1. There’s always time. Time is priorities. You never run out of time. If you didn’t finish something by the time it was due, it’s because you didn’t consider it urgent or enjoyable enough to prioritize ahead of whatever else you were doing.
2. Days always fill up faster than you’d expect. Build in some buffer time. As the founder of Ruby on Rails and Basecamp, David Heinemeier Hansson, said, “Only plan on four to five hours of real work per day.”
3. Work more when you’re in the zone. Relax when you’re not. Some days, you’ll be off your game, and other times, you’ll be able to maintain your focus for 12 hours straight. Take advantage of those days.
4. Stop multitasking. It kills your focus. There have been academic studies that found the brain expends energy as it readjusts its focus from one item to the next. If you’re spending your day multitasking, you’re exhausting your brain.
5. We’re always more focused and productive with limited time. Work always seems to find a way of filling the space allotted for it, so set shorter time limits for each task.
6. Work is the best way to get working. Start with small tasks to get the ball rolling. The business plan you need to finish may be intimidating at 8 in the morning. Get your mind on the right path with easy tasks, such as answering important work emails.
7. Work iteratively. Expectations to do things perfectly are stifling. General George S. Patton once said, “A good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
8. More work hours doesn’t mean more productivity. Use constraints as opportunities. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that sitting at your desk will somehow extract work from you. Do whatever you can to finish your current task by the end of regular work hours instead of working into the night.
9. Separate brainless and strategic tasks to become more productive. Ideally, you can brainstorm your ideas and then execute them. If you’re constantly stopping your flow of work to rethink something, you’re slowing yourself down.
10. Organize important meetings early in the day. Time leading up to an event is often wasted. If you have an important meeting scheduled for 4 p.m., it’s easy for anxiety to set in and keep that meeting at the front of your mind. Try to get big meetings over with early so you can work without worrying about them.
11. Schedule meetings and communication by email or phone back-to-back to create blocks of uninterrupted work. You’ll disrupt your flow if you’re reaching out to people throughout the day.
12. Work around procrastination. Procrastinate between intense sprints of work. Try Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, and the technique’s name refers to the tomato-shaped cooking timer Cirillo used to break his work into 25-minute increments with five-minute breaks in between. You can use the same idea with your own increments, as long as they inspire bursts of hard work.
13. Break down a massive task into manageable blocks. Alabama football coach Nick Saban follows a similar philosophy he calls the Process. Instead of having his players focus on winning the championship, he trains them to focus on only what is directly in front of them–each block, pass, and field goal.
14. No two tasks ever hold the same importance. Always prioritize. Be really careful with to-do lists. Daily to-do lists are effective ways of scheduling your day. Just do what you can to keep bullet points from making “clean desk” on par with “file taxes.”
15. Always know the one thing you really need to get done during the day. To help prioritize, determine which task in front of you is most important, and focus your energy on getting that done as soon as possible.
16. Delegate, and learn to make use of other people. To be truly efficient, get over the fear of handing off work to someone else. “If something can be done 80 percent as well by someone else, delegate!” says John C. Maxwell, author of How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life.
17. Turn the page on yesterday. Only ever think about today and tomorrow. Don’t distract yourself with either the successes or failures of the past. Focus instead on what’s in front of you.
18. Set deadlines for everything. Don’t let tasks go on indefinitely. Spending too much time on a project or keeping it on the backburner for too long will lead to stagnation. Get things done and move on.
19. Always take notes. Don’t assume you’ll remember every good idea that comes into your head during the day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a notebook, whiteboard, or an app like Evernote–just write stuff down.
20. Write down any unrelated thoughts that pop up when you’re in the zone, so that they don’t linger as distractions. You’ll get them out of the way without losing them.