Productivity: It’s Not About the Time You Find

“How do I find time so I can be more productive?”

I hear that question often, but never with a satisfying answer.

Why? Because you can’t find or make more time. It’s our most precious, non-renewable resource. It’s the only thing I can’t give you more of!

Here’s the better question: “What choices can I make today to help me be more productive in the time I have?” This is the only question that provides the answers you’re looking for.

Productivity and behavioral experts including Dr. Ron Friedman (author of Best Place to Work), tell us we each have—at best—a daily three-hour window of opportunity to perform at our peak level.

However, we have an unprecedented amount of distraction in our lives today.

How many times have you checked your phone today? How often did you stop what you’re doing so you could respond or react to emails and texts? How long did you wait before logging into social media this morning?

If you’re like most people, your answers reveal just how easy it is to lose your focus and be consumed by distractions. Yes, some are necessary, but our habits are not. They are choices. The more we choose to be distracted, the more resistant we become to performing at our best.

Change your thinking; change your outcomes.

Focus on making better choices with how you spend your time. That’s the key to productivity. Treat those three hours a day as golden time: untouchable by all but yourself.

Let’s break this down further. By changing your thinking on how you spend your time, there are two components to the solution.

The first is about how to maximize your prime-time hours. Here are four must-do steps, based on the business habits I see in top performers.

Do the critical stuff first. For most people, those three hours of productive time are in the morning. So use those to complete your most important and difficult tasks. This could be proposal writing, customer calls or meetings, negotiations, or dealing with client issues. Focus on work that’s most important to your territory: namely, closing deals and dealing with customers.

Shut off all distractions. Treat anything that takes your attention away from your critical tasks as something that needs to be managed. If there’s noise in the office hallway, close your door. If email and social media notifications beckon, turn off your wi-fi. As for me, I put my phone in a desk drawer!

Plan ahead. Spend 15 minutes at the start of your day documenting your top-three tasks in descending order of priority. Take a quick break and start with #1, then work your way through until done.

Block the time. An open block on your calendar is an invitation for others to fill it. Don’t let that happen. Your most important time of the day is that three-hour window. Guard it selfishly. And be ready to show results achieved.

Now that you’ve conquered your most productive three hours of the day, what do you do with the rest of your working hours? You can’t ignore them, because making better choices during your lower energy times of day are equally important for achieving greater overall sales productivity.

Do one thing at a time. Multitasking is a lie we tell ourselves to hide the fact we’re choosing to be unfocused. Your time and your work each deserve better than that. While it will feel less productive at first, trust me, by the end of the week you’ll be achieving more by monotasking than you ever did by multitasking.

Short periods of focus. A short period of uninterrupted focus will yield better results than a longer stretch where your attention is divided. Schedule work blocks of no greater than 30–40 minutes.

Take a break. Intersperse your focus periods with breaks. Make them meaningful. Go for a walk. Read. Close your eyes. Grab a snack. One of the fastest ways you can reinvigorate yourself is by simply removing yourself from a physical space for small amounts of time.

Interact with others. Schedule clients calls or meetings during this time to ensure you stay focused and energized. Talking to others can minimize the bottoming-out effect that occurs during hours when you’re at your least productive.

Changing your thinking about how and when you work—exercising better choices over how you spend your time—will have a profound effect on how much you can get done and how you’ll feel about the quality of the work you do. The more deliberate you are in managing your time, the fiercer you will be in owning your day and the results you achieve.