Is work slowly suffocating you? To-do lists, projects and random chores all piling up until they surround you? When this happens, your best strategy is to get ahead. Get on top of all your work and go beyond completing today’s tasks, complete more than you need to so you can have room to breathe.
How do you do this? When I face this problem, my answer is to take on what I like to call a Project-Kill Day. This is a day where I am at my most productive state. I set aside large amounts of time to kill off the projects on my to-do list and get ahead. I’ve found, if you plan it properly, you can make tomorrow up to 3 times as productive as ordinary days.
How to Set Up Your Own Project-Kill Day
I’ve done hundreds of these Project-Kill days, so if you’re looking to start your own here’s how:
Wake Up Early – If you aren’t normally an early riser, set your alarm clock early. Getting up at 5:00-6:00 does two things. First, it gives you quiet hours before you need to go to classes, job or your family wakes up. Second, it builds a feeling of accomplishment that can motivate you forward throughout the day.
Morning Exercise – This isn’t strictly necessary, but I find starting my early day with a run or even some push-ups in my room is another great way to build momentum. Exercising for twenty or thirty minutes knocks the half-asleep feeling out of your body and gives you an early sense of accomplishment.
Create a Fixed To-Do List – Before you start the day, write down all the things you need to accomplish. Once you complete that list, you’re finished the day and can do whatever you want. Having a fixed goal for work can focus your energies better than the “work all day” approach, which leads to procrastination.
Isolate Yourself – Most of my work is solitary. This means that when I have a Project-Kill day, I have almost zero social contact. It’s fine to become a hermit for one day if it means you can focus without distractions. Lock the door to your room or office and work until your list is finished.
Cut the Cables – Television, web, Facebook, phones and instant messengers all go offline during your day. If you need the internet at all (answering e-mails as part of your list) stay tightly focused on your tasks, but go no further. If you’re addicted to clicking the Stumble button, unplug the internet if you have to.
Big Rocks First – Leo of ZenHabits has an excellent strategy for organizing your work. Put the big rocks in first. That means take the most important tasks you need to accomplish and put them at the start of your day, not the end. This way the majority of your focus gets aimed at the most important tasks. There are exceptions to this organization strategy, but as a general guideline it is good to follow.
No Mid-Task Breaks – Breaks of any kind should be minimized during your day. But especially mid-task breaks. The only valid time to get up and take a breather should be if you’ve just taken down a chunk of your list. If you’re halfway through an essay, finish it before you decide to eat lunch.
Break Minimally – Not having long coffee breaks for one day won’t kill you. My guideline is that 5 minute breaks are okay between big tasks. Taking short 20-30 minute lunch, breakfast and possibly dinner breaks are also okay. The idea is that until your list is finished, sitting around for an hour defeats the purpose of your Project-Kill Day.
Batch Small Tasks Together – Group up all of your small tasks (taking out the garbage, fixing a door hinge, organizing binders, etc.) and do them all at once. This can help speed things along since there will be fewer interruptions in your regular workflow.
Walk Quickly – There needs to be a sense of focus and urgency in everything you do during your day. Walking at a brisk pace reminds me that if I need to get things between tasks, that I still have a vital mission to complete: destroying my to-do list. If you need to commute or drive, put in audio tapes to infuse your passive time with the concept that you leave no time wasted.
Build Up Speed - Take on tasks all at once and build up speed to them. I’ve written thirty page e-books in one sitting and often write a few thousand words in a row. It can be difficult to avoid the temptation to take occasional breaks, but once you get into a flow, do anything to preserve it.
Do Something Important, Not Just Urgent - It’s been said before but it needs to be said again. A Project-Kill Day is precisely the time you need to work on important, long-term tasks. That means investing time beyond just solving current problems. I recommend taking on one long-term project that might not have an immediate deadline to move forward in during your day.
Take the Following Day Off - After a successful day of killing your to-do list, take the next day off. This helps you recover your energies after a tiring day of work. Even if you do absolutely nothing the next day, the previous days work usually compensates. Spend some time with your family, read a book or just sleep in until noon. After a day of tripled productivity, you’ve earned it!