Typically when we read about productivity tips, we'll see how to better manage our time, make sure we're not multi-tasking and focus on the most profitable activities first. These are all great keys to getting the most out of any day. I even read a recent article that showed that some of the most successful people in life don't even use a to-do list. Checking off items on a list doesn't guarantee we're accomplishing anything in business, especially if they're things that are easy and not profit-producing.
But I started a strategy more than 10 years ago that has helped increase my productivity tremendously, both in my personal and professional life. It's the habit of "scheduling in" when I will think about or do certain things. For example, if I'm in the middle of writing and my son texts me that he's having difficulty with something at school, and it doesn't require me to drop everything right that minute to talk about it, I'll schedule it for later. Because he's 19, I can text back thast, at 4:30 that day I'd love to chat. He's happy, and knows I love him, and I can keep writing. If it was an emergency, I'd stop writing and focus on his needs, but most of the time it's not. So, I schedule in when we'll chat and he gets my undivided attention. It's not instant and my productivity stays high, even with a 30-second interruption.
I use the same habit with things that I need to think about, especially things that are bothering me, or are stressing me out. I'll tell myself when I can think about such things. Trying to figure out something that's stressing me out in the middle of a busy workday isn't going to help me or the problem. As a matter of fact, it could make things worse trying to multi-focus on something that is important, rather than making a decision of when I'll think about the stressful situation. Typically, when I come back to it, later that day, or even later in the week on a Saturday morning when I'm rested and having coffee, my "solution mindset" is sharper, emotions are more calm and now I can think clearly and solve the problem. This one tip has saved me from headaches, heartache and unnecessary stress.
The same thing works when someone I don't really want to talk to needs my attention, at work or in my personal life. (Or there's something I really do NOT want to have to think about, but must.) I might love all people, but not really enjoy talking to some people. So, I'll schedule in when that conversatio' is going to take place. Just because they text me or call me (or email!) doesn't mean they get my attention right then and there, or even that week. Boundaries with my phone calls help me stay productive, and it gives me the power to choose who gets my attention, when. Some people can wait a week or two, and should. Others get my attention sooner.
Having an open door policy as a CEO is a great thing. It makes people feel important and valued. But that doesn't mean anyone can walk in my door at any time during my work day. If it's not an emergency, scheduling who gets to talk to me, and when, keeps me on top of my game, and they feel valued when I give them my time and I'm focused on their need. Use healthy boundaries and schedule in important discussions when you feel your best.
Here are three strategies to keep in mind.
1. Schedule In What Stresses You Out.
If it's about money or something that typically stresses you out, schedule it in. Stop trying to balance your already-stressed-out budget at lunch. Wait until Saturday morning, when you're well-rested. Or pick one day per month that you focus on money issues. Then stop thinking about it every single day. Start doing the things that MAKE money more often, rather than stressing about it every minute of every day. If you have a thought come in about it during the week, just write it down and come back to it. Learning to discipline my thoughts has spared me from a lot of useless, non-productive, self-loathing fear and drama -- especially when it was about money.
2. Not every thought gets my attention immediately.
I have some serious health challenges that demand I think about what I'm eating, how much sleep I'm getting, and making sure that rest periods are scheduled into my life. But I refuse to think about this every single day. That would not only be ridiculous, but depressing. So, I take time to think about these things a few days per month. Then I don't even give it another thought. As well, disciplining when I think about articles to write, videos to make, planning a month's worth of meetings isn't done on the fly. My thoughts are scheduled in. If you're an entrepreneur, you most likely have what feels like five brains. This one tip has saved me energy, focus and productivity. Schedule in when you'll think about things.
3. Schedule in thinking about things that are bothering you.
This one strategy changed my life. Things would pop into my head at the most random (and unproductive!) times. If I got stressed out about something on my way to work, I'd tell myself that I couldn't think about until after 6pm. If something was making me worried, I'd make a decision to NOT think about it until the next day, at a specific time, when I knew I'd have more objectivity. Don't become a slave to your thoughts, make them obey you.
Productivity does have a lot to do with time managment and prioritizing things. But it's also important to know when we're at our best peak flow times during the day and the week. Schedule in when you'll THINK about certain things, both personal and professional, and you'll find things don't overwhelm you as much, and you'll actually even enjoy processing somethings you used to avoid or deny altogether.
By giving yourself permission of when to think of some items and when to not, this is an act of faith and honor at a high level. Honoring yourself and having faith that when it's time to think this thing through, or talk about the situation, you'll be powerful. Faith does work at work, and productivity is a fruit of being your best, even with your thoughts.