People often ask me how I manage to do so many different things at once. Two bootstrapped businesses, a podcast, and now a book in the works! How do I find enough hours in the day?
I don’t work extra hours or skip my weekend plans. I work roughly 40 hours per week. Nothing crazy.
The key is that I make those hours count. I learned over the past year that I can double my productivity with just a few simple changes.
No, it’s not extra “hustle”.
No, I’m not drinking extra coffee. In fact, I found I need less coffee than I used to (more on this later).
Did I find a killer app for “Getting Things Done”? Nope. I happen to think those waste more time than they save.
So how do I get the highest output possible from my 40 hour work weeks? Here are a few simple changes I made that I highly recommend you try out for yourself.
1. Always Be Working Towards a BIG Goal
This is incredibly important. Whether you’re building a product or working as a freelancer serving clients, you should always be working towards achieving a big goal. Something that almost seems out of reach (until it’s not!).
Your goal might be to build and launch your first product. Or it might be to land twice as many client projects as you did last year. Or maybe it’s learning and mastering a new skill.
The reason having a big goal is so important is it gives you a constant sense of momentum and progress. As you see yourself getting closer and closer to the finish line, and then rocketing past it, you’ll naturally feel more energized.
Anyone can come up with an ambitious goal. The hard part is actually turning that goal into your reality. To make it happen, you need a bullet-proof system.
I use a model that I like to call the Cascading To-Do List. In a nutshell, this system starts by setting a big goal with a 6-month deadline. Then I plan the list of deliverables required to make this happen. I spread these out into monthly to-do lists (planned ahead of time). Then I craft my two-week schedule (this week and next week) by prioritizing these deliverables. This all trickles down to my to-do list for today.
This system keeps me on track to doing big things without losing focus and drifting onto other things.
So what’s your big 6-month goal?
2. Wake Up Early
Freeing yourself of the 9 to 5 job comes with the luxury of being able to work anytime we want. That might seem like a good excuse to wake up later and work the evening shift instead of the typical business hours.
But here’s a different idea. Wake up and work earlier. I’m talking about getting real work sessions in at the break of dawn. Here’s why this works.
Your brain is incredibly more efficient after a full night’s rest (you’d better get to bed earlier if you’re going to wake up earlier… Don’t skimp on those zzz’s). Your mind during those first few hours of the day is completely clear of all other “stuff” that makes it’s way into it as the day goes on. You’re free to be creative and productive during this time of clarity.
Then there’s the scheduling benefit. Most people don’t have to field phone calls and emails until later in the day. Evenings tend to be spent with family and doing other relaxing things. Your early morning hours are all yours. Quiet. The perfect time to work.
3. Eliminate Distractions, Especially Twitter
I never truly realized how much productivity Twitter sucked out of my day until I completely removed it from the equation by uninstalling my Twitter client from my computer.
I used to keep my Twitter stream in clear view in the corner of my screen, all day long. Sure, I might go an hour or two without looking at it, but soon enough a Tweet will grab my attention with a link to a “must read” article. Of course, I click it (before I miss out on it forever!). Now I’m knee deep in an article, thinking nothing of the project I just abandoned. Oh, and this article is a review of a hot new app. All of a sudden, I find myself downloading a free trial of said app. Oops, is it lunchtime already?
Nip distractions like Twitter in the bud. Make the necessary changes to stop these distractions from happening before they do.
Unscheduled calls are another big distraction. I highly recommend that you require all phone or Skype calls to be scheduled in advance. Don’t just pick up the phone whenever it rings. It’s not just the time spent on the phone that gets lost. There’s also the time it takes to sink back into your project after stepping away.
And don’t waste time negotiating dates and reconciling time zones with those phone appointments. Use a scheduling app where your clients can simply book a slot in your schedule. vCita and TimeTrade are two apps that work great for this.
4. Get Healthy
If you want to get more out of every day, you need to make sure your body and mind are operating at peak performance. That means staying in shape and getting the nutrients your body craves.
I used to think getting healthy was only about shedding a couple of pounds. But I realized how much my health actually impacts my business too. Since changing a few exercise and diet habits, I’m reaping the benefits:
- Feeling better means less stress. Less stress means better decision-making.
- I’m able to focus for longer periods of time.
- I stay energized throughout the day, without requiring a second cup of coffee or energy drink.
All it takes are a few simple changes. I started a daily exercise routine, which really pushed my limits. Then I added a few healthy things into my diet, such as juicing vegetables every afternoon, which naturally pushed some of the less healthy foods out of the mix.
5. Do Something Else
This might seem counterintuitive, but if you want to get more done, you might try doing other things.
What I mean is, don’t make your work everything you do. Your work is not your life. There has to be something else going on that keeps you occupied, besides work.
Family time, rest and relaxation are a given. Those aren’t what I’m talking about. I mean something else that requires some creative energy.
It’s important that you mix things up and allow your mind to explore different things. Making a habit of putting your work aside to dig into other interests will keep your mind fresh, and keep your creative juices flowing. It helps you uncover new ideas and new ways of approaching problems. This all feeds back into your work, helping you take it in new and unexpected directions.
My work time primarily involves design, some code, and lots of writing. But I also like to spend time composing music, snowboarding, and traveling.
What are you doing to mix things up and keep your creative juices flowing? Give some of these ideas a try and see how they improve your productivity. Share your experiences in the comments and share what has worked for you.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2013. We’re sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.