productivity tips

4 Rules for Supreme Productivity

I’ve spent the last several months launching a startup for life coaches while also working at my day job. I’ve had to work productively and effectively to get a lot of things done in a very short amount of time.

Today I’m sharing with you the top 4 guidelines that I’ve distilled in my pursuit of supreme productivity. It applies to working as well as studying. If you don’t already have a life coach, consider getting one or becoming your own.

Rule #1: Optimize Your To-Do List

Do not keep your to-do list static.

If the work that you’re doing is anything like mine, then you might need to re-prioritize your to-do list several times a day. The most important tasks that you need to accomplish might change daily or hourly.

For some people, the top of your to-do list might be the same two things every day. For instance, a salesman friend of mine has the same 2 top priorities every day: prospect for new customers and follow up with prospects. The point is this:

Always keep the most important things at the top of your list.

It’s human nature to avoid the things that we don’t like doing. So we often do what we feel like doing first, and push off the things we don’t feel like doing for another day. This will keep you comfortable, but not productive.

If you really want to be productive, you’ll have to bite the bullet and do the most important tasks first, whether you feel like it or not. This is your job — to do the tasks that will allow you to reach your goal as quickly as possible.

When you finish a task or you don’t know what to do next, keep going back to your list. Be systematic. “Task A is done, what is Task B on my list? I will start Task B right now.”

 

Rule #2: Keep Your Ultimate Goal at the Top of Your List

Keep your clearly stated overall goal at the very top of your to-do list. Let’s say that your goal is to get a new customer. At the top of your to-do list, write:

Goal: Get new customers.

Every task you have is subordinate to whatever goal you’re trying to attain. Keeping your ultimate goal at the top of your to-do list will keep you focused. It will allow you to keep re-prioritizing the most important tasks so that they align with your goal.

Without your goal at the top of your to-do list, it’s easy to get sloppy and have less important tasks near the top that won’t really get you much closer to your goal. Demote that task and replace it with something more effective.

 

Rule #3: No Distractions Allowed

Don’t set yourself up for failure. Give yourself the right environment to be successful. You don’t need people talking to you, Facebook open, or to be checking your email. If you have to, lock yourself in a room.

If you really want to be productive and get things done, then block out a period of time in which you will commit yourself to doing your tasks. In this time, you will disallow any and all distractions (except for true emergencies).

For example, let’s say that you’re going to work productively for 1 hour. In that hour, there is:

  • a quiet, distraction-free environment
  • no Facebook allowed
  • no checking email allowed
  • cell phone turned off
  • no people around you who will distract you
  • complete focus on your tasks

Pretty simple. Sound harsh? If you want to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs. I would rather work with intense focus for 1 hour than to work half-focused for 4 hours and get the same amount of work done.

 

Rule #4: Take Breaks

If you work non-stop for too long (like I often do), you’ll get tired and become less productive, less creative, less inspired and less motivated. Ironically, taking breaks makes you more productive.

Find the right proportion of breaks that allow you to recover and re-charge your batteries. Some people say 5 minutes every hour. I like to do 15 minutes every hour and a half. Keep it systematic so that you’re getting things done, instead of working for an hour and then taking a 2-hour break.

Use your break time as your time to do anything you want, maybe something fun or relaxing. Whatever feels best to you. This will help you to recover more effectively. Look at Google’s work environment as an example. There are plenty of great things to do while taking your break.

 

How About You?

So what are your guidelines for being productive?

What works best for you?

Tom Casano is the founder of LifeCoachSpotter.com. Get answers to common questions like What is a life coach? and How do I find a life coach? Learn about how a life coach can transform your life in just a few months.

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  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    Two posts on productivity in a row. Argh! I just left Michael Hyatt’s blog. I am productive, but what I really need is more time. I work full-time and care for my daughter. I only have 2-4 hours per day to blog, write, play music, and exercise, not to mention keep the house and yard clean and mowed. Sometimes I think productivity is the enemy. But my main trick is to not watch TV or do other mindless activities and stay true to my morning and evening rituals.

    • Tom Casano

      Dan I like what you said about not wasting your time watching tv and doing other “mindless activities”. It’s incredible how much time there is when 2 hours don’t disappear into the blackhole of tv and those other “mindless activities.”

      I love the kind of job or business where I don’t have to work a fixed amount of hours, but if I am more productive, then I get more free time to do what I want. If I can get the same amount of work done in 4 hours of a day instead of 8, then I get an extra 4 hours to do the things I want to do.

      What do you think?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=616406883 Glnn Apresto Guin

        friday should be considered as a weekend. why work for 5 days and 2 days of enjoying life? im pretty sure another earth in a distant galaxy has 1 day of work and 6 days of weekend.

        humanity should rethink this.

        • Tom Casano

          Totally GInn!

          How can we make this happen on our planet? :)

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=616406883 Glnn Apresto Guin

            i honestly dont know how, where to begin

          • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano

            Yea, that’s an overwhelming task hehe.

            Maybe we can start in our own lives. :)

      • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

        I agree. But I have to work six hours a day as a college instructor and that only leaves a couple of hours to produce my own writing, music, etc. I would love to reach a point where I could live off of the proceeds of my creative ventures and I could do exactly what you are referring to.

        • Tom Casano

          I’m with you! :)

  • http://www.selfication.com/ Patrik Edblad

    Great advice Tom, thanks for sharing. I like to have my 1 to 3 most important tasks for the day in my journal and focus all of my energy on them. Once they’re completely finished and crossed off my list I move on to the not as important stuff.

    • Tom Casano

      Awesome Patrik. I like your approach to focus all of your energy onto 1 to 3 tasks. We’re definitely on the same page. :)

      How do you determine what is the most important tasks for the day?

      • http://www.selfication.com/ Patrik Edblad

        I spend one hour every Sunday going through the upcoming week. This is when I decide on my top 3 most important tasks for each day. Then I revise them as I go. What’s you approach, Tom?

        • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano

          I like it. For me, I keep revising the same to-do list endlessly, so that I always have the most important, urgent, high-priority tasks at the top. I feel that for me, if I tried to plan out the week, by Monday things would have already changed, lol :)

  • http://www.dawnofchange.com/ Onder Hassan

    Excellent advice Tom,
    I’ve made the mistake countless times in the past by not making to-do lists and thinking just drifting into work would be enough. But I eventually discovered that due to so many things swimming in my head, I simply did not know where to start.

    “Should I write my blog post? Or should i focus on Social Media?”

    There’s simply no easy way around it.

    • Tom Casano

      I hear you Onder. Something I could’ve spoken about too is creating that list the night before… You can brainstorm, prioritize, plan, and decide on what you want to have accomplished by the end of the next day. I like that starting place. Writing down the things swimming in your head beforehand can facilitate you in making a clear plan.

      For the blog post vs social media debate… I ask myself the question — which will be more likely to get me the results I’m looking for? Which is going to help me reach my goal more (effectively and faster)?

      How do you go about it? :)

      You’re right, there might not be an easy way around it, especially if both are of similar importance and value for what you’re trying to accomplish.

      Would love to hear your thoughts Onder..

      • http://www.dawnofchange.com/ Onder Hassan

        The point you made about priorities is very true.

        I think asking ourselves the question as to whether what we’re doing will give us a result to our business is what will help us prioritize our lists. The things that aren’t of importance such as social media should very much be put on the bottom of the list. But things like content, list acquisition and product creation should always be at the top of our lists.

        Thanks for making this clear :)

        • Tom Casano

          No problem, I agree. Sometimes I’ll find myself spending an hour or more doing something that’s not going to be that effective in getting the results I want.

          And I have to stop and wonder why. Oftentimes, it’s simply because I’m avoiding the harder, more uncomfortable tasks that I don’t want to do!

          :)

          • http://www.dawnofchange.com/ Onder Hassan

            True :)
            We’re only human so it’s best we don’t be too hard on ourselves.

          • Tom Casano

            Great point! :)

  • http://selfstairway.com/ Vincent Nguyen

    My Evernote is what keeps me sane! I have a “Priorities” list, which is really a To-Do list with the priorities listed on top. The top of the page is exactly as you described, with the most important on the very top. Then below that is the entire to-do list so I can sort it all out. Best part is that I can change it no matter where I am. Through my laptop, through my phone, even through email! Productivity at its finest.

    • Tom Casano

      Vincent I do the exact same thing!! Evernote is like magic, lol.

      It’s funny that we’re doing it totally the same way.

      How often do you re-prioritize your list? Mine changes several times a day.

      • http://selfstairway.com/ Vincent Nguyen

        Hm… It really does vary depending on how much I feel the priorities change. I’d say it does get shifted around AT LEAST once a day.

        • Tom Casano

          What guiding question or purpose or goal do you use to put your biggest priorities on top? How do you go about prioritizing Vincent? :)

          • http://selfstairway.com/ Vincent Nguyen

            A lot of my work lacks a definite deadline. I tend to prioritize things based off deadlines, but not always because I often complete the non-deadline tasks just as quick.

            I actually have two separate Evernote lists. “Priorities” and “Dates.”

            Dates is like a calendar and it lists the deadlines of tasks and then I shift them into priorities, organizing them as I need. For example, I have a few school assignments due tomorrow, so I shifted all my writing projects down below the school work.

          • Tom Casano

            That’s awesome Vincent.

            I love how you created a system to keep yourself priority-focused and effective.

            I find that this is really the most important thing — creating a system that works for you. Sure, Vincent you can give someone your system, or i can give them mine, but ideally, it works best if everyone creates their own, borrowing from what works for other people.

  • Rynessa@financialfreedom

    Ironically I just wrote an article about this. Procrastination is a killer. Personally just thinking about the stress of leaving all my work until the last minute is enough to get me up and going, but many people do need the extra push.

    • Tom Casano

      Agreed. Sometimes I feel really good, or like a “high” when I get things done. I feel the sense of accomplishment, “Yay! I’ve got that done”.

      But I procrastinate as well at times. It’s usually when I just need a break, or need to conquer a fear, or limiting belief, or something psychological. I need to keep the carrot dangling in front of me.

      What else motivates you Rynessa? :)

  • http://twitter.com/Raysbrain Ray

    Tom!

    For me, your Rule #1 is one of those “why didn’t I think of that” ideas…one of those that connects dots that I’ve not been able to connect before!

    The lesson: Just because I prioritized everything perfectly at 6am doesn’t mean I’ve ruined it, when real-life seeps in before 10am…I’m allowed to RE-prioritize my list!

    Thank you, for freeing me from my frustratingly rigid thinking! – ray

    • Tom Casano

      Wow Ray! I’m totally happy that this helped you! :)

      Yes of course, it’s a good idea that we remain flexible and willing to change our plans or our tasks at any moment to keep alignment with our goals. Even if you do re-prioritize it, it doesn’t mean that you can go back to the original plan. The original plan is not “lost”, just improved upon as “real-life seeps in”.

      How do you think you’re going to change what you’ve been doing?

  • Anja M

    I actually just wrote a blog post about productivity as well, it seems like procrastination seems to come out more with the nicer weather and summer coming up.

    My solution is To Do lists for sure! It’s a little burst of achievement when you get to check something off your list and move on to the next. That way when people ask “What have you done today?” You can literally show them a list of all the things you did!

    • Tom Casano

      For sure Anja.

      I love the satisfaction of “getting something done.”

      Who usually asks you, ‘What have you done today?’ Just curious. :)

  • http://angelabooth.com/ Angela Booth

    Great list. It really helps to eliminate distractions. I’m on a Mac, and use Spaces, so that my current focus is in widescreen, in its own Space. If I can’t see it, I can’t be distracted by it. :-)

    • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano

      I love your focus.

      It’s nice to be focused and uninterrupted right?

      What else do you do to eliminate distractions? :)

  • Melanie Wilson

    Tom, I’ve been testing productivity hacks all year and I was really disagreeing with you that doing the most important tasks first could work–even calling on my willpower. But then I read your point about taking breaks to do what you want. That’s the key to making that work. I haven’t tested that since I’ve been using a 50/10 work/rest period that works so well. I think that’s my hack for the week. Thanks!

    • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano

      I would love to know more Melanie. :)

      So before, if you did the hard (important) stuff first, and you took a break, but not to do anything you want… it wouldn’t work?

      What do you do in your 10 minute break time? It’s intense, I feel, if you’re working hard at something for 50 minutes… then we you should have the total freedom to do ANYTHING we want, right?

      Trying to understand what you’re getting at :)

      • http://www.theinspiredday.com/ Melanie Wilson

        Clear as mud, right? ;-) I work for 50 minute periods, but I don’t normally start the day with my most important tasks. I do what I want to do. I was thinking that I might be able to get myself to do the most important work first now that I know I can use my 10 minute break to do whatever I want (including the easy tasks I often do first). The 50/10 work intervals is new for me and works well.

        • http://twitter.com/LifeCoachSpot Find Your Life Coach

          I get what you’re saying now. Yea, I suppose it’s up to each person to decide on what’s best for them personally, and for what they’re trying to accomplish.

          How do you like the 50/10 intervals? How do they work for you? :)

          • http://www.theinspiredday.com/ Melanie Wilson

            I love them. I tried 25/5 and found that 5 minutes felt too short to feel worth it. Ten minutes is the sweet spot for me. And working for 50 minutes is no problem either. Getting started is the hard part. Continuing rarely is.

          • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano

            That’s awesome. I love that you’ve experimented with it and tweaked it to what works for you.

            I’ve found that to be super-important– doing what works for you personally. :)

  • Morgan@Financial Bailout News

    These are really great tips to help you stay productive and focused. For me, I have to be in the mood as awful as that sounds. If I turn off my cell phone, disconnect my internet, and put myself in a room with no distractions and I’m not feeling whatever I’m supposed to be working on, I will get nowhere. My trick is to do something fun like go for a run or a bike ride, take a shower, and then sit down, relax, and work. If I do something active before I start to be productive, I can sit there for hours and really get into what I’m doing.

    • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano

      Thanks Morgan. I agree, though I suppose it depends on what the tasks are. For creative tasks, I definitely have to be in the mood. For more mindless or mechanical tasks, not so much. :)

      I love your trick. Do something vigorous, then relax, then get to it.

      What do you do?

  • Rafael Hernampérez

    Thanks so much for these useful tips. They are simple and they have common sense. I need more will to implement the rule about distractions :)

    • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano

      You’re welcome Rafael! :)

      To implement the rule about distractions — think what it’d feel like after getting a lot done, after being really productive, after spending 2 hours really knocking out some work and getting it finished. Think about how good you’d feel, how nice it’d be, what a load off your shoulders it would be.

      Now commit yourself to a period of time (say, 2 hours?) where you won’t allow any distractions. When you do this, keep firmly in mind that when this 2 hours is over, you can have all the distractions in the world if you want them! You can spend the rest of the day on Facebook if you want! TV, friends, email, any thing in the world that you want.

      Does that help? :)

  • http://www.acnenomorereviewguide.com/ Julia

    Hi Tom

    Thanks for the tips. They are easy and logical to follow but sometimes, we just forgot all about them and let our busy schedules take over us instead.

    • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano

      Haha, I know of course!

      Best wishes :)

  • Lily

    Hi Tom,
    Thank you for your wonderful insight. Do have any suggestions about how to plan and stick to your schedule after a bad day at work? I notice that I tend to stray away from my priorities on those kind of days.

    • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

      Yes, I know the feeling! After I have a bad day at work, I notice that I need time and space to “heal and relax” before I can get other things done. This depends on the day and how I’m feeling. I may use meditation, exercise, journaling, or something else to release the negative emotions and “heal”.

      Only after I feel better am I refreshed enough to move forward.

      What do you think, Lily? :)

  • http://www.friv10.co/ friv 10

    4 Productivity Rule Supreme hopefully we can t do. Posts of much help to us in life there. Thank you for sharing what has been here.

  • Mayuresh Vijay Ranade

    Dear Tom

    I often think too much about my past failures . This sometimes hinders me from being in the present and takes its toll on my work. Kindly suggest something by which I can block those memories out..

    • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

      Hey Mayuresh!

      Unfortunately trying to “block memories out” will cause them to be expressed in other ways or become more prominent. What I would do is write them all down on piece of paper, in your journal, or in a word doc. Write down all of your past failures. After you have them all written down, go through each one and ask yourself some questions about it, like, “What did I learn from this so-called failure?” What has this failure taught me?

      Also ask, “Can I accept that this didn’t go the way that I wanted it to, and let it go?”

      Try this quick little exercise and see if you feel any differently about it.

      Friend me on Facebook if you want to talk more!

      Tom

    • Santhosh Rao Mennani

      Hi, I can suggest what worked more for me. When ever past failures sparked in my brain, I will allocate a specific time to think about them. I will write down like, I will think about that bad mood in that specific time….surprisingly I felt very less emotional and depressed when I thought about it again…I realized how much mental energy would have been wasted, without allocating worrying time…good luck