I have been experimenting with different aspects of productivity lately.  Everything from waking up early, meditation to time management.  Time management?  Blah Blah Blah.  I always thought time management practices were something sold to people who were highly disorganized.  I used to think: “I’m not disorganized, I’m just really busy”.

Productivity Definition

“Productivity is spending your time on working towards your goals.”

It took my research into ‘productivity’ to really discover the truth.  I found it easiest to relate to Asian Efficiency’s simplified definition of productivity: “Productivity is spending your time on working towards your goals”.

The two keys to productivity here are:
1. setting goals
2. working towards them.

Denial

In my past thinking, “busy” was accomplishing the “time working” portion…and I thought I was done.  However, I was missing the most important part: “setting goals”.  Without a plan or goals for the day, I was a bit scattered.  I worked on things as they came in, was often distracted away to the next “important” thing and I never felt fulfilled after the day was done.

I have come to admit: “I was disorganized.”

Goal Setting Practices

I recently started practicing a morning ritual (following meditation) of goal setting.  For no more than a couple minutes, I dedicate time to plan out my day.  I pull from a general list of tasks that I gather throughout the week (Wunderlist) and categorize them into three major buckets for the day: MUST DO, BLOCK TIME, OPEN.

MUST DO: These are items I absolutely need to accomplish for the day.  I try to do these items first thing, if I can, before I even leave for work.  The better I am at this, the more I’ve opened my day up to work on the other things or handle the “urgent” firedrills that are thrown my way.

BLOCKED TIME: These tasks are ones that are all similar in nature: checking email, reading blogs, etc. I’m the type of person that, if allowed, can easily take 30 minutes to reply to a single email.  Time boxing helps force me to get through as much as possible.  At the end of the day, unless it’s an email to an officer of a company, it shouldn’t take 30 minutes to compose.  I also don’t have time to read through the 1,000s of blog posts I subscribe to.  So, I use this blocked time to read through my Saved list of posts (not the most recent ones that came in). [future post coming on my blog/feed reading strategy].  The key is to stick to your time block, whatever it is: 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc, and then move on to the next item.

OPEN: These items are things I can get to when I’ve completed all other tasks.  Here I include things like choosing blog posts I want to Save for later, replying to more emails, researching something, reading, etc.

Practice

Early on, it felt like I would never be able to block time for things like email, let alone get to the “open” items on my list.  Before, I never had time to read a book, and I wished I did.  So, I was curious to see how this would go.  The biggest lesson learned for me was noticing the days where I completed my goal setting ritual vs. the ones where I just rolled out of bed right into my day.  The days where I effectively set goals, I was much more likely to have felt “caught up” early in the day.  Also, dedicating one or two uninterrupted blocks to do email was by far more efficient than 60 separate 30 second quick replies as email came in.

“…it’s what gave me the greatest sense of accomplishment for the day”

The snow ball effect of freeing up time was another eye opener.  While I might not have gained a full hour back in my work day, it significantly reduced the amount of time AFTER work that required my attention.  Getting my evenings back to “personal time” allowed me to actually get to the “open” items and it’s what gave me the greatest sense of accomplishment for the day.