5 Crucial First Steps Toward Optimal Productivity

“There aren’t enough hours in the day” is not an uncommon complaint. And yet, the most productive people that exist today have the same amount of hours in a day as anyone else. What makes them more productive?

We can’t change how many hours there are in a day, but we can change how we use them. That is, we can better manage our energy, which will in turn make our use of time more efficient. Here are a few tweaks you can make to your daily routine that will help you start maximizing the time you do have.

1) Start your day the night before.
Decide the night before what time you want to get up, and what you are going to do in the morning. If you decide to wake up at 7:00am but spend an hour wandering aimlessly around your apartment, you might give in to a mid-morning nap, which defeats the purpose of getting up at 7:00am. Whether it’s exercise, writing, or reading the newspaper, having a plan will make it easier to get up—and stay up—when sleep inertia is telling you to press snooze.

2) Get out of bed when your first alarm goes off.
When your alarm wakes you up, instead of hitting snooze, get right out of bed if you don’t want to feel groggy throughout the morning. Even if you’ve gotten seven hours of sleep, you might still feel groggy when your alarm goes off because of sleep inertia: the period between waking and being fully awake, when you’re more likely to be tempted to snooze for “just a few more minutes.” But those extra five minutes of sleep can make you feel worse than if you had just gotten up, because your brain restarts the sleep cycle. When your alarm goes off for the second time, you’re likely in an earlier, deeper part of your sleep cycle.

3) Build in flex time.
The key to planning out your day the night before is to build flex time into your schedule. It may sound counterintuitive. You want to get the most out of your day, so you shouldn’t waste a single minute not having something on the schedule to do. But downtime is actually beneficial for optimal productivity. It gives your mind a break—a chance to unwind and reenergize so that you can reach maximum productivity the next day, or while tackling your next task.

4) Make meals a priority.
Healthy eating may not seem compatible with a busy lifestyle. But food is energy, and we all need energy to function, let alone excel at the tasks before us. You may sometimes get so caught up in a task that when you finally look up, it’s 4pm and you haven’t eaten lunch. To avoid this, plan out your meals the day before so that you don’t feel like figuring out what to eat is an interruption that you can’t afford, or that you’re wasting valuable mental energy deciding what to eat. If you don’t want to waste your decision-making energy on minor things, plan ahead so that you’re simply doing rather than deciding.

5) Don’t let emails dominate your day.
While it may feel like you’re really on top of things if you answer emails immediately, don’t keep refreshing the page to see if there’s new mail. When an email comes in, deal with it right away when you read it. This is different from constantly checking to see if you have a new email, which will actually make you feel more pressured throughout the day.

Making small changes such as these will be beneficial as you take the next steps toward your goal of being more productive.

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Garry Gay via Getty Images

by Kaitlin Puccio