You can use the Pomodoro Technique to focus on one task at a time, and adhere to the principles of effective calendaring, checklists, and touching tasks only once. But operating at optimal productivity every day starts with the simple and so-obvious-it’s-overlooked premise: preparing for the next day by writing down and prioritizing tasks.
The Ivy Lee Method states it best:
- At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
- Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
- When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
- Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
- Repeat this process every working day.
Depending on your situation, six tasks may not be practical but it’s good to set limits so you don’t get overwhelmed. I top out at eight and place extras in a “back-burner” note (in my Daily Standup notebook in Evernote). Then if I happen to get through all of my tasks for the day, I work on clearing out the less urgent backlog of tasks and ideas.
For the fascinating back story on Ivy Lee, check out: The Ivy Lee Method: The Daily Routine Experts Recommend for Peak Productivity.
I’ll keep this post short so you can stop reading and start compiling and prioritizing your list of tomorrow’s tasks.
UPDATE: One question occurred to me when writing this post: “what if the first prioritized task is so enormous that it takes all day to complete or is unfinished at the end of the day?” Well, hours later, the solution appeared in my RSS Feed Reader: Break up big projects into little milestones and mark each as a task. For more, see: Be More Productive: The 15-Minute Routine Anthony Trollope Used to Write 40+ Books.