I spend a lot of time thinking up ways to be more productive. My hypothesis is that if I can figure out how to be productive during the hours of 7am – 5pm and compartmentalize my work into those hours – I might have a shot at being a normal, healthy human being.

Here’s some context. Some days I’m the energizer bunny and attacking my to-do list with extreme vigilance. Sometimes I’m the ADHD kid – an impulsive click-happy freak that bounces between email, twitter & youtube in the guise of “relaxing” before starting real work.

In order to control my multiple productive personalities, I’ve had to invent some ground rules for myself. These rules seek to control my varied attention span and keep myself on task, sane and contributing work of value. So without further ado, here’s my personal rules for productivity:

1) No tech in the morning – I used to check my email immediately after my alarm went off in the morning. I found that this was unproductive and an extremely stressful way to start the day. I now have a strict “no tech” rule for my mornings. I shut off all electronics including my phone and pack them for the office the night before and don’t touch them before I leave the house. I save stress & actually get to the office sooner. Win-win.

2) Controlling Email – Email is evil. You pretend it’s productive – but hate to tell you, it’s not productive. I’ve found a couple things that work for me to control the email monster. I check email first thing in the morning (usually between 7-9am) and try not to touch it again for the rest of the day. Of course I respond to the occasional exciting / emergency email that comes through, but I’ve become comfortable with leaving most things until the next day. I’m also daily zero-inboxer thanks to a genius service called Boomerang as I can ignore / send messages back to my inbox when it makes sense.

3) Three Things – I’ve adopted this after reading several articles which recommended it. Creating a list of priorities for what I’d like to accomplish for the day has changed my life. The three things are not just any three goals, but the three most impactful things you can get done that day. Suddenly the little crap you feel like you “should do” fades away, those things don’t matter. I spend 30 minutes in the morning breaking each of the 3 things down into a list of smaller tasks. If I get fall into a 3pm energy slump, I fall back on these mini-plans to help me keep marching in the right direction.

4) Schedule Work Blocks – I’m an avid calendar person. I set reminders militantly – and even send calendar invites to friends for drinks (and get made fun of on a regular basis). I’ve found that by scheduling three “work blocks” of 1.5-2 hours into my calendar I’m more likely to get them done. It also prevents me from scheduling impromptu meetings when I should be pushing my 3 things forward that day.

5) Limit Meetings – Speaking of meetings, try to stop having them. Jason Fried has a great talk about this topic. I set aside Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for meetings and try to limit them during the rest of the week. This lets me take my distractions in big chunks instead of little interruptions. I’ve also found using a service like Schedule Once reduces back-and-forth typical found when scheduling meetings – I just include my link in an email & wait for the meeting request to come through.

6) Block yourself – You’ve heard about people locking their cupboards to stay away form an oh-so-tempting cupcake when on a diet. Protecting your productivity is no different. I use a cocktail of online tools to slap my hand anytime I want to be unproductive during Work Blocks. My favorite is Antisocial – which blocks typical social media sites and even email for a specified amount of time.Freedom blocks the internet for a specified period of time, also good.  For some serious time-waster sites – you can even block your ability to access them via your computer terminal.

7) Get Thing Done – I created a desktop background with the words “Done is better than perfect” and have tried to make it my personal mantra. It doesn’t mean we should produce mediocre work, but rather that the perfection strategy does very little if we haven’t taken action. Remind yourself that your job is to make great things happen – not create the utopian strategy or a 75-hour proposal. Set limits on the time you give yourself to get things done and read up on the 4 hour work week if you need a boost.

8) Find Accountability – The best motivator for productivity is fear. Fear of a bad grade enabled us to finish that 10 page paper when we were in college. Fear of embarrassing ourselves helps us create an amazing project or presentation. Being in an office or startup environment is no different – except oftentimes we have to create the fear ourselves. For example, we’ve recently implemented a Weekly forecast that outlines initiatives for the week and sent out to the whole Dabble team. At the end of the week it’s easy to see who was getting shit done and who got lost in the vortex. Whether it’s announcing your goals to your boss / mentor, hiring a life-coach or using an app like “lift” – find something or someone to keep you accountable.

9) Reward yourself – The best motivator to be productive is the fun at at the end of the day. It’s a lot easier to shut down your computer in the evenings when you have something to look forward to. Find time to exercise or get outside, catch up with friends at a BBQ, take a class in something you’re curious about or spend time geeking out over a favorite movie. You’ll walk into work the next morning refreshed and more likely to get things done than if you slaved til 9pm.

I won’t pretend to have these things totally under control. I cheat on these rules quite frequently. But I find the days where I stick to them are the days that I walk away from my work day feeling like I conquered the world AND have the energy to go out for a kick-ass dinner or hang with friends.

Erin & I started Dabble because we wanted to solve our own pain point. We were consulting for too many hours. We got too busy with work and started to ignore our curiosities, our hobbies, the things that make us tick.  Basically – we found it difficult to do great work AND have a life.

What we realized is that the change of scenery from consulting to Dabble makes it easier to find balance – heck, it’s now our job. But we still have to fight tooth & nail to keep ourselves from getting sucked into the vortex of “one more thing” to add to our workday.

Work is never done, but what’s done at 6pm can be finished for that day. Put down your pens. Shut down your computer. I don’t know about you – but I would prefer to go out and play.

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What do you do to stay productive at work, so you can feel good about leaving on time? We’d love to hear in the comments section below!

Jess is the co-founder of Dabble. She lives in Denver Colorado and spends her weekends playing frisbee golf, hitting the slopes on her snowboard, taking cool Dabble classes and loving her job.

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