My Most Productive Days Are a Result of These Five Choices

A simple framework to get your most important work done.

Productivity is a direct result of choices.

So it’s no coincidence the days I get the most work done are the ones in which I make the following five choices…

1. I choose what to do first.

We can only do one thing at a time so the first big decision to make with our day is to identify the single most important piece of work to tackle and choose to do it at the start of the day.

By doing so, we ensure even if the rest of the day goes off the rails, we’ll have at least made progress on what matters most.

Deciding to focus on our most important work first also has another benefit: It forces us to prioritize our work and not just be reactive.

Our time is best spent on the work that generates the most value, not the work that happens to get thrown at us most recently or from the person whose voice is the loudest.

Try this:

Block out the first 30–60 minutes in your schedule every work day and don’t schedule any meetings, calls, or appointments in that time. Don’t even check email in that time.

Reserve it so you can decide each morning what your most important work is for that day and devote time to it without distraction.

Doing this is one of the ways I’ve managed to send valuable tips to creators every week for five years.

2. I choose to say no.

Our ability to get important work done is directly related to our ability to say no to work that’s less important.

Everything that comes our way — meeting invites, requests, questions, projects, opportunities, etc. — represents a choice. We may feel like we “can’t say no,” but that’s not true.

Some things may be more difficult to turn down than others, but everything can — and should — be declined or postponed for work of higher priority.

When we recognize this, we discover our daily productivity often boils down our choices about when to say no.

The more we embrace no, the more likely we are to have a productive day.

Try this:

Commit to say no to at least one thing every day.

It doesn’t have to be something huge — it can be as simple as turning down a meeting invitation and offering a more convenient time instead.

Forcing yourself to say no at least once a day will help you become more comfortable with doing so and realize how powerful a no can be for you.

3. I choose to ask questions.

Questions unlock knowledge and knowledge increases productivity.

The more (and better) questions we ask, the more effective and efficient our work becomes.

Pick the brains of people who do similar work to get tips on how best to do it, ask customers who use a product what they’d like to see in it as opposed to guessing on how to improve it, or request specific directions from a boss about a project instead of just winging it.

Whether we ask our colleagues, customers, or even Google, the questions we ask can have a huge impact on the fate of our work day.

(Btw, another simple way to learn from how others are productive is to get For The Interested.)

Try this:

Whenever you get curious about something jot it down and keep a running list of questions.

That way, when you wind up in a meeting or conversation with somebody who has expertise on that subject you can refer to your list and ask away as opposed to having to remember or come up with new questions in the moment.

4. I choose how long to work.

The key to being productive is not to work more hours — quite the opposite.

Work expands to fill the time we give it so there’s no such thing as “getting all our work done” in a given day.

Our productivity and the quality of our work will actually decline if we push ourselves to work too many hours.

A better approach is to make a conscious decision about how much we plan to work in a given day and when that work will happen.

When we create rules for ourselves we’re able to prevent work from bleeding over into a never-ending cycle and decreasing our productivity.

For example, you might choose to go out to lunch and get away from the office every day no matter what, or opt to shut off your phone at 7 pm every night, or refuse to check email on weekends.

The specific rules don’t matter as much as making the conscious choice to have and follow them. Doing so keeps us in control of our work as opposed to the other way around.

Try this:

If you struggle to stick to your own self-imposed rules, create hard commitments at the beginning, middle, or end of the work day that will be more likely to force you to obey your rules.

For example, if you have a 6:30 pm dinner reservation with friends you’re unlikely blow it off to stay at the office. Or, paying for a 7 am spin class may prevent you from showing up at the office to start working at the crack of dawn.

5. I choose what to do last.

Just like it’s important to be intentional about our first work of the day, it’s equally powerful to use a similar approach to our final work of the day.

No matter how deliberate we’ve been and how great the decisions we’ve made during the day, there will be things that slipped through the cracks or went sideways.

Take the last 30–60 minutes of the day to address them.

Figure out the top priority to get done in that moment and spend this time doing it. The work we do last at the end of the day can turn a misguided day into a productive one.

Try this:

Somewhere on your to-do list is a thing you’ve avoided doing because it’s a hassle, scary, or just something you’d rather not face.

Use this time at the end of the day to do that thing.

When you tackle a thing you’ve avoided— or at least get started on it — at the end of the day, you do your future self a huge favor.

And the next day you’ll discover that thing suddenly it doesn’t seem so daunting any more.

It may even be the perfect thing to start your next productive day.