Today at 9AM, I started on a 12 hour mission to have my most productive day ever. Powered by the techniques and strategies we share in our Better, Faster, Smarter productivity course (and plenty of sugar), my list of tasks ended with writing and publishing this summary of the day at 9PM.
In the intervening 12 hours, I hoped to fit in a combination of the stuff I love but never find time for, the important work tasks that always make way for the urgent, and the long list of odd-jobs that just never get done.
Amongst the to-do list was redesigning this website, finishing my kids' playhouse, making time for reading, doing a range of DIY jobs around the house and cycling 50 miles (something I've not done since becoming a father nearly 4 years ago). As well as getting all of this done (and writing this blog), I was also committed to sharing the whole experience on twitter via @4and20million and #MostProductiveDay, including recording, editing and posting video throughout the day to share the experience and our best tips and strategies.
We've probably all had enough unproductive days to realise that will power alone does not make productivity happen. Good preparation is essential, knowing what you will be doing when and what you'll need as you go. There's nothing worse than finally finding time and space to crack on with something important, only to find you don't have the files you need.
So I planned the day in advance through a technique called timeboxing - splitting the day up into manageable chunks and deciding in advance what tasks to take on when. This was the single most vital step in the whole day, as without doing this I'd have been lost in a list of tasks without any idea what to take on first (I'd have probably put the cycling off and found myself with 50 miles to do at 7pm!).
The most cognitively demanding task was updating the website, so this was deliberately scheduled as first job to make best use of my mind at its freshest, and to avoid other demands getting in the way. I committed to start at 9 and publish the updated site at 10:30. Getting this done gave me a real impetus for the rest of the day.
With 90 minutes of productivity in the bank, I set out to get a few miles in on the bike. This pattern of 90 minute bursts of focused activity, a quick check of emails and a few miles of cycling was to be the plan for the day, making the most of the fact that we can only really perform at our best for 90 minutes at a time before fatigue and distraction lower our performance.
This pattern worked well for the morning, and saw me get plenty done, only for a puncture to stop me in my tracks just before lunch as I lost nearly half an hour at the side of the road. Frustrating as this was, it's no different to the distractions and changing priorities we all face on a more typical workday, as meetings over run and deadlines move. My perfectly time-boxed day had to be reorganised, but a few minutes spent doing this gave me a new plan for the afternoon.
A meticulously well organised meeting helped get things back on track (agenda shared and considered in advance to make the discussion more purposeful), but then the disaster of a second puncture mid afternoon meant something had to give.
Unfortunately, this meant less reading time. We really wanted to make the point that even in crazily busy times, we need to find time for learning and self-development, as if we try to wait until quieter times, they never seem to arrive. Nevertheless, reading time had to be cut back to allow for a second puncture repair before the kids got home from nursery.
We've talked elsewhere about the perils of multi-tasking, and aside from the loss of quality and efficiency, I don't want teatime with the kids to be shared with work emails or distracted thinking. So 6-7pm was strictly family time, before dashing off for the final 12.5 miles of my target 50 (this time, mercifully, no punctures!).
Getting back just after 8 and editing the 10th video update of the day left me with around 40 minutes to write this snap verdict of the day. This required using our final technique of the day - High Intensity Interval Training. When applied to work, HIIT basically involves cutting down the time you have for a task to the barely plausible, then committing to meet the scary deadline. Faced with this challenge, you have no choice but to crack on with intensity, no time to check social media, make a quick brew or stray off course to any other distraction that might seem appealing after 12 hours of graft.
And so it is that I sit here in my cycling kit, tapping out the final thoughts of this blog post at 8:43pm. Despite losing time to punctures and spending a fair bit of time filming and editing video on my iphone, I genuinely feel like I've got an inordinate amount done. From the achievement of redesigning www.4and20million.com this morning, to seeing my daughter's excitement at her finished playhouse, it's definitely been my Most Productive Day.
We'll share a longer account of the day on YouTube in the coming days, and all of the tips from across the day can be found in bite-size chunks on our twitter page, @4and20million.
I hope you've found some of today's techniques and perspectives to be applicable to a more standard day of work. We'd love to read your thoughts and any questions on our twitter feed (though maybe a shower and a sit down are called for first!)
Thanks for reading and for following our #MostProductiveDay. Goodnight!