Time is an asset. You can never lose time and get it back again. The most productive people view their time like the best investors view their capital, as a resource to wield for maximum returns.
Jon Acuff, author of Finish: Give yourself the gift of done argues that time is our most valuable currency, and I totally agree.
Time is an asset you should value every day. It’s your most valuable resource for getting deep and focused work done.
Once this realization hits you, your approach to life and work will never be the same. You will make the most of every minute you have every day.
What you spend your time on is a reflection of your values. What did you achieve yesterday, last week, three months ago, or even last year? Is it a true reflection of who you are and what you expect of yourself?
Many people live extremely busy lives. Too many irrelevant activities compete for their attention. If you are like most people, there is a way out.
These simple but powerful productivity ideas can help you focus on what truly matters to get “real” work done.
1. Move your wake-up time
Start your morning on purpose. You can squeeze an extra two hours or more out of your day if set your alarm clock to go off just 30 minutes earlier.
If you normally get up at seven o’clock in the morning, try getting up at six-thirty a.m. instead — and put the extra minutes to good use.
You will be amazed at what you can accomplish in this short and barely noticeable change of 30 minutes added to your day. You could exercise, read, write or simply get your day off to a calm and organized start. Or better still, start getting your most important tasks done.
2. Kill your attachment to email
Productivity isn’t measured by how many emails you answer — striving for Inbox zero daily is wasteful and distracting.
The business world runs on email. While communication is great for business, email on its own is merely a tool. It can become a necessary distraction.
Beyond necessary communication (sending and responding to important emails that advance work), email can be just as much of a distraction as it is a great communication tool.
While the act of clearing out an inbox can feel as satisfying as cleaning the refrigerator, it’s ultimately just another way of wasting time, argues Dan Ariely, a psychologist and behavioral economist at Duke University, and author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.
Learning when it’s productive to pay attention to email and when you should ignore it is a necessary skill.
To tame the chaos, you need an ongoing process for managing incoming emails; prioritizing and weighing the value of different messages appropriately and responding to them at the right time without interfering with your workflow. Treat emails like appointments with yourself. Check your emails on purpose.
3. Single task with purpose — less is more
In an age of constant digital interruptions, it is no wonder you’re having trouble ignoring distractions. Juggling tasks divides your attention.
If you really have to focus on that task, limit the time you have to spend on any given task. Add dates, and due time to your to-do lists. Push yourself to deliver within a specified time and move on.
Stop multi-tasking and get used to single-tasking to improve how you work. In The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary Keller wrote, “Success demands singleness of purpose. You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.”
Single-tasking is one task at a time, with zero tolerance for distractions. Try the Pomodoro Technique to improve your chances of success when you embrace a single-tasking habit.
Focus on one task for about 30 minutes, then take a five-minute break. Then move on to another task or continue the task you were working on. If the task is too large to complete in an hour, break it into smaller tasks, and time box those smaller tasks.
4. Become proactive, not reactive
Don’t allow other people’s agenda to rule your workweek.
“Reactive” means, you don’t have the initiative. You let the events set the agenda. You are practically checking things off others’ lists.
“Proactive” on the other hand is associated with control. You are in charge. You plan and take the initiative in your own direction. Pablo Picasso once said, “Action is the foundational key for all success.”
It’s a way of dealing with things, that you can develop and strengthen. When you are proactive, you react ahead of time, hence saving you time. You choose what to do ahead of time, and get right to work at the right time every day.
Don’t wait for something to happen, make it happen! Truly successful people create their own opportunities, and act, not react!
5. Embrace time-blocking
You will be surprised at how much time you waste when you don’t schedule a time for your tasks. Time-blocking can keep distractions, procrastination and unproductive multitasking at bay. Put your calendar to good use and stick to your schedule to make the most of it.
“A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure,” says Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work.
In a way, time blocking is a form of the Pomodoro Method. It can help you to create a more deliberate and regimented structure for the workday.
Time-blocking also allows you to work deeply with minimal distractions. If you find you have trouble sticking to your schedule, consider setting daily alerts to ensure you stay on task.
For better results and avoid wasting time, plan your “time blocks” the night before. It pays to spend a few minutes before the end of the day to plan for the next day. Decide what makes a perfect day before tomorrow. Write them down. It’s the best way to prevent yourself from being distracted.
You have an average of 2,400 minutes every week to yourself but a lot can be achieved every week if you know what you are doing at any point in time. Master your time to master your life.
This article originally appeared in Medium.