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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

The Number One Strategy For The Best Kind of Productive Day

If you think the key to a productive day is time management, that's a good guess. But, there is an even better way to increase productivity.


If you have a presentation to give at work, it's your key to success.


If you want to eat healthy, it's your secret to succeeding.


When you leave something up to chance, you are decreasing your productivity.

It is so frustrating when I don't have a plan for dinner. My boys enjoy eating out but eating out is my "default" position.

We eat out when I'm not prepared.

You spend more money when you are not prepared.

You are less focused when you are not prepared.

You make more mistakes when you are not prepared.

I was always the kind of student who finished a paper days before it was due. In graduate school I preferred to sleep on it and read it fresh before I turned something in. Now my youngest son, Sam, started laying his clothes out on our banister the night before a school day.

He's prepared and his mornings are more efficient and productive (and less stressful).

Sam puts them on the banister because our golden retriever, Sophie, likes to retrieve and carry them all around the house during the night if they are left where she can get to them.

On a trip to Boston, I left my my cosmetics bag at home. It didn't get packed. I didn't realize it was missing until I arrived late in the evening at my hotel. With a presentation in the morning, I had to figure something out. Thanks to a front desk guy who was willing to take my list, I had most of what I needed from his trip to a local CVS store. I really appreciated his efforts and even overlooked the travel size deodorant he purchased for me that was meant for men. Wearing it, I was a bit confused as I smelled like a man for a good part of the day.

What would have prevented that?

Better preparation.

These days I have a separate supply of what I need all prepared and stored in my suitcase as my main strategy for making sure I'm prepared.

But sometimes we are not prepared. When that happens you have to go with it and do the best you can. If you are normally unprepared, your productivity will continue to decrease.

I recently worked with an organization wanting to increase their productivity. I asked them to identify ways that they prepare as a means of increasing their productivity at home and at work. They shared their best strategies and committed to adopting at least one more.

Here are some of their ideas that can help you get on track for higher productivity:

1. Send agendas in advance of a meeting. If you hold a staff meeting once every week, send the prepared agenda at least 24 hours before the meeting time to those who will attend. That will help keep everyone on task during the meeting to make it the most productive. Leaving the items to discuss up to chance can get messy and people get off track. Preparation of the agenda leads to a more productive meeting.

2. Organize your "to do" list by the week, not as one, long list. Divide your tasks throughout the week. If you have to do research for a report that is due, schedule the time you need in your calendar on a day that you are likely to succeed. If you have clothes at the dry cleaner, figure out what day is the best time to pick them up. Having one long list can be overwhelming and preparing your list by days of the week is more manageable and productive.

3. Plan your meals for the week and use Sunday as a day to shop, chop, and store for all the meals for the week. Do the food prep all at once. We have started doing this and it is so much easier to cook on the weekdays. We keep the dry ingredients we will use for the week in one spot and the refrigerated ingredients on one shelf in the refrigerator. On Sundays I measure what I need and store it already premeasured and mixed. When I cook during the week, I feel like I'm in a kitchen on the Food Network. It is so much easier and productive when I cook dinner after work. I'm not stopping to search for the ingredient in the pantry. I'm not slowed down by having to measure. It's easy but it takes planning and preparation.

4. Use email effectively to communicate information. Pay attention to your subject line. Think in advance about a key word to use in the subject line so you can search for it later. Avoid subject lines that just say "follow up", "planning", "meeting", and "next week". Prepare for having to search for it and plan to use key words specific to the subject so it is easier to find. One patient of mine told me he receives or is copied on over 1,000 emails in a day. Working on the fly and not having a prepared system to file them decreases his productivity.

5. Take time off periodically, unplug from technology often, and make sure you use the analytic and creative parts of your brain. Seriously. Productivity increases when you rest your brain. Choose one night a week to turn off the television, keep your laptop closed, and keep your iPhone on mute. Yes, I know it might be difficult to do but it is going to be worth it. Burning yourself out with work overload is unproductive. Be prepared by planning for a sitter for the first Saturday of every month, planning to have lunch with a friend one day a week, or planning to get home early at least one Friday every 30 days, if possible.

Many things don't happen unless you plan them. Productivity increases with preparation.

My memory seems to be keener at the end of the day right before I go to sleep. It's because I am still, with minimal distractions and my brain is churning. I know you experience this too. If you prepare and plan for some down time, you will allow yourself to think more clearly to prepare yourself to be more productive.

Everyone wants to increase their productivity. We want to work smarter, not harder.

Evaluate for yourself how you can improve your ability to be prepared to increase productivity.

And for those times when it is just difficult to be prepared, forgive yourself and move on.

Until next time,

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