Productivity is an imperfect science.
At least it is for me.
Some days, I leave the office on a high, ticking off task after task I’ve accomplished during the day on my fingers like someone you’d never want to stand next to in an elevator.
Other days, nine or so hours at work blur into a single memory, and there’s no highlight reel.
In the past few weeks, however, I’ve had multiple coworkers ask me the exact same question: How do you structure your workday? So I gave it some thought, perhaps for the first time ever, and boiled my best days down to two questions.
I can’t promise these questions will work for you — I can’t even guarantee they will continue to work for me — but they’re what’s working right now.
1. What’s most important right now?
This is my driving question. Like anyone, I could easily while away the hours at work without accomplishing the thing that matters most — and that thing constantly changes. Right now, is it most important that I:
- Edit and publish a time-sensitive post or answer an email that’s been waiting 24 hours?
- Go through a list of pitches from a reporter or weigh in on a headline for an editor who’s asked for a second opinion?
- Meet with a team member to check in or send stories to the social team to share?
These are all important things. They will all need to get done. But asking myself what’s most important right now helps me decide which comes first. Is there a deadline? Has someone been waiting? When will I see the return on my effort?
Rather than mosey through task after task, technically eroding my to-do list but setting myself up for a blur of a day, I try to make a splash.
2. What do I feel like doing?
“Finishing the book I started on the train” and “going to the beach” aren’t acceptable answers. I suppose a more accurate question is “What work do I feel like doing?”
But in the absence of a clear what’s-most-important answer, asking myself this question helps me be more productive by working with my momentum instead of against it. It helps me work in what I call “batches.”
That means when I’m on a roll with one type of work, I take full advantage. Instead of hopping back and forth between different types of tasks, I lean into one, and get as much done as I can before I come up for air.
For instance, I batch:
- Writing. I try to write stuff sometimes.
- Editing. Better to read a few posts in a row.
- Contributor posts. Business Insider works with a lot of great contributing authors and publications, and I’m lucky enough to have a hand in some of those partnerships. (If you’re interested in contributing, FAQs here.)
- Tweets. Thank goodness for the schedule-ahead feature in TweetDeck.
- Emails. Many of my emails don’t need an immediate response. Especially when they require thought, I like to submerge myself in my inbox for a period of time.
- Meetings. Whenever I have a choice, I batch my meetings back-to-back in the afternoons, so I have long stretches at my desk, and long stretches hopping between conference rooms.
When I run out of steam with one batch, there’s always another ready and waiting.
As I said before: I can’t promise these questions will work for you. But they could be a good place to start.