This Thursday at 3:35PM I will be checking my email.
Doesn't sound too exciting, does it?
Well it actually is.
Let me explain.
A few years ago, I started trying several techniques to improve my productivity. Like you, and pretty much every other entrepreneur I know, I have tons of ideas and a massive list of things I'd like to accomplish.
So, I figured it was worth investing in productivity techniques that would allow me to do more in less time. Although, I must admit I was extremely skeptical at first, and thoughts of "how can anyone possibly give me tips on how to be more productive," raced through my mind.
And for the most part, I was actually right. I read several books on productivity. And most didn't really help me. The books took up pages and pages telling stories. Which were interesting...but I was reading the book to save time, not to spend time.
And most of the techniques I read about were common sense. Like do the hardest stuff first so it doesn't get brushed aside. (We all know this; making me read it in a productivity book isn't going to help me).
And then there were techniques like the Pomodoro Technique. In this productivity technique, you work in 25 minute chunks of time, and have a physical alarm that goes off to mark the time.
This one wasn't for me. Not only was I not thrilled to hear alarm after alarm after alarm, but 25 minutes just isn't enough time for me. In fact, I've been writing this essay for nearly 25 minutes already. Should I just stop now? I haven't even gotten to my main points.
Ok. So, while I read a lot of common sense stuff, and tried some techniques that didn't work for me, there WERE some techniques that worked well. In fact, they worked really well and have allowed me to skyrocket my productivity.
The most important one of those techniques is scheduling all of my days.
Before I tell you about my scheduling habits, I want you to know about Parkinson's Law. Parkinson's Law states that "work expands to fill the time allotted to performing it." What that means is that if you have three hours to complete a task, most likely, it's going to take you the full three hours to complete that task.
Now most people go through their day without a schedule - without a minute by minute, hour by hour schedule. And as a result, they don't have any deadlines and thus they take a lot longer to complete a task. Parkinson's Law says that if you have to work on a report, and you allocate 3 hours to it, that you are going to work during that 3 hours, and you are always going to stress at the end and procrastinate a little bit and really work hard that last 15 minutes to accomplish that goal within the 3-hour period.
On the other hand, if you only gave yourself only an hour to complete the same report, perhaps scheduling it from 10AM to 11AM, what would happen is this: you would work harder during the hour. You would be much more focused. And you would complete virtually the same work - or even better work - in just one hour.
By setting deadlines for tasks, you complete the tasks faster. You are much more focused on them. You race against the clock, but not in a bad way. I'm not talking about creating stress here. Rather, you are creating a friendly competition against the clock. You start thinking, "it's 3:19; I have to complete this project by 4 o'clock because at 4 o'clock, I have to get to my next meeting...what do I have to do to get this done?" Your mind starts working and you accomplish it, and it's fun. You are much more productive and successful.
So the solution is to schedule every hour of every workday. What I do each week is set my weekly goals. Then I break the goals into pieces that take no more than 2 hours each. And then I schedule each of those pieces into my calendar.
Importantly, I treat these calendar appointments as importantly as I treat a meeting with another person. I don't blow them off. I'm not late to them. I'm there on time and I get to work.
Now, what happens if I receive a phone call? Well, it goes into voicemail. Just like I wouldn't take a phone call if I were in an important meeting with a client, I don't take it if I'm in an important meeting with myself to accomplish a task.
What I do, however, is schedule several times throughout the day to respond to phone calls and emails. In fact, I typically schedule three half-hour blocks each day (and as you learned form the title of this essay, on Thursday, one of my blocks is from 3:30PM to 4:00PM).
Scheduling your days and working in time chunks will significantly boost your productivity. You will get much more focused on accomplishing tasks (FYI, I now have 11 minutes to complete this essay before my next task; so I'm highly focused on completing it right now).
And it forces you to get your high priority tasks done since they are hard scheduled into your workday. I recommend scheduling your entire week before 9 am on Monday. And, in addition to half-hour blocks to check email and call back voicemails, you can schedule 30 minute blocks for employee or customer questions, etc.
The key is getting the critical tasks on your calendar and not letting anything interfere with you working on them and completing them.
It is important to note that scheduling your days and sticking to your schedule takes discipline. You can't expect to start doing it cold turkey. It takes time. What happens is that it's too easy to ignore your calendar if you're not used to it. And at first you won't be as good at estimating how long things take. So your time will run out and you'll cut into your next appointment time.
So start slow. Schedule just a few meetings with yourself this week (and stick to them). And then next week schedule a few more. And so on.
Before long, you'll be calendaring out your weeks and accomplishing so much more than you ever thought possible.
Suggested Resource: I've just uploaded a new video that teaches you even mroe about increasing your productivity. Watch it here.