Most leaders agree that, to be successful, you have to make the most of every day. But there are two main camps of thought on this. The first is that the agenda is all important and you need to schedule yourself right down to the minute--it's a little like the zero-based budgeting concept in money, where you know where every cent is allocated. The second camp, however, argues that those who come out on top get up and work whenever they darn well feel like it.

Now, obviously, even on a when-you-feel-like-it approach, you have to have some structure, such as setting up a meeting for you and your team to collaborate. But the rationale is that you're typically working with high motivation and focus, since you want to be there, and since you're likely not fighting as much fatigue or other physical issues.

Your ability to use this method can increase as you gain wealth and authority, but as the gig economy rises and companies adopt more flexible scheduling for everyone, the idea is becoming more accessible at all levels. But if you're not going to be beholden to the clock anymore, these strategies are essential for accountability and results.

1. Be specific about what your objectives for the day are. You can settle on one big job if you want or a dozen teeny ones, but have a grasp of the steps you need to follow to achieve each goal. The concern isn't when or in what order the jobs get done, but rather simply how much time you're committing to with each step. This way, you'll always know if you really have time to step out to grab that coffee or click over to Facebook.

2. Prepare your tools. Just like trainers recommend that you get your gym bag ready the night before so you've got fewer excuses for your morning workout, getting everything you need for your objectives ahead of time will put you in a mental space of commitment. And when you actually sit down to work, you'll spend time actually working, not hunting for items. 

3. Be honest about and eliminate potential distractions. Don't lie to yourself or others if the squirrels running around outside the window steal your attention, or if the refrigerator constantly tells you taking (another) break is OK. Put potential distractions--including items from other projects--away and find a location where you truly can experience a state of flow.

4. Be accommodating. Just because you don't have a schedule doesn't mean others don't. Be aware of hours of operation, be willing to meet people where they physically are, and be reasonable if you have to wait for communication or service. Always have a Plan B or alternate activity to go to so you don't waste time as people try to fit you in.


5. Self-advocate. Even though you need to be compassionate and understanding to others, if busy people learn you're not on the traditional clock, the unfortunate tendency--at least in my own experience--is for them to treat you as a lower priority. Don't slink away from your place in line. Be clear about what you need and why, and get them to tell you how much or how long so you can move on or plan. Draw boundaries! Take the initiative and make absolutely sure you allow yourself time for following up.

6. Track your progress. If you are in total control of your schedule, you're not going to have others making sure you're on track. That's all up to you. Put your list of objectives and steps in a prominent place and check things off as you go. Note the time those tasks took, as well, so that later you can verify whether your perception of time or effort is accurate. Keep an ongoing record of your habits and reward yourself when you meet specific milestones.

7. Share your intent. Telling others what your objectives are doesn't lock you into a slot on the calendar, but it does allow others to give you feedback and encouragement, which helps you plan and stay motivated. Some people even are willing to offer specific resources, including sharing valuable connections, that can speed up processes or improve your talents. You'll be less tempted to let tasks slide if you know others still are expecting updates from you.