Can we all just agree right now that the most productive day of our work year is that last day before we leave for vacation?
You know the feeling: you have one day to clear your task list of everything that will otherwise need attention when you return a week or two from now.
In full blown day-before-vacation mode, you respond to old emails with one-word replies. You throw out spreadsheets like they have cooties. When people walk into your office you throw up your hands and quickly blurt out, “Vacation starts tomorrow, can’t talk now!"
My wife and I recently took off to Hawaii for 11 days of beach time. I wanted no mental distractions and so I made sure I had everything buttoned up on the Friday before I left town. It was an amazingly productive day.
I then thought, what if I could replicate that experience? Maybe not as if I was going on vacation, but for a shorter period of time?
The half-day productivity hack
I typically plan out my next day's schedule the afternoon before. Doing so is my last task of each day. This way I clear my mind by committing all priorities to a schedule. As part of that process, I ask the question, “What is the most important priority to accomplish tomorrow?"
The trick is to take that thinking one step further and assume that you will be working a half day. What if you did not have the afternoon available and you absolutely had to accomplish all of your most important tasks in the morning? Would that change the way you scheduled your day?
The spinning-wheels syndrome
Without intentionally scheduling deadlines for my most important priorities, I can easily find myself working in a highly inefficient manner.
You see, my instincts tell me that I need to clear the decks of all the stuff -- emails, memos, reports, etc. -- so that I will be free of distractions before I start working on my true priorities.
Yeah, right. Give me a break. Are we to believe that the stream of emails, memos and reports ever subsides? Getting “caught up” is a fool’s errand, my friends. What’s worse is that you will burn your mental energy on non-priority tasks.
Your assignment for today and tomorrow
Try this today: late this afternoon, identify your single greatest priority for tomorrow. Then pretend that you are taking tomorrow afternoon off, or that you have a four-hour meeting that will prevent you from handling that priority late in the day.
When you start work in the morning, limit yourself to just 10 minutes for responding to urgent emails before you get to work on your priority task. Now spend the rest of your morning working on the important project you identified. Trust me, the rest of your emails, memos and reports will still be waiting for you after lunch. But you will find that you're under less mental stress since you have already knocked out your top priority in the first half of the day.
You will always have "stuff" around, waiting for you. Get the important things done first, and you’ll change your world along the way.