Thomas Carney
Thomas thinks of ways to make Planio grow, writes content and ponders metrics.
September 21, 2016 · 5 min read

11 solid tips for a highly productive work day

Highly Productive Day

This is a guest post from Userlike, which lets you add live chat to your website or app. We use (and recommend) Userlike ourselves at Planio.

So you've got your project plan set up. Now it's just down to the execution. Easy, right?

Actually, that's where many of us go astray. We look back at the end of the day and wonder what went wrong. With project planning you're dealing with the macro level, while the daily execution covers the micro. But the micro is a real challenge.

The internet offers a world of distractions at our fingertips, making it ever harder for us to focus on the execution, to reach that state of ‘flow’ that makes highly productive hours fly by.

I’m convinced that 90% of us start out the day with best intentions. But few of us reach them.

At Userlike, we're a bit obsessed over productivity. We’re a small software company going toe to toe with the giants in the industry. The only way to win is to stay laser-focused.

These are our tactics for having mightily productive workdays.

1. Clean Desks

Clean Desks

What's the opposite of focus? Distraction. Getting rid of all possible distractions enhances your chances of maintaining a structured workday.

Consciously or not, your brain processes everything you see – which can trigger a flow of thought followed by a disruptive action. Imagine having these items on your desk:

Sunglasses. "Will it be sunny today? I should go to the beach this weekend. But I don't have swimwear. I should buy some. Let's look at Amazon quickly."

Wallet.“Do I have enough cash on me for lunch? What am I having for lunch? Is there an ATM nearby? Better check Yelp and Maps.”

Smartphone. "No message yet. Why isn't s/he calling? Was it something I said? Let's check Facebook, see what s/he's doing."

When your task is all that's within your vision, you minimize the odds of getting sidetracked. That extends from your desk to your desktop and browser. By creating dedicated browser identities for your work activities on the one hand, for your private activities on the other, for example, you ensure that your vision catches only what's relevant.  

Keep things clean and organized, your mind will follow.

2. Day Planning

Sometimes we have an urgent task awaiting us at the start of our day. It's tempting to just dive into it. But while that might get that task done fast, you risk the rest of your day culminating into chaos.

Starting off your day without a plan is like starting a roadtrip without a map; you're bound to get lost. Except that an aimless road trip can still be a lot of fun, while a similar work experience is mainly stressful.

In our team, we write down our three Most Important Tasks (MIT's) at the start of the day, ordered by priority. We focus on completing these first, after which we can focus on to-do's that are less urgent, less important, or that require less brainpower. We share these goals in our #goals Slack channel for the sake of accountability.

The #goals channel

One benefit of arranging your daily to-do’s with a list is that you don't need to think about what's next after a task or distraction – you just take a quick glance at what’s next.

3. Time-Task Goals

Time Goals

Estimating the time it takes to complete a task is challenging. Firstly, because we all suffer from the planning fallacy – the tendency to underestimate the time, cost, risk, and effort of future projects. Secondly, it's simply easy to get distracted. Not only by BoredPanda posts, also by work-related issues.

A simple trick to counter this fallacy is to set time goals for yourself for the task at hand. It is my goal to have the first draft of this post finished by 2PM, for example. I estimate this based on previous posts I've written.

Don't panic if you break your goal. Analyze what went wrong (did you get distracted or was your planning unrealistic?), and set up a next goal. You’ll improve in estimating accurate time spans for your tasks.  

4. To-Don’t Lists

You are probably very well aware of your own weaknesses when it comes to distractions. Some succumb to Facebook, others to Twitter, 9GAG (that's me!), or Bored Panda.

To defeat your procrastination outlets, create a to-don't list at the start of your day. Do it on paper, if possible, and keep it as a reminder next to your workstation. In his book Influence, psychologist Robert Cialdini explains how the act of writing down an intention on paper increases one's commitment.

5. Notification Kill

Say No to Notifications

Every app on your mobile device asks you to enable notifications. Before you know it, you're receiving a never-ending stream of notifications, relentless focus disrupters.

Be the boss of your communication channels. You decide when you check for notifications, not them. That counts for procrastination apps like Tinder, but also for business apps like Slack. Every beep or blink will be a minor disruption. They add up to wreck your workday.

People will call you if it's an emergency. Honestly, how urgent was the most urgent message you've received through text? For me they've only arrived when people couldn't reach me on my phone. Keep your phone on and you should be fine.

6. App-date Checking Slots

Of course you don't want to miss out on all the events passing by in your apps. That's ok, it's just that you don't need to be notified of them right away.

Schedule for yourself two or three update checking slots per day, during which you go through your app-dates. 9 a.m., lunchtime, and the end of your workday, for example.

7. Urge Tracking

Throughout your day, you will feel the urge to break your commitment – to check your WhatsApp, to visit 9GAG, or to check for a rare Pokemon in the area. That's natural.

A powerful trick to stay committed, originating from meditation practices, is to physically take note of those urges with a pen and paper. Don't bend to them, but don't ignore them either. Simple note down a 'I' on paper whenever one arises.

8. Good Idea Notes

Ideas are great, but they can also hurt your flow. Truly good ideas stick and come bouncing back, so making a mental note of them won't suffice. Instead, keep a notebook for those ideas, so you can get back to them at a later point in time.

9. Three Hours of Peace

Having a hard time ignoring those messaging beeps? Try ignoring your colleague standing at your desk with a question.

Communication is key to success in any business, of course, but so is respecting each other's workflow. Get the best of both worlds by formalizing a few hours of 'quiet time' every day. We do 9.30AM until lunch (12.30PM). This offers enough time to discuss some quick issues before, after which we can enter the flow.

You'll be amazed how much you can achieve in just a few hours of peace.

Finding Focus

Comic by Jason Heeris

10. Bookmark Systems

If you want to be mightily productive, it's time to start considering your brains as set of peculiar muscles. Like a muscle, your mental willpower tires throughout the day.

To manage your mental energy efficiently, remove as much friction in your workflow as possible. One thing that works especially well for heavy internet users is to set up a tightly organized bookmark system.

Bookmark all websites that you use frequently, and organize them in a clear and logical order. Don't waste mental energy on recalling that URL.

11. Water, Healthy Snacks, and Movement

Water, snacks and move!

Now this post isn't for a lifestyle magazine. But like a muscle, your brain needs fuel. And it has 3 fuels: liquids, food, and oxygen.

Keep a bottle of liquid on your desk to stay fresh throughout the day. None of those sweet drinks, they'll throw up your energy levels before dropping them down on a knee like Bane did to Batman. Just stick to water or tea.

Hungriness or a low sugar level will kill your focus. Choose a healthy snack that can keep you going throughout the day. Nuts are my favorite.

And finally, get up once a while. Not only is sitting the new smoking when it comes to health, overly long sitting sessions also hurt your ability to focus. The circulation of blood and oxygen goes down, numbing your mental abilities. Consider a standing desk, or use a reminder app like Stand Up!  

I hope this list will assist you in reaching new heights of productivity. Go with the flow!

Pascal is Mr. Marketing at Userlike. Besides leading Userlike’s marketing plan for world domination, he fills his days watching old movies.