Remember when a phone was just a phone, and the most distracting thing it did was ring? Now, you can’t get through a conversation, meal, or project without checking your email, retweeting a picture, or responding to a text. In the past, people didn’t battle with social media and constant connectivity that only makes it harder to focus.
I’m not suggesting you throw away your phone and move to a remote cabin in the woods. The real problem isn’t the gadgets — it’s us. Here are eight ways even the most inundated person can guarantee a more productive day:
Buy an alarm clock.
More people are using alarm apps on their phones. When you do that, the first thing you do after is check your email, respond to a text, or browse Facebook. Suddenly, focus has been wrenched from your day. You’re starting a race by going in 10 different directions at once.
Create your ideal day.
Whenever we’re asked about our day, our go-to response is “Fine.” What about making it amazing? Write down what it takes to have an ideal day: getting coffee at your favorite café, going for a run, or having a date night. It may be impossible to squeeze them into a single day, but choose two or three each day to fit into your schedule.
Eight for the day.
Every morning, make a list of eight goals to accomplish. Tell yourself that if you can’t complete those eight tasks within an eight-hour workday, you’re using your time in the wrong way. I try to include six professional goals and two personal ones from my “ideal day” list.
Break it down.
Whether you’re building a house or a company website, any complex process can be broken into a series of smaller steps. Determining milestones creates a roadmap so you can predict where you’ll encounter obstacles and opportunities, gives your brain a routine, allowing it to work faster and better through repetition, and enables you to easily identify where a problem arose so you can find a solution.
Consider your space.
People who are interested in efficiency often think of processes, systems and gadgets, but they don’t always consider their environment. Pay attention to your work habits. Consider your space and the objects occupying it. Know when you need peace and when you need background noise.
Send action-only emails.
Don’t send out emails without a clear direction or call to action. If you describe a problem, describe a few options, and ask what the person thinks, you’ve communicated a problem without instigating action.
Gift yourself 15 minutes.
Often, we spend our time jumping from meeting to meeting without taking a break or accomplishing real work. Learn to cut each meeting by 15 minutes. You’ll be amazed at how this affects your freedom to move from one task to the next. (And most meetings can stand to be 15 minutes shorter.)
Simply put, this means spending 60 minutes every day offline and disconnected. This means no Internet, meetings, or phone notifications, providing you the chance to focus on a single project. When I go into my offline time, I tweet #OfflineDarkSixty to encourage others to join me in the dark.
When you learn how to focus your efforts and use your time more wisely, you’ll find yourself achieving more success, health, and happiness. You’ll also find you have a lot more free time.
My father is a perfect example. When he first launched his orthodontist practice, he worked five days a week. Eventually, he decided to close on Fridays. By tightening his schedule and arranging appointments more efficiently, he could work less while earning the same amount. He even began making more due to the increased efficiency and savings of closing for a day. The best part was that he found more time to spend with family.
If you want to spend more time with your family and less time browsing Facebook, implement a few of these changes to boost productivity. In fact, you can start right now.
This article has been edited and condensed.
John Meyer is the founder and CEO of Lemonly, a visual marketing firm that creates understanding through visuals. John wants to turn your lemons into lemonade with infographics and data viz. He writes about focus and productivity at the PointLetter.com. Connect with @johntmeyer on Twitter.
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