How many productivity hacks have you tried?
When I was working 90 hour weeks at Goldman Sachs, I was always trying to fit more work into less time, and I tried all sorts of productivity tricks to improve my output.
Here's what I didn't understand back then: My problem wasn't my productivity, it was my focus.
All of those hacks I listed above are incredibly useful to boost productivity. If your problem is actually your productivity, then go use them.
However, I'm willing to bet that in the majority of cases, productivity isn't your problem.
Your problem is that you're focusing on things that don't matter.
The majority of tasks in the avalanche you're facing aren't do-or-die--often times, they aren't even consequential--but you're letting them eat your day.
Don't put your head down and plow forward. Look at your day, pick the things that are actually vital, and let everything else go.
Now of course, simple advice isn't always simple to get working for you, so here's a five-step process I first built for myself to help you focus on what's actually important.
1. Visualize your day before you go to bed
Focusing on what's important takes emotional strength. If you're in a negative state--anxious, stressed out, panicking--then you will let small, inconsequential tasks take on great importance, because you just want to get everything done.
You have to start your day in a positive state, and to do that, you need to start preparing the night before.
Before you go to sleep, visualize yourself breezing through your day. How does it feel to get everything done with ease?
2. Emanate focus from the second you wake up
Don't hit snooze. Don't take a long shower. Don't do anything that you're going to regret, or that is going to put you in a more stressful state throughout the day.
As soon as you wake up, jump out of bed. Force your body to get moving immediately, and focus on your day.
Starting your day with such immediate focus will help you stay in the zone throughout the day.
3. Set your mission-critical objectives
Get clear on your goals for your day. However you like to do it, lay out your schedule for today focusing on the things that actually move the needle in your career and life.
The small things that are ultimately just you spinning your gears? As much as you can, delete them from your life.
Leave some flex time in your schedule for genuinely important things that might crop up--legitimate emergencies--but not for the flotsam and jetsam that will eat up your day.
4. Constantly ask yourself why
Why are you doing whatever it is you're doing right now?
If the answer connects to your mission-critical objective for today, then perfect. You're staying focused.
If the answer is "because this was just dumped on my desk and I don't know what else to do and it needs to get done right now!" you're drifting. How quickly can you get back to the things that ultimately matter?
5. Absorb in your day--and love it
Even if you don't love what you're doing, you can absolutely love being absorbed in doing it. The first 10 minutes or even two hours of a run might not feel good, but once you're in the flow, you could continue forever.
Think less, and get absorbed in doing more. Focus feels good. When you aren't bogged down by the stress of task-overload, when more of your actions are moving the needle, your time feels important.
You feel influential, accomplished, good. With that feeling focus gets easier. You have to hold onto that joy, and let yourself absorb fully in your day.
It will be hard for the little things to distract you once you're feeling great focused on what matters.