I am just like you. I struggle with an abundance of tasks that I want to accomplish yet never get close to completing. But over the past year, things changed dramatically as I developed seven daily habits that have increased my throughput without adding more work time.
1. Don't set an alarm unless boarding a flight.
There are actually two parts to this habit. The first is that I want my body to get all the sleep it needs, so I wake up when I am ready. In order to do that and not sleep in until 10 a.m. (who can get away with that?), I've found the time that I need to go to sleep in order to wake up when I want. For me, it's go to sleep no later than 11 p.m., and I naturally wake up around 6:30 a.m. every day. To support this, I never set a meeting earlier than 8:30 a.m. You will be amazed at how your start will improve with no alarm.
2. Do 20 minutes of cardio in the morning.
For me this is a simple walk on the treadmill. Twenty minutes is enough to clear my head and get my heart pumping. I watch TV while doing it. This brief amount of time in the morning gets everything operating, including mind, body and spirit.
3. Find three one-hour periods without email.
This is the toughest one on the list and I am continually finding new ways to support my goal here. For me, I get frustrated when I am continually being reactive to the issues of the day, instead of being proactive to what I want to accomplish. Email is a reactive vehicle. So, I remove myself from it for one-hour periods. At this point the best I can do is block off three one-hour periods. It's a start.
4. Lunch is not for business.
I have lived this for more than 25 years. My goal is to divide the day in half, and lunch is the separator. I treat lunch like a palette cleanser, removing the issues from the morning so that I can start my afternoon with a clean slate. A side benefit is that I can use the lunches as a way to connect with people that I want to get updated on who wouldn't normally fit into the immediate issues of the day.
5. Make a list (night before) of three things you want to accomplish before the end of the next day.
Lists are both dangerous and necessary. The very act of writing something down is a commitment of sorts. Most of us write a long list and then get demoralized with the understanding that we will never get even close to clearing it. That is why I start with a list of just three things, and I write them down the night before so that when I get started in the morning, I have a clear action plan. If I am lucky enough to finish the tasks on my list before the end of the day, I now have bonus time.
6. Be intentional (set calendar/meeting) limits.
A good friend of mine is struggling with meeting creep. This is the epitome of reactive mode versus proactive mode and let's be honest, reactive mode is tiring and unproductive. To that end, be intentional about how you want your day to evolve. Set clear meeting limits (three hours, four hours?). Allocating your day to proactive activity puts you back in control. One way I make this happen is to force outsiders to use a public calendar to find 30 minutes to connect. This minimizes my meeting time during the week as well as removes the calendar setting from my brain. Yeah.
7. Find a nonbusiness distraction.
Mine is ice hockey. I both play (at 55) as well as watch my team on TV. It is my passion. It is not business. It creates conversation and connection with friends who are not business friends. I feel like it balances my soul.
Over the past year, I continued to manage my venture investing partnership at The Startup Factory (the day job), which is increasing in both quality of investment and a growing national awareness; I also lead a small group of business friends/partners as we operate a side business that helps tech companies recruit new employees more effectively (Big Top); and I wrote my first published book, Build The Fort, which came out a month ago (a 14-month effort).
None of this would have been possible without finding and implementing positive daily habits to unlock a greater, more proactive set of routines.