Productivity Tricks: 3 Ways to Build a Smarter Routine

The highest achievers are strict disciplinarians. Use these three easy steps to boost your odds of success.

Flickr photo courtesy of Vicky Sedgwick

I am not ashamed to admit this: I am über Type A. I believe in “going hard or going home,” as they say, and pushing to the very end.

As an entrepreneur, I suspect, we all share this persistence: You don’t start something without the hunger to follow through. You don’t execute on that business plan without having an extra dose of guts and stick-to-it-ness.

But true Type A’s are not only persistent but disciplined as well. It’s all about sticking to a routine when everyone else thinks you are flying by the seat of your pants. That’s what really improves your chances of success.

I am not the first to write about it—I could recommend a couple of books (1-Minute Manager, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, and The Goal) or refer you to the Harvard Business Review columns by Bob Pozen, chairman emeritus of MFS Investment Management and a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School. Even Timothy Ferris’ 4-Hour Work Week is, at its core, all about productivity and discipline.

Here are the three productivity tricks I use to be more disciplined—and more effective:

1. Make Daily Lists

Since sixth grade, I have kept a legal pad with my day’s to-dos. Every night before sleep, I re-write them and prioritize for the next day.

When we launched FITiST, many fellow entrepreneurs told me to abandon the to-do list. They said the playbook would develop as a reaction to the day’s events, and told me there was no way I could accomplish what I wanted to on any given day. But although every day at a start-up does end differently than it started, the to-do list gives me a checks-and-balances system.

Make it a habit; feel victorious when you cross things off; and learn to feel OK moving things to the next day. Trust me: The lists will become your road map.

2. Manage the Email Drain

In ancient times (1997, to be exact), Alec MacKenzie published his book The Time Trap. Even before Facebook, the iPad, and today’s information overload, MacKenzie recognized that time was a unique resource and that you need to plan, organize, and delegate accordingly.

What’s the biggest time trap for most entrepreneurs? I’d say it’s email. We all have it: inboxes thousands of messages deep, more items than we can act on, anxiety over things that slipped through the cracks.

You need to find an email strategy that works for you, then stick to it.

My solution? I clear out my inbox every night of all action items for the previous day—and then on Sundays, I review my inbox from the past week to make sure everything was taken care of. That system may not work for you—but the most important thing is that you find one that does, and then stick to it. Don’t drown in email quicksand.

3. Make a Date … With Yourself.

Let’s face it: Your life is now your work. It’s like a marriage; “for better or for worse,” you are stuck with the business you created. But still you need to make dates to connect with your loved one. And your loved one, in this sense, isn’t your business: It’s yours truly.

Love to run? Pencil it in for 8 a.m. every morning. Addicted to Revenge? Set that DVR. Whatever your outlet is, don’t let it slide. Your sanity will thank you.

You may not think three things are enough to attain a solid routine, but they are a good start—and they are all I have time for right now. Also: Now I can happily check another thing off my to-do list.


By Caroline Limpert

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