Everybody has a productive day once in a while.
But can you be productive every day? Definitely not without a plan.
Maybe your plan is to work hard. But still, you can’t seem to get everything done.
Some days you do, some days you don’t. And when you don’t, you start delaying on your projects. More stuff that you’ll have to do tomorrow.
Your list gets too long and your day is too short.
So you try to work faster. But to your surprise, you don’t seem to get more results. Only make more mistakes.
You try your best. But before you get half of the list, it’s time to go to bed.
But hey, tomorrow is a new day. A day with new challenges = more work!
If this feeling sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
When you can’t have a productive day, you start dreading your mornings. You don’t want to begin the tasks you’ll need to do anyway.
Which only makes you more stressed.
Maybe the following sounds like you:
- You feel no closer to your big goals. At your pace, it may take 5x longer than expected
- You sacrifice your routine to “have more time” for work. You promise to change things next time. But you never do. Because there’s always another opportunity
- You have a “just-enough” mentality. You procrastinate all day long but try to rush things at the last minute
- You lost so much time in the morning that it demotivates you for the rest of the day
You can’t win big by having one productive day once in a while.
And the solution?
Think of all the productive days you had and look for patterns. Or you look at your worst days and find out what not to do.
Once you know the pattern, you can create one productive day EVERY DAY. And to save you time, I’ll share the ones I’ve found myself.
BUT there’s a catch.
Can You Have A Productive Day Every Day?
Having a productive day doesn’t always mean the same thing:
- Maybe you optimize your day for one project. But if you change your priorities, that may no longer be considered productive
- You could do shallow work to feel it like a productive day. But it’s not
- You stay out of the office for most of the day due to emergencies. But if you do a lot in the few hours available, that was a productive day
- Or you find an obstacle that will delay the project for five days. That’s still productive if you spent your time on the main task
So what does it mean to have a productive day? It means:
- Getting great value from your day. For example, finishing all your week’s work today
- Knowing that the work you’ve done will make things easier tomorrow
- Finishing your urgent tasks while leaving enough time to relax
- Doing what you really wanted instead of getting carried away with time stealers
- Going to bed less worried than when you woke up
That’s a day worth repeating.
Can you imagine having 30 productive days a month? And all the time you can save? Here’s how to achieve it:
#1 Master Your Productivity Prime Time
The magic of productivity is doing more with less. Doing the most valuable tasks first.
As an ambitious person, you have big goals. But limited time.
If you only had one hour to work today, which task would you choose? The one that produces 10x results, or the one that does 1x?
The equivalent of choosing 10X is using your prime time properly. Your mornings.
What do you do since you wake up until noon?
What you do in your mornings can dictate your productivity for the whole day.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a productive day with a bad morning. But it may take twice the effort to get back on track.
Here are some ideas to improve your mornings:
- Don’t ever hit the snooze button. Place the alarm further
- Don’t use your phone for the first 30 minutes of the day. Especially messaging/news apps
- Follow some energy/health habits before work: cold showers, workouts, light breakfast, drink water…
And most importantly:
Eat that frog. Tackle that annoying task you can’t stop stressing about in the morning. It is possibly the only thing holding you back from having an epic day.
If it’s a one-day task, try getting it done before noon.
But what if it’s months-long? What if it’s too hard, or you have more urgent projects?
Then dedicate at least one hour and do it within the first two hours of your day.
And that’s how you win your mornings.
The problem is: nobody can keep up with that intensity for the whole day. Our energy levels change throughout the day.
So, should you force yourself to work, or is there a smarter way to do it?
#2 The 4-Hour Productivity Strategy
Ideally, you want to get 80%-100% of your work done in the mornings. But if you work long hours, you can’t be productive without understanding how you work.
Imagine you try a daily experiment. Every 15 minutes, you’re going to rate how you feel from 1 to 10 except when you sleep. 1 means sleepy/unproductive while 10 means active/productive.
If you repeat the test enough times, your average will look like this:
That’s how energy levels look based on the ideal circadian rhythm. But what happens if you work non-stop?
Let’s say you ignore this chart and work five hours straight. You’ll work slower when you work at the wrong time.
The real problem is: we have limited energy. Specifically, we can only use 100% of our performance 4 hours a day. After that, it’s downhill.
You may beat the odds once, maybe focus for five hours, but the fall it’s inevitable.
And that does NOT mean you can’t win your day. It just means you’ll work slower and make more mistakes.
Did you see those spikes? That’s where you want to be working.
If you spend your 4hs too early, you’re gonna miss those productivity spikes. You don’t have to catch them all, but avoid doing the heavy lifting when the energy is low.
But how does it apply to you, working in an office with a rigid schedule?
- When your alertness is low, you do low-energy tasks, such as management work. Organizing papers, sending emails, going to meetings, maybe researching
- When your alertness is high, you work on the critical projects
Maybe you don’t choose when to work. But you can still decide what to work on.
And if you don’t have that flexibility, it’s okay to miss one spike. Just reserve your focus for the next one.
You have five opportunities and four hours of peak performance every day. If you only catch two of them, that’s enough to call it a good day.
But wait. What do you do when your circadian rhythm tells you to slow down?
If you’re supposed to work at that time, do the busy minor tasks, which cost less energy. But if you can take a break, try:
- Having a power nap for 15 minutes
- Eating something light
- Have a walk far from your workspace
- Have a casual conversation with someone
- Follow other productivity habits (journaling, meditation, brain dumps…)
If you found this energy strategy useful, wait until you learn the third one. Because it fits it like a glove.
#3 The 4X Workday
Did you know there is a way to multiply your productivity? Chances are you’ve done it many times already.
And if you don’t believe me, try to remember the last time you left a project for the last day. Your focus increased in proportion to the urgency, so you got everything done that day.
Or maybe you’re working on a long project. But one week before completion, you suddenly feel very motivated and productive.
If all it took for success was one day, how committed would you be to make it your most productive one? 100%?
I call that sense of urgency. It seems we’re more engaged with work when the finish line is close:
- You procrastinate for the whole day. But at night, panic mode kicks in, and you finish everything in 1h
- You’re getting your paycheck this week. So you try to finish all the monthly projects
So urgency affects performance. But how can you use it to your advantage?
By shrinking your deadlines.
For example, when setting daily goals, it’s second nature to think that they need to take 24hs long. But do you really work for 24h? Most of them take less than four. So why not condition your goals for that time?
Look at the energy chart from the previous strategy. Now imagine that you sleep 8h and have 16h left. You split those into four:
- Day 1 from 6 AM to 10 AM (matches with Morning Peak)
- Day 2 from 10 AM to 2 PM (matches with Noon Peak)
- Day 3 from 2 PM to 6 PM (matches with Afternoon and Dinner Peak)
- Day 4 from 6 PM to 10 PM (matches with Intimacy Peak)
No, they’re not time blocks. You’re literally doing the 24h equivalent in 4h, creating time from nothing.
You probably won’t get 4x done all the time, but it’s very realistic to do 3x or 2x consistently. Far better than 1x.
Would you like to have 1461 days a year? If you accept the challenge, here are a few tips:
- Create themes for your days, going from most to least demanding
- Take a long break to transition between days
- Time your energy levels for better results
Of course, keep a different to-do list for every mini-day.
But doing the four well requires time management skills. So if that’s too hard, you can try with two mini-days of six hours or three five-hour days.
And don’t fall for the trap!
This isn’t just about working 4x faster. Because if you forget about work quality, you’ll have to revisit those tasks.
Or worse. Start all over again.
And that defies the purpose of productivity.
Get it right once
Imagine you wake up determined to have a productive day today. You walk to the office and you’re ready to attack the project.
But then, your boss enters and complains about some errors you made in the previous work. You now need to “waste time” on reworking.
Goodbye, productive day. ☹️
Mistakes can steal the joy of getting things done. So if you don’t want to do it twice, get it right the first time.
The best way to achieve this is to single-task. Do not switch projects until you 100% finish the current one. Because context switching is killing your productivity.
- If possible, create themes to work on a single thing every day of the week
- Unless you’re taking a break. Do NOT leave the task. Make sure you did everything first
- It’s better to have one big block than two of the same theme
- Spend time on reviewing/troubleshooting to save time on fixing mistakes later
- Plan for contingencies. Disregard ideal scenarios
Does this mean you’ll always get it right?
Unfortunately, no. That’s like saying you’ll never have an unproductive day again.
But you can pick up the patterns that make a good day and replicate them.
So if you’re having an unproductive day, you learn what’s causing it and fix it. Focus on what you can control, and you’ll have productive days more often.
And before you know it, that to-do list starts getting shorter. You finish your projects early and get more free time for yourself.
Time for a passion, for family, or whatever you want.