1. Identify Your Big Three. At the beginning of the day, identify the three most important things you need to accomplish if today is to be a success. Make these the first (and if necessary only) things you accomplish today.
2. Big rocks first. Whatever is most important, do that first. Never start with small stuff, because it is guaranteed to become bigger than you intended. Small rocks grow at an astonishing rate.
3. Do the hardest thinking first. Use your freshest brain for the hardest work. Thinking, problem-solving, and strategic visioning are best done in the first half of the day.
4. Cluster. As you put items in your calendar, cluster things that go together. Put strategic thinking items together, phone calls together, emails, etc.
5. Don't take unscheduled calls. Unless you have a lot of free time, let unscheduled calls go to voicemail. If it is important, they will leave a message and you can retrieve it soon thereafter (hint: if you need to talk to me, email me to set up a time).
6. Do emails last. I use the last 30 to 60 minutes of my day for emails. I scan them quickly throughout the day to see if there are any burning fires that must be addressed. But I don't get sucked into email-jail until the very last part of the day. This will keep you from having small email discussions that squelch your productivity.
7. Use water. I am amazed by how often water is a creative catalyst. Shaving and showering are when most of my creative ideas come. Drinking lots of it is good for your brain too (true).
1/10/17: After highlighting this post in a VSN communiqué, I got an email asking how I stay focused. So here is my simple solution along with software I cannot live without.
1. Stay Focused. I am easily distracted so I keep a Word document open on the bottom left hand side of my desktop screen. It has a very simple list of the tasks I am attacking. The list is empty at the beginning of the day. I start with the first task of the first big rock. I color code it blue and turn it black once it is completed (click on the image to see a larger version).
Once I start the first task additional tasks come to mind and I write them in priority order. When my mind gets off-ramped (by a text, random thought, interruption), I simply go back to this and look at the most recent item in blue and go back to focusing on that. I only show the active task on my screen because if I can see the entire list I get distracted by what still needs to be done. At the end of the day I have lists of each task I accomplished, clustered according to the "big rock" they were a part of.
2. Dragon Dictate. This software is expensive and buggy. But it is still the software I cannot live without. I think you can get it on Amazon for far less than the retail price. It doesn't work with MS Word all that well, but it is still the best dictation software I am aware of. The voice to text feature built into the Mac OS is okay in a pinch but is not nearly as robust as Dragon Dictate. This gives me 40+% improvement in my performance when brainstorming, writing, emailing, etc.
3. Multiple Desktops. Within a few hours of each day, I will have up to 15 files open. That is too much for one desktop so I make ample use of Mac's multiple desktop capability. I cluster related files by desktop and can quickly move from desktop to desktop as needed.
4. Have a place to capture random ideas. When I do get a good idea about something different than the topic on working on, I put it into a text file on the right-hand side of my screen (see image above). I don't give it too much thought other than to capture it. I know that I have to take it from that file at some point and put it into Evernote or the appropriate place in my project management workflow.
This last one means I've given you 11 tips instead of 10!