For the past 10 years I’ve been a student of productivity. In high school I managed to make the honor roll while running a small business. In college I became a master of acing tests without actually learning the material (the trick is to figure out what the professor will ask and then memorize the necessary information). When I started my second business in the heart of the recession I knew that I had to be a productivity ninja if I wanted a fighting chance.

I tried everything. I experimented with virtually every legal stimulant, used computer programs to prevent distractions, tried to check my email only once a day, followed GTD to a T… the list goes on.

Through it all, I learned that there are only two tricks you need to achieve maximum productivity.

But first it’s important to understand that if you’re not feeling great you’re not going to be able to hit maximum productivity. Take good care of yourself. It’s the foundation for everything.

With that in mind, here are the only two tricks you’ll ever need to reach maximum productivity:

Plot your day

Most of us go to work and start working. Our time is spent either reacting to work as it comes in (emails, calls, assignments from the boss, etc) or working on things that are due soon.

Working this way is very haphazard. It forces your focus to flicker, and it doesn’t guarantee that you’re dedicating time to the really important things, especially the important stuff that isn’t due soon.

Instead of diving right in, the first thing I do when I get to my desk is I open up a word document, look at my to-dos and emails, and then figure out how to fit everything in.  I literally write out my schedule for the day. My schedule for today looks like this:

10:00 – 10:10: Plotting the day

10:10 – 11:10: Blogging (edit and post Necessary Suffering, write LifeHack article on productivity)

11:10 – 12:10: Work on new white paper

12:10 – 12:30: Email

12:30 – 1:00: Grocery (spinach, garbanzos, canned tomato, onion)

1:00 – 1:45: Lunch with Will from Ingenuity Prep

1:45 – 2:00 Prep for call about guest lecture at Georgetown

2:00 – 3:45 Call with Jay about guest lecture

3:45 – 4:00 Prep for call about upcoming speech at BSU

3:00 – 4:00 Call with team at BSU

4:00 – 5:00 CRM

5:00 – 6:00 Email

Writing a schedule for the day keeps you focused and productive, and it ensures that all the important things are getting your attention. Spend ten minutes in the morning plotting your day and then stick to it.

Carve out time each week to reflect and calibrate.

If you really want to be productive throughout the day, one of the most important things to understand is how your daily work fits into the bigger picture of your work and life.

Most of us are so busy that we don’t bother reflecting. That’s a mistake. Nothing is more important than reflecting on your work and your life – how else would you know that you’re on the right track?

Find a few hours each week to reflect. I use Fridays from 3-5. No real work gets done at this time anyways.

The questions I ask myself:

  • What went well this week? How can I carry that into next week?
  • What went poorly this week? How can I prevent that next week?
  • Did this week fit into my bigger vision? If not, how can I change that next week?
  • What are the 3-5 most critical things for me to be working on next week?

All that is left for you to do is make sure you are improving a little bit each week and that your work ties into your bigger vision. An easy way to do this is to schedule time each day for the tasks that you have predetermined to be the most important.

We all want to achieve maximum productivity and efficiency. Doing so requires blending our day-to-day with the big picture and using our time thoughtfully. Starting your day by plotting how you’ll use your time, and spending an hour or two each week calibrating and reflecting, will enable you to hit maximum productivity.

(Photo credit: Stitched panoramas via Shutterstock)

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