Ever have those days that feel just perfect?
These are the days where you’re clicking on all cylinders. Everything is falling into place. You actually get through your to-do list with enough time left over for leisure.
Once it’s time for leisure you use that time to create a memorable evening. By the end you have a day you would love to consistently have.
While many things are outside of our control, what can we do to create the ideal productive day? How can we plan a day we would wish to live day in and day out?
In this post, I discuss simple strategies to maximize what you get out of 24 hours.
When Do You Work the Best?
I have a simple rule when I’m in control of my schedule – don’t schedule anything important between 1-3 PM.
These are my least productive hours by far.
How do I know? A combination of wonderful technology and personal awareness.
Let’s start with the obvious, you know when you’re being unproductive.
Think about the times you spend more time scrolling through your social media feed or think about food (24/7 for me). These are times you need to step away from work if you can.
With the power of technology, we can be more precise to pinpoint are golden hours.I like the Rescue Time extension for my browser.
The app tracks how much time you spend on social media, work-related tasks, and other common categories. You can also create your own categories to form a more personalized experience.
In addition, to the browser extension, I also use the phone app (also free) to track anytime I don’t’ spend on my laptop.
Through the app, I know which times I’m the most productive and which time slots I rather should just take a nap. Once you have an idea of when you’re the most productive, schedule your most important task then.
For some of you, this time may be as soon as you wake up. For others, it may be at odd hours in the night. Whatever works for you!
Plan Fun Before Work:
This is a tip I love giving in medical school, but it applies to any stressful schedule.
Anyone with the intention of working hard will try to fill their day with as much work as possible.
While this is admirable, it’s not efficient.
You would likely get the same amount (and likely better quality) of work done if you restrict yourself. Thus plan play time before work time.
What do I mean by this?
If you’re a student, for example, plan one thing outside of studying or academics you want to look forward to.
This can be getting in a workout, having dinner with friends, or simply an hour to watch your favorite TV show.
Once you schedule this bit of fun into your schedule, you know what time you have to work with for work itself.
A quick example from a “perfect” day I recently had. I had planned to play basketball with some friends in the evening. Usually, these games go long and motivation is low to work when I return home.
Thus the early hours (where I’m the most productive) to complete my work for the day. Working hard is not hard for many of you; often it’s planning in the fun that becomes tricky.
To make sure you have a good balance to your work life, plan the fun first.
Minimize the Priorities:
I struggle with this one the most.
I for the longest time would have a to-do list that was too long out of pure ambition.
It became discouraging to end day after day where I hadn’t even touched things on my list, even after several days.
I had to control my optimism and focus on 2-5 things a day. Now it’s easy to pinpoint your top 1-2 priorities. They’re commonly your work, studies, and/or loved ones.
What’s difficult is figuring out what the last 3-4 priorities for the day will be.
I discuss in a previous post how one of the first things I do in the morning is planning my 4-5 priorities for the day.
Once I have them, I schedule time blocks to work on them throughout the day.
Using this method I can visualize what my day will look like. By the end of the day, I feel energized rather than discourage because I successfully completed the few things I chose to focus on that day.
If you’re struggling with ambition paralysis, keep it to 5 and work from there. As you develop streaks of having a productive day, you’ll be amazed by how much you accomplish in a week.
Begin With and End With Motivation:
Let’s face it, some days you just don’t want any part of it.
If you had a choice you would sleep through it and try again tomorrow. Unfortunately, this is not a choice and can be damaging over time.
To make sure I minimize the days that I drag through, I start and end my day with some form of motivation.
The best forms of motivation I’ve found for my mornings are these motivational YouTube Video.
It’s hard not to be pumped up after those. I’ll listen to them while I’m preparing my breakfast and getting ready for the day.
I can’t count the number of groggy mornings which transformed into a “today is the day” mindset after listening to these short clips.
Other forms of motivation can be quotes, a short morning read, podcasts, a morning run, and so much more!
To end the day you can simply use the same motivation you began the day with. I, instead, take this time for a quick personal reflection.
If my day went well (which they usually do) I cherish that enjoyment and it serves as motivation to have another great day tomorrow. Corny, yes, but effective nonetheless.
Have Diversity In Your Day:
It can hard to escape the typical cycle of work, eat, and sleep. Too many consecutive days in a row and you can find yourself in a slump. An easy way to overcome this is to always keep things fresh in your schedule.
For example, how boring would working out get if every day you’re doing the same set of exercises? Eventually, you’d lose motivation to even go to the gym. This gym analogy also holds true for our day. If we begin and end our day with the same content in the middle, we’ll be bored and complacent.
Yes, it can be difficult for a student or an 8-5 employee to have full control over their 24 hours, but you can still keep it interesting. For example, as a student, I would use some of my days to just do practice questions.
The next day I would only focus on my required reading. The following day I would use the whiteboard to go over the material I’d learned from the previous days. Each day had its own purpose, and while it was a routine, the cycle never became boring and thus demotivating.
You may not be comfortable with having different dedicated days for your studies or hobbies – I get it. Still, you can diversify your hours. Prior to beginning your day, you list out the tasks that need to be done.
Now block off a specific amount of time for each activity.
Once that block is over, regardless of where you are on that task, you move on. This not only keeps things fresh but forces you to be more productive with your time.
Avoid the Energy Drainers:
We all know what these energy drainers are.
They are your TV shows, social media, and Reddit articles. While they are entertaining, they can be detrimental by disrupting any flow you developed in the day. I do think they have their place.
I love watching TV to end my day, but I try my best to not have it as a distraction prior to finishing my work.
The same goes for browsing through my Facebook feed or watching youtube videos. They serve as a great reward after all tasks are completed, but are too good at making you comfortable at being lazy and sedentary.
The other energy drainer, especially in medical school, is your diet and activity level. Those lunch talks with free pizzas and sandwiches can take their toll on you. Every now and then they’re acceptable (free is highly attractive to a medical student), but they can force you to become sluggish.
In addition, while you may be productive sitting studying or working for hours, you’re body is taking a toll by simply not being active enough.
If you can’t commit to going to the gym, simply walking for 5-10 minutes in between your breaks can prevent sluggishness.
So bring your lunch more often then you eat out, make sure you’re moving throughout the day, and stay away from the distractions of social media or TV.
To summarize, the ideal productive day requires you to: –
- Know What Time You Are the Most Productive
- Plan Something to Look Forward to Every Day
- Narrow Down The Number of Priorities
- Start and End with Motivation
- Diversify Your Schedule to Keep it Interesting th
- Avoid thee Draining Distractions Day after day
I use these tips to maximize my minutes and hours. Hopefully, you can add at least one of them into your day and enjoy the results! Thanks for reading!
If there is something specific you’d like me to address in a future blog post, comment below or email me at [email protected].
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If you’re a first or second-year medical student wanting guidance on how to succeed in medical school, read my book, The Preclinical Guide. I provide all the tips I wish I knew day one of medical school. Check out the book here.
Until next time…