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OWNER'S MANUAL

7 Steps to Incredible Personal Productivity

Practical advice to turn an average workday into an incredibly productive day.

Occasionally you need to go the extra mile. Sometimes you need to complete a major project, tackle a task you’ve put off, or just knock out a ton of work in one day.

Here’s the best way to turn a normal workday into an incredibly productive workday:

1. Let everyone know. Interruptions destroy focus and kill productivity. So are the guilt trips your family "sometimes unintentionally" lay on you. Let coworkers and family know you’re planning a “project day.” Tell key customers too. Announce you will be tied up on, say, Tuesday, and that you will respond to calls and emails on Thursday. Let people know who to contact in an emergency. Some will get with you before Tuesday, and the rest will make a mental note you’re not available. In either case, you’re covered.

Plus you get the “peer pressure” benefit: When you tell people you plan to finish a project you will be more likely to see the job through. Peer pressure can be positive motivation harness it.

2. Set a target. Don’t plan your project day based on fuzzy parameters like, “I will stay at it as long as possible,” or, “I won’t leave until I no longer feel productive.” Those approaches give you an easy out. Commit to working for as long as you estimate it will take. Pick a number.

There’s a cool benefit to this approach too: The longer the time frame you set the quicker the early hours seem to go by. When I worked in manufacturing we normally worked eight-hour shifts. The hours before lunch seemed endless; the last two hours of the day were even worse. During busy periods we worked twelve hour shifts and the mornings seemed to fly by something about knowing you will be working for a long time allows you to stop checking the clock. When you know you’re in for a long haul your mind automatically adapts. Try it, it works.

3. Start unusually early or unusually late. When you step outside your norm, your perspective of time shifts as well. Start at 5 a.m. or revisit your college days and start at 6 p.m. and work through the night. Set the stage for an unusually productive day by dramatically changing your normal routine.

4. Delay gratification. Say you like to listen to music while you work. Don’t, at least for the first couple of hours. That way, when your enthusiasm really starts to wane, turning on the music will perk you back up. Hold off on whatever things you use to brighten up your workday, at least for a while. Delayed gratification is always better gratification, and in this case can provide just the spark you need to keep going.

5. Refuel and recharge before you need to. When endurance athletes wait until they are thirsty to drink they’ve waited too long. The same premise applies at work. Have a snack a little earlier than normal. Start drinking water right immediately. If you normally sit, stand up before you start to feel stiff or cramped. If you normally stand, sit before your back stiffens or your legs ache. Be proactive so discomfort can’t dampen your motivation or weaken your resolve.

And make sure you plan meals wisely. Don’t take an hour for lunch. Plan food ahead of time that you can prepare and eat quickly. The goal is to refuel, re-hydrate, and keep on rolling. Remember, this is an unusual day treat it that way.

6. Don’t take rest breaks. Take productivity breaks. Newton’s Law of Productivity states that a productive person in motion tends to stay in motion. Maintaining momentum is everything. Don’t take a TV or Internet break. Take breaks that reinforce your sense of activity and accomplishment. Take a quick walk and think about what you’re tackling next. Then jump back in. Even a few minutes spent in the land of inactivity make it hard to regain momentum.

7. Don’t stop until it’s done. Stopping simply because you’re tired or bored is habit-forming. (Plus you’re always capable of doing more than you think.) If the only barrier to completion is effort or motivation, stay at it and bust through that barrier.

Think about your normal workday; at some point you typically think, “That’s it. That’s all I have in me today.” That limit was set long ago, but it’s an artificial limit based on habit. Pushing through the “pain” is a habit anyone can develop, and when you do, you automatically set your effort limit a little higher making you capable of even more on a regular basis.

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Dec 30, 2011

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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