How many days have we all spent “spinning” around reactive or unproductive (albeit busy) activities, feeling at the end of the day as if nothing got accomplished?

In some cases our days come down to prioritization and superb project management of the tactical workload in front of us. I opine on this a bit in a previous post titled “Strategy is important, but effective execution is critical“; but here I thought I’d provide suggestions for managing a heavy workload in an 8-9 hour time frame – with a goal of feeling light on your feet at the end of the day (having been extraordinarily “productive” vs. just “busy”). In my world this workload relates to marketing, but the suggestions here could apply to any business function.

Considerations for greater efficiency during the work day – focus, focus, focus…and then step back and breathe:

  1. Establish a list of desired outcomes for the week, then keep an extremely detailed list of each and every task needed — down to the level of “schedule brainstorm session with xxx”; “review xxx research report”; “call xxx to discuss xxx”’; “complete PowerPoint outline for presentation on xx/xx”; “draft blog outline for xx/xx post”.
  2. First thing each morning — after going through your inbox, reading the news, managing a fire drill or two, or whatever…print this desired outcome/ to-do list, put it on your desk, clear everything else off your desk; and write down any other to-dos that arise from that morning’s inbox or voice mail. Then…
  3. Go through the entire list and highlight 2-3 things that Must-Absolutely-Without Fail-Be Done That Day (to reach your desired outcome for the week) – the trick is to limit to 2-3, allowing wiggle room for all the busy work that inevitably arises during the day; as well as thinking and breathing time.
  4. For the rest of the day, focus only on those highlighted items (and of course any meetings or reactive situations for which you have no choice or control).
  5. Do not “invite” any other distractions as you focus on those 2-3 things – e.g. shut down your email (unless you need it to execute the to-do), put your phone on do-not-disturb, do not talk to anyone and do not get on the internet (again, unless you need it for the to-do).
  6. Commit to those 2-3 things and focus on them until the day is up. In addition to lunch, take a 15-20 min. break in there somewhere — for a quiet walk (without your Blackberry) or just to take some deep breaths and clear your head. If you complete everything early — either pick 1-2 more to-do’s to start or complete — or use the last hour(s) for “thinking work”, “stepping-back time” or to complete “necessary busy work” (such as responding to emails/voice mails from the day, organizing documentation/files, or whatever).

Depending on the job, the trick in this multitasking world we live in is usually to FOCUS and STAY ON TASK. By picking a few things each day for which to scratch off the to-do list “come hell or high water” kinda thing — you may move more efficiently towards completion of an objective or deliverable; which is ultimately how we earn a paycheck.

Consider adopting this mantra into each working day (think “productivity and outcomes trump busy work”) — and after 2-3 months see how/if this changes not only your performance, but also your work/life balance. Just sayin’, it works for me anyway.