Photo credit: S.C. Asher, Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo credit: S.C. Asher, Creative Commons/Flickr

Nothing high-tech and nothing fancy. I’ve realized that what works for me are actions that trigger additional positive, productive behaviors and require me to be mindful. Here are my favorites strategies for being productive.

Create a keystone habit.

People who are close to me know that I am pretty protective of my leisurely mornings. I wake up around 6 a.m., get dressed (with clothes I laid out the night before), make myself a big breakfast, and catch up on my favorite blogs. No rushing, no panic, and no hunger.  As a result, I am happy, I don’t get hulk-smash hungry in the middle of the morning (which makes me irritable and unable to focus), and I arrive at work determined and ready to dig in. This one habit sets the tone for a productive day. Alexis Grant, a writer and digital strategist, talks about the power of positive, daily habits in her newsletter:

If I’d only started doing yoga, this wouldn’t qualify as a keystone habit. But as my yoga practice becomes more consistent — I now go twice a week — I find myself forming other healthy habits, too. Because I feel so good after yoga, I don’t eat unhealthy food when I get home. And because I want to feel good at yoga the next day, I’ve been skipping my unhealthy evening snack, too.

Cultivating ONE new habit has helped me create a healthier lifestyle.

But you don’t have to apply this science to your health. Here are a few other areas where you might want to create or change a keystone habit: 

Writing — What ONE writing habit could you focus on that would serve as a launch board for a great writing career? It could be committing to writing 100 words each day or blogging for 30 minutes as soon as you get up. If you can stick to one positive habit, you’ll soon see the benefits and reap the rewards… and then adopt other smart writing practices, too.

What habit can you adopt that will anchor your day and push you to do better work?

Start the work day with easy wins.

For me, this is usually responding to emails, updating the writer or editorial calendar, or sorting articles that need edits. These are light things that tend to have a domino effect on me: I start plowing through similar activities and get into a groove.

End a meeting with next steps and get an agenda before hand. 

I’ve become religious about this. When we meet, we should be able to answer the question: Why are we here? And when we’re done, we should be able to answer: What will be accomplished now that we’ve met?

Carve out time to think big.

Friday’s at work are light days. We don’t publish a lot of content on Friday for two reasons: 1. Fridays are our lowest traffic days 2. I need time to meet, read, reflect, and plan! So on Fridays, my day isn’t jammed with tons of tasks like editing articles, pitching, and meetings. Instead, I’m doing more of my big-picture thinking and supporting the other people on my team. LinkedIn’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, advocates scheduling nothing on a daily basis.

In aggregate, I schedule between 90 minutes and two hours of these buffers every day (broken down into 30- to 90-minute blocks). It’s a system I developed over the last several years in response to a schedule that was becoming so jammed with back-to-back meetings that I had little time left to process what was going on around me or just think.

At first, these buffers felt like indulgences. I could have been using the time to catch up on meetings I had pushed out or said “no” to. But over time I realized not only were these breaks important, they were absolutely necessary in order for me to do my job.

Here’s why:

As an organization scales, the role of its leadership needs to evolve and scale along with it. I’ve seen this evolution take place along at least two continuum: from problem solving to coaching and from tactical execution to thinking strategically. What both of these transitions require is time, and lots of it. Endlessly scheduling meeting on top of meeting and your time to get these things right evaporates.

Even if you aren’t a manager, time to reflect is priceless and critical to your growth.

If it matters, put it on your calendar.

This is to follow up with the point above. If you need time to read, put it on your calendar. Want to check in with co-workers, put it on your calendar. Honor it so it becomes a regular part of your schedule.

Ignore things you’re not ready to use.

When you’re tying to push yourself to grow, it’s easy to consume information constantly. I have a tendency to do that but here’s the thing: if I don’t act on knowledge, I lose it. So unless I am ready to change something or need help planning something, I try to limit what job-related stuff I read.  For example, if I’m not going to dive into Google+ now, I’m going to hold off on reading about it until I am. Of course, you need to know what’s going on in your field, but you should carefully pick the publications you need, and be OK ignoring the rest.

What helps you be productive?