“Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways.”
– Stephen Vincent Benét
Lets get one thing out of the way right now – properly managed, you shouldn’t be spending a lot of time on productivity strategies or productivity systems. The most important productivity strategies tend to be simple, and you just need to do them in order to get results.
Nonetheless, you might be skeptical if I reveal the secret to you right now without backing it up – so it’s included at the very end of this article, and I’m going to take you on a journey so you can understand how I figured this out.
A Life Changing Productivity Exercise
Let me tell you about an exercise I recently did, and my results – and you can try it as well. We know I’m constantly aware of logging my time and seeing how I can allocate my time more efficiently – so this exercise may come as no surprise =).
- Calculate how many hours you are awake and divide into four quarter. So for me that’s about about 16 hours per day, divided into four 4-hour quarters.
- Log your productivity, and notice where you’re not productive, or rushing to make up time. If you’re like me, it’s always during the last 4 hour chunk. Often, it’s the tail end of the last four hour chunk – the end of the day where I’m trying to work on my personal projects, squeeze in time for my workouts, squeeze in time for my family and friends – and just tie up any loose ends I have.
- Look at the first quarter. No matter where I’m struggling, whether it’s the 2nd, 3rd or 4th quarter – the answer is almost always in the first quarter of the day. The minutes and hours I needed towards the end of the day were always available to me – they were just being wasted earlier in the day. Sometimes that could be as simple as taking too long to get ready in the morning, others times the exact cause would be hidden: perhaps not working as effectively early on, which would in turn cause me to spend more working to solve the issues, and push my whole schedule back.
In fact, when I was extremely productive during the first quarter of the day, very often the rest of the day was effortless. If instead I fell behind in the first quarter, I spent the entire day stressing and playing catch up.
In a nutshell, the first quarter of the day sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Going One Level Deeper – One Hour At a Time
I then broke each quarter down into sub-quarters – which just ends up being one hour at a time.
I know this sounds overly complicated, but stick with me, we’re almost there.
I looked at each of my four hour chunks, and when broken out like that it was clear that whatever mood and level of performance I opened the chunk with, that was what set the tone for the rest of that four hour chunk.
So, we know this
- My productivity for the day is tied to my productivity in the first quarter
- My productivity for each quarter is tied to my productivity in the first hour of the quarter.
Therefore, my level of productivity and accomplishment for the whole day is tied to how productive I am when I start the day.
Looking at my own personal records I found this to be true – days where I started out immediately knowing what needed to be done, and getting to work right away were easily the most productive. Compare that to times where I woke up and wasn’t sure what to do, and didn’t have a plan of attack, where the whole day would often end up being a waste.
All It Takes Is Fifteen Minutes
And now, the epiphany I had – I think it goes a step further. If I start out the day on a bad note for even the first 15 minutes, left unchecked that can snowball and ruin the entire day.
It’s not all bad though – you’ve made it this far, and here’s what I’ve learned, and I think a true productivity secret:
The Secret: Taking charge of my day at the very beginning, and having a simple 15 minute ritual to get myself motivated, excited and productive in the morning can affect how much I accomplish the rest of the day.
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