When it comes to wasting time in front of a computer, I’m a triple black belt. Over the last six years of working for myself, I’ve wasted not just hours or days in front of a computer, but months.
Focus has always been a challenge for me, and I’ve often felt there should be a better way. I’ve tried accountability groups, productivity apps, and all sorts of other gimmicks for getting more done — but nothing seemed to work.
Recently, I spent some time reviewing and reconsidering what’s important to me in life. I’m a lifestyle entrepreneur. The whole goal of my businesses is to give me more time to do the things I want to do — yet I often find that all I’m doing is spending more time at my computer in a desperate attempt to be productive.
This recent reevaluation led me to try an experiment to increase my productivity. The goal was to really improve my morning routine and be up and working by 6:30 A.M. — and to stop at noon every day, giving me five and a half hours to get work done before calling it quits. The results have surprised even me. For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m actually able to get things done without struggling through. What’s the secret?
Prepare a Clear To-Do List the Night Before
If I have to think about what I need to get done when I sit down to work, nothing will get done. Each night before I go to bed, I have my top 3-5 most important tasks for the next day in mind.
These should be business-building activities. Email doesn’t count unless I’m particularly far behind. One of my biggest weaknesses is always doing the easy activities that allow me to maintain my business, but not grow it. By plotting out my to-do list the day before, I’m able to get a clear sense of what will really grow the business the following day.
Wake Up Early
How much I get done in a day is often directly related to when I get up. If I’m up before, 7 A.M., it’s usually a good day. Later than 9 A.M.? I’m in trouble.
Not everyone is a morning person — but figuring out when you’re most productive will set yourself up for a much greater chance at success.
Turn on Your Focus at Will
I recently stumbled upon an app called Focus@Will, which has been unbelievable for my productivity. It’s a tool that plays scientifically composed instrumental music to get you in the zone for 100 minutes at a time. I shoot for three 100-minute sessions with 30 minutes worth of breaks each day. I’ve introduced a number of friends and bloggers to the tool, and I almost always get a thank-you message. It works that well.
Do the Hardest Thing First
I always try to do the hardest or most valuable (to the business) items first. When you tackle the hardest thing first — even if that’s the only thing you get done — you make progress.
Plus, I know that my energy is going to start waning by midday, making it much more difficult to do the hard stuff later in the day. I’m always tempted to answer emails first, but unless they are urgent, I’ve learned they can wait.
Focus Only on Business-Building Activities
If you’re like me, you probably have a million projects sitting on the back burner, but only a handful of them are actually vital to growing your business. When I started waking up early with a plan, it actually helped me get more accomplished. I mapped out what I needed to do and spent a couple hours each morning making sure I was pushing myself closer to that goal.
You’ll never complete big projects if you don’t have a framework for doing so. It’s easy to do nothing but write blog posts and answer emails. But is that really growing your business? Not generally.
Schedule Something After 12:30 P.M.
Here’s where things get interesting. For a couple weeks, I used this framework and gave myself permission to stop working at noon. For the first week, this was nearly impossible. But as I started scheduling things early in the afternoon, the need to be more productive in the morning became greater. During the summer, I booked tee times at 1 P.M. In other months, I headed out for beer festivals or set up coffee or lunch dates with people I wanted to connect with.
Schedule Another 90-Minute Work Session Later (If Necessary)
As much as I’d like to completely quit work at noon every day and golf, I realize this isn’t always feasible. Sometimes, I’ll book an additional 90-minute session for a couple of days a week in the afternoon or the evening. I use this time mostly for emails, preparing for the next day, scheduling interviews, or anything else that isn’t primarily devoted to business growth.
The more I challenge the 9-to-5 workday, the more I embrace the fact that I can work however I want — and the more I find myself enjoying work.
This article originally appeared on BusinessCollective.
Sean Ogle is currently doing the things that most people just talk about doing — traveling the world, building businesses, and helping others doing the same thing via Location 180.