Productivity is a process.
Before you can sit down and do things, you have to sit down and plan to do things. Which is why your ability to get things done tomorrow depends heavily on your ability to organise, schedule, and reflect today.
Below, we’ve rounded up nine relatively quick tasks you can complete right now to make the next day awesome.
1. Write a ‘done’ list
A to-do list, while helpful, can cause a lot of anxiety because it shows how much progress you have left to make. A “done” list is a nice complement because it shows how far you’ve come.
To write your done list, simply jot down everything useful you’ve achieved today. Then review it.
Seeing all the “small wins” you’ve made — think catching an error in a teammate’s project report before you submit it — will motivate you to be even more creative and productive tomorrow.
2. Make a to-do list with stretch and SMART goals
According to journalist Charles Duhigg, the key to crafting an effective to-do list for tomorrow is pairing the big stuff — a.k.a stretch goals — and the little stuff — a.k.a. SMART goals.
Stretch goals are pretty much what they sound like — ambitious aims that might at first seem unachievable.
SMART stands for “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timeline.” Basically, it’s a concrete plan for achieving your stretch goal. When, where, and how exactly will you write that report, or conduct that research?
At the same time, don’t worry so much if you can’t get to everything on your to-do list. As psychologist Art Markman wrote in Fast Company, “the process of thinking ahead about the steps involved can help prime you to do the work ahead.”
In other words, as soon as you put “write project report” on your list, you’ll realise all the tasks that goal actually entails. As a result, maybe you block out more time in your schedule for the report, or at least mentally prepare yourself for a busy day.
3. Write down how you plan to complete any uncompleted tasks from today
The key to productivity tomorrow is not staying up all night thinking about all the work you have to do. In fact, it helps to take a mental break.
Research suggests that one way to stop perseverating on work when you get home is to write down how you’ll finish any tasks left over from the day. For example: “I will sit down at my desk at 9 a.m. and draft an email to the client …”
4. Leave yourself an easy task for tomorrow morning
You might have heard about “eating the frog,” or doing your most difficult tasks first thing.
That’s generally good advice — but if you’re really having trouble getting started, take a tip from Redditor Rosco7, who says that he’s more likely to procrastinate at work when he’s got a hard problem ahead of him.
If, on the other hand, he knows that the problem won’t take much time or effort to solve, he dives right into it, and then into the rest of his work as well:
“Here’s my big trick: I always try to leave myself something easy to do first thing the next morning. If I find a programming bug and see that it will be an easy fix, I leave it for the next morning. If I need to package up an installer for a new release, leave it for next morning. That way I have something easy to start out with, and I’m less tempted to do something else first.”
5. Plan to take breaks
Despite your best intentions, you probably won’t be able to handle eight hours straight of research, writing, and meetings tomorrow. So schedule in some time for resting and recharging.
Over on Quora, Paul Milano, who’s interviewed startup founders on their productivity habits, quotes one entrepreneur: “I use conscious focus and then relaxation. I do a block of 30-90 minutes of heads down work, and then I take a break of roughly 30m.”
If you can only afford to take one long-ish break, research suggests that it’s best to do so earlier in the day. That’s likely because your mental resources haven’t yet been depleted, so they’re easier to restore.
6. Block online distractions
If you couldn’t stay off social media and Wikipedia today, there’s a good reason you won’t be able to stay off tomorrow either. So take action before temptation strikes.
Think of it as outsourcing your self-control.
7. Keep only work-related programs open on your computer
Even if you don’t completely block distracting websites, you can give yourself a headstart by having work-related programs already open.
Author Michael Hyatt says he shuts down distracting websites at the end of the day and keeps open only those windows he’ll really need for work tomorrow:
“The reason I used to get sucked into email, Twitter, or Facebook, is because I had those programs open when I woke up. Now I shut them down at the end of the day. I only have open those apps I need to see when I wake up.”
8. Make a 15-minute list
If you want to make tomorrow super productive, plan to get stuff done even during down time.
“Keep it with you so you can convert those odd moments of time, like waiting in line or waiting at the dentist’s office, into productive microsegments of work.”
It’s also a way to avoid procrastinating by going on Facebook or mindlessly checking email.
9. Go to bed at a reasonable hour
We know: You’ve heard this one before. But you’d be surprised just how much your bedtime affects your productivity the next day.
As Business Insider’s Rachel Gillett has reported, a McKinsey study demonstrated a link between skimping on sleep and inefficiency at work.
One shocking finding? Gillett writes: “The individual performance on a range of tasks of people who are awake for 17 to 19 hours, for example, is equivalent to that of a person with a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, the legal drinking limit in many countries.”
Don’t show up drunk to work tomorrow. Go to bed.
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