laptop, phone, and all electronic devices.
Talk with your partner or read a book, and get yourself ready for the next day.
Here’s how my usual day looks like in case you were wondering:
- Wake up (6 hours slept)
- Drink 500ml water
- Make coffee (with coconut oil)
Spirit Part (20 minutes)
- Meditation (10 minutes)
- Vision Board & Affirmations (5 minutes)
- Journaling (5 minutes)
Mind Part (60-90 minutes)
- Reading or/and a course (60 minutes)
- Chinese (Mandarin) (30 minutes)
Body Part (60 minutes)
- Gym or Yoga
Personal Project (60-90 minutes)
- Blog: Zero to Skill
Day Job (8-10 hours)
- Planning (30 minutes)
- Lean work (3-time blocks – each 90 minutes)
- Meetings (3-4)
- Lunch (60-90 minutes)
Evening Ritual (2-4 hours)
- Mastermind group & socializing (1-2 hours)
- Zero to Skill (1-2 hours)
- Reading (30 minutes)
- Meditation (5 minutes)
- Preparation for the next day (10 minutes)
Building this ritual took me several years, and even today I am continually optimizing it to make sure that I am aware of how I spend time.
Yes, every once in a while I watch a movie or two, but I alway find my way home, just like Lassie does.
I know I can never get back time, so because of that, I make sure that I am doing my best to become better every day and use it efficiently.
The reality is that you won’t be able to be perfect, and you shouldn’t strive to be.
Consistency is what’s important.
But focus on the hour that’s ahead and make it count.
Choose the techniques that sound good to you and then start!
You will see how much more you will be able to achieve once you start getting more time and optimizing how you spend your time…and then the achieved goals will start lining up, one after another!
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Author: Zdravko Cvijetic
Zdravko Cvijetic, the founder of Zero To Skill, creates practical content, ranging from articles, e-guides, and courses, that will help you become a top performer, by gaining clarity on your life path, mastering your habits and becoming 3x more productive. With a degree in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning, he was able to create content that has influenced more than 100.000 people.