There is no perfect job. What I mean is that there is always some aspect of what we do in our day to day work lives that’s not our favorite thing. Often, it is something that we might even despise doing. For me, and many colleagues, those are the aspects that are tedious, repetitive and often manual. Personally, those are the types of actives that will give me all the anxiety if I let it.
Last week, for back to back days, that’s all I had to do. I felt behind in my work. My emails piled up. My list of priorities was getting neglected. Overall, I felt out of sync and unsure about how to move forward most efficiently and effectively. We all have days, sometimes even weeks like this. But instead of continuing in this less than productive state, I decided I was going to have my MOST PRODUCTIVE DAY EVER! Here is how I did it.
First and foremost was to work through my email. In full transparency, I decided to take the time to do this at home, at night. The reason is that after a long period of neglect, your email is going to be out of control if it’s anything like mine. Trying to work through it with distractions from priorities and coworkers can be inefficient. Also, the distraction of new emails pouring in can feel defeating. So, I carved out some time at home and got to work.
First, I organized all emails by sender. This is a good way to get a broad sense of what’s going on in your inbox. It’s also a good way to identify low input items that you can quickly get rid of. There are two categories of emails -
1. Informational - emails that need to be understood and filed or emails that may be irrelevant and can be deleted
2. Requests - emails that require that you complete an action - communicating information, executing a task
Having these two categories in mind is useful to quickly decide what needs to be done and how you need to do it. The intent with this type of email review isn’t to complete all the requests in your inbox but it’s to capture and process all of those requests for when you get to your Most Productive Day Ever in the morning. So, here is what you do.
Review information emails, file what's relevant, delete what's not.
Review request emails, if you can reply and closeout in 2 mins or less, do it. If it takes more than two minutes to accomplish transfer request to a List.
Once I had all my email requests captured on my List. I took a moment and reviewed my meeting notes, managerial 1 on 1’s and anything that was floating around in my head that I knew needed to get done. All those items then got added to my list. From there, it’s straightforward, read through each line on your list and ensure that each item is captured as an action that’s clear and direct. Review the complete list and highlight the items that are your priorities, that is, the items that are important and urgent. Then that was my night, I slept well looking forward to killing it the following day.
A couple of notes on using a list to manage your priorities if you don’t currently use one. Firstly, and this is foundational, it allows you to get work done outside of your inbox which is crucial since email can be such a distraction. It’s a great way to ensure that you are only working on one thing at a time, with that one thing being your priority. Keeping all actions in one place allows you to quickly scan and determine the next priority you need to accomplish.
So everything was set. I was ready to go. Here’s what happened.
MY MOST PRODUCTIVE DAY EVER!
Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, it would be hard to label this my MOST PRODUCTIVE DAY EVER! However, it was extremely productive and I noticed a slight difference in the way I was getting work done and how it made me feel overall about what I was doing. When you work in such a way where you know that what you are doing is the most impactful use of your time throughout that task, it improves your mindset towards whatever you are doing. Here is what I learned as I went through the day.
I didn’t want to have any distractions or any background interference sapping my focus, so I made sure that I ate a meal first thing in the morning. I know everyone doesn’t eat breakfast. I rarely do, but I have noticed that mid-morning towards midday, I get irrationally hungry. It’s so pronounced that it starts to become the only thing I can think of so I made sure that I knocked that out the way.
Next, I kept mentally reminding myself that this was going to be my most productive day ever! I was going to tackling all the priorities off my list and get my system back under control. By the end of the day, I was surprised at how energized I still felt. I’m most focused it the morning and as my day goes on, I usually start to lose willpower. My decision making starts to take longer and it becomes more difficult for me to execute tasks. However, today I rode a wave right through to the end of the day.
So, what’s the takeaway? Simply, your attitude plays a huge role in your overall approach to whatever it is you are doing. If you project that your day is going to suck, more often than not it probably will. If you push to maintain a positive attitude and tackle whatever comes your way in strides then you’ll likely have a better time despite what gets thrown at you. Improving your attitude isn’t magic, it won’t stop annoying or frustrating things from happening around you, it’ll just change how you choose to interact with them.
Of course, no day is perfect and I did run into challenges that were not neatly captured and tabulated on my “perfect” list. I’m a big advocate for limiting the amount of time spent keeping my internet client (Outlook) opened throughout the day. It’s extremely distracting and often pulls me away from getting critical work done. If there is truly an emergency or a priority that needs to get completed, I know someone will reach out to me directly to make sure the issue is being addressed.
That’s exactly what happened to me today. A non-conformance had occurred, a supplier needed to be contacted and I received an email about it. As the day went on, my colleague came over and informed me about what was going on. It shot up on my list of priorities and I jumped on it.
So, what’s the takeaway? Work, like life, is unpredictable. No two days look alike and you can’t control all the ways you will be pushed and pulled throughout a day. You can, however, set up yourself to be as productive as possible and focus on the things that matter and only those things, one at a time. It’s not just about being productive, but being productive in completing the most important things.
Can I Do It Again Tomorrow?
The truth is probably not. It would be difficult to replicate this day perfectly. However, where the real value lies is in repeating the actions in your control that will enable you to have the most success. You can’t predict or dictate what will happen throughout your day but you can prepare.
1. You can complete your work using a process that ensures that you only work on what’s important
2. You can maintain a positive attitude (to the best of your ability) despite what’s happening around you
3. You can choose to put forth the effort to make tomorrow better than today
Who knows, maybe you will even rack up a few of your MOST PRODUCTIVE DAYS EVER!