Nearly everyone I talk to wrestles with the same problem: How to make the most of a 24-hour day? Even Elon Musk, modern-day inventor extraordinaire and human force behind Space X, Tesla and The Boring Company, has been known to agonize over the time it takes to eat a meal. We all know people who through a combination of drive, genetics, or other random mystery variables, seem to accomplish more in a 24–hour period than the rest of us.
Forget about those individuals for a moment. Instead, consider the simplest, most effective tools and methods ordinary mortals like us can use to maximize the standard workday.
A Simple List Fails No One
Here’s a trouble-free technique to make sure tasks get done. Make a list. If you don’t, important items slip under the radar or are left to the end of the day inadvertently, and don’t get done at all. A visual list allows you to prioritize and move methodically through it, point by point, checking items off one by one or finally scrubbing out the item with a big, bold, satisfying line. A list with no items checked off is a wake-up call, a slap in the face, a signal to get moving.
Embrace the Tomato
The Pomodoro (Italian word for tomato) time-management method was developed in the 1980s by Italian student Francesco Cirillo with the use of a simple, mechanical, tomato-shaped kitchen timer. The technique consists of breaking the day down into increments of 25 minutes. Focus on one task for an uninterrupted 25-minute interval, known as a pomodoro, after which point a 3 to 5-minute break is taken. After four consecutive pomodoros, you are allowed to enjoy a larger break of 30 minutes. Then the process starts again with another block of 4 pomodoros. The low-tech system has gained momentum and followers and is available via a smartphone handy app.
Don’t Let Mind “Clutter” Hampers your Ability to Concentrate on the Stuff that Matters
Much of what the mind churns through every second, minute and hour is irrelevant to the present moment and the project at hand. We are easily distracted into worrying about future “crises” that may never materialize or past mistakes we can do nothing about now. Ignore the voice that chatters incessantly and ultimately slows you down. Don’t let trivia and non-essential matters creep into your core work time. Turn it off.
Studies show that multi-tasking not only quietly stuns brain cells, it also slows you down. Typically, people don’t finish anything at all when multi-tasking. Keep it simple: one task for one block of time.
When a Solution Needs to “Stew”, Revisit it Briefly During Off-Hours
Maybe this point states the obvious, but time spent in the car or folding laundry is not necessarily lost work time. Consider using that time to mentally tackle a work challenge. In ten minutes or less, you can identify the points you want to cover in next week’s PowerPoint presentation or hash out the wording for a business memo. Rehearse your speech for tomorrow’s business lunch. Use what would be considered “empty” time (when you tend to contemplate weighty matters like whether Tesla’s new Cybertruck should be offered in a shade of forest green) to focus and mentally work out solutions to projects that are on your plate now. Note that this is not the kind of multi-tasking that is described above and that can cause you to spin your wheels unproductively. This is brief and focused use of down time to consider difficult problems.
Know What You Need to Reenergize
If you know what you need to reenergize, do it. Stepping away from your desk to stretch, release tension and completely reboot your brain is a necessary part of working productively when it counts. Slow down, regroup, and stay sharp.
We are not Elon Musk, But We Can Still be Productive
Do you detect a theme running through all these ideas? Hopefully you do. With a few simple steps you can stream-line and amp up your productivity. Create a simple list and rank these items in order of importance. Choose one task at a time and stay laser-focused for a defined block of time with the Pomodoro method or something similar. Be disciplined about it. If you need more time to crunch out the solution to a problem, tackle it in the car or on your way to the grocery. There you have it… a few simple tools to greater productivity.