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Do you often find yourself at the end of a workday wondering why you didn’t accomplish more?
This scenario is painfully familiar to me and most productivity-oriented people who have ambitious goals but don’t always feel like they made the most of their productive work hours.
If you frequently find yourself thinking that you aren’t doing enough, it might be time to adopt new habits!
In this article, I share 10 proven tips on how to have a productive day every day. Backed by research and my own experience with time management and navigating procrastination, these tips offer practical solutions to enhance your daily productivity, regardless of your line of work.
10 proven ways to have a productive day
1. Plan your day in advance
Just as a builder wouldn’t start a project without a blueprint, a productive day begins with a solid plan.
You can either do it the night before or in the morning – both work depending on your personality.
Personally, I plan my tomorrows with Sunsama every night at 9 pm, so when I wake up in the morning, I already know exactly what my day will look like.
Sunsama also helps me schedule my day into the calendar so I can see whether or not my workload is realistic and avoid overcommitting.
There have been multiple studies over the years that support the effectiveness of daily planning. Some show that 10-12 minutes of planning can save you about two hours of wasted time due to staying focused and always knowing what to do next.
A research study by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychologist from the Dominican University of California, indicates that people who write down their goals every day are 42% more likely to achieve them.
Planning your day beforehand can drastically reduce the time wasted in indecision and inefficiency.
Taking just a few minutes every evening to outline your tasks for the next day can save hours of wasted time and confusion. Not only does it help prioritize your tasks, but it also provides a clear roadmap to follow, ensuring a productive day with less stress and more accomplishments.
2. Time-block your activities
Planning your day is the first step – but often not enough by itself.
Many people are good at writing long to-do lists, but not everyone is great at actually following through and crossing everything off.
This is why time-blocking your activities is an effective method to intentionally have a productive day. It allows you to choose a specific time for each important task – and during that time you commit to not do anything but that one thing.
Modern technology takes this to the next level. AI day planners, such as Motion or TimeHero, can automatically build your schedule based on your tasks’ priorities and deadlines, taking into account your work habits.
This way, each task that needs to be done that day gets a reserved place in your calendar. Keep your schedule handy – and you’ll have a clear idea of what you are supposed to do at any given time during the day.
When you are time-blocking your activities, you can also evaluate your schedule and make necessary adjustments to optimize your productivity. Doing this regularly will help you maintain a balanced workload and ensure that your working hours are spent on meaningful tasks.
3. Start with the hardest task
Starting your day by nailing the hardest task is a great way of winning your day before it’s fully begun. This method leverages your fresh morning energy, where your willpower is usually at its peak.
It’s a strategy backed by psychology – completing your most daunting task first not only gives you a sense of achievement but also frees up your mind to focus on other tasks with less weight on your shoulders.
Contrary to popular belief, the key to a productive day may not always be about maintaining a constant pace. Oftentimes, there is one task that makes all the difference, and crossing it off your list alone will qualify the day as “productive.”
Every morning, ask yourself – if you could only possibly finish one task from your to-do list today, which one would bring the most value? As you identified the one, focus on it fully until you succeed.
This technique is commonly known as “eating the frog” (popularized by Brian Tracy in his bestselling book) and can significantly increase your productivity if you simply apply it every day.
4. Set a time limit for each task
Being a fast worker is admirable, but using your time wisely is where the real productivity lies.
As a perfectionist, I tend to overdeliver a lot – and in most cases, it’s not more than a waste of time that slightly pleases your ego.
Setting a time limit for each of your tasks has lots of benefits:
- keeps you fully focused on the task because there is a deadline,
- prevents unnecessary perfectionism,
- provides a structure for your day, and
- ensures that you’re making progress at a steady pace.
Since I learned the concept of timeboxing with digital apps, it’s become much easier to keep my perfectionist tendencies under control.
While estimating and limiting the task’s allowed timeframe might add an extra minute or two to your daily planning routine, the amount of work you end up actually getting done when you are “not allowed” to perfect things is incredible!
There are multiple ways to ensure you don’t miss the “deadline.” You can set notifications on your phone, use a Pomodoro timer app, or use any other countdown tool, even something as simple as a kitchen timer.
Personally, I use the focus mode in Sunsama, which hides everything else from sight and clocks the time I’m working on a particular task.
Besides, beating the clock can be a fun challenge that provides a sense of accomplishment and reminds you of your productivity throughout the day!
5. Get enough sleep
Even if you are the most diligent worker, sleep deprivation can subtly dig into your productivity.
You’d likely find a lack of sleep on any list of top productivity killers in the workplace. It’s also one of the most common reasons you can’t focus on a task long enough and end up procrastinating.
Sacrificing a few hours of sleep to get more work done might seem like a productive strategy, but in reality, according to studies, it’s a major setback to your efficiency.
If you’re not careful, this can lead to a decrease in cognitive function, slower response times, and even negatively impact the quality of your work.
Every hour of sleep lost is easily an hour of productivity and clarity lost, if not more. So, each hour you spend working late into the night, you’re actually trading off your capacity to perform optimally the next day!
To avoid falling into the trap of sleep deprivation, prioritize a good night’s sleep. Consider using sleep trackers or wellness apps to ensure you’re getting enough rest to keep your productivity levels at their peak.
6. Block potential distractions
If you feel really unproductive at the end of every day no matter what you do, you might not realize how much distractions are eating away your time and attention.
Whether it’s smartphone notifications, typical work-from-home distractions, internal things like shiny object syndrome, or annoying coworker interruptions, it’s important to find a way to minimize them or eliminate them completely if you want a productive day.
So take a critical look at your whole day of work.
If your distractions are mostly digital, using something like RescueTime to track your online habits is an easy way to get a clear picture of where your time goes.
Then you can block those sneaky culprits with one of the website blockers for productivity. At least during your work hours.
If you keep finding new ways to distract yourself, some blockers like Freedom offer to block the whole Internet. (If you dare.)
This conscious effort to maintain a distraction-free environment will act as a shield, protecting your focus and promoting productive work. It will also create a serene workspace where you can engage in tasks with undivided attention!
7. Use AI tools to get more done
I am really grateful to live in the AI era. All the rapid advancements in smart software are fascinating, and I look forward to seeing what comes next.
Leveraging AI tools for productivity is not only for tech-savvy folk anymore – it’s accessible to literally everyone who uses digital technology in their professional life.
Smart digital tools not only automate mundane tasks but also help you achieve more in less time. I’m sure you heard the expression “work smarter, not harder” – Ai takes it to a whole new level. It equips you with smart solutions that take over the most time-consuming chunks of your work.
If you are overwhelmed with all the possible use cases, start with something basic.
Just be aware of the shiny object syndrome and don’t try to check out every single new tool you hear of. (Talking from experience here – it wastes more time than it saves!)
8. Leverage the power of accountability
Both research and my own experience show that being disciplined is much easier when you have an accountability buddy.
Psychologically, you are more likely to do the task if someone else expects you to. That’s why many people struggle with productivity when they switch from a day job to entrepreneurship. There is no one to answer to, and you can only rely on your willpower to get things done, which is, sadly, a limited resource.
Being accountable only to yourself makes it really easy to procrastinate, make excuses, and end up with unproductive days. If you’re not careful, this can result in missed deadlines, subpar work, and even failed business ventures.
Finding an accountability partner with similar goals is an almost guaranteed way to have more productive days.
And if you are really ambitious and can afford to invest in yourself a little, working with an accountability coach is 10 times better than just having a like-minded friend.
A coach can help you set the right goals, get into a productive mood, settle in the right mindset for success, and will continuously keep you accountable.
My favorite platform for this is GoalsWon – it’s a chat-based app where you get personalized daily support from a real human coach. (Yes, I said daily – even on weekends!)
Whether you choose to work with a coach or find an accountability partner, it adds an element of external motivation and drive.
This is especially great on the “meh” days when you feel low and unmotivated. On more occasions than I’m willing to admit, just knowing that I’d have to report my day’s results to my coach made me stop procrastinating and go get at least something checked off my to-do list.
9. Use science-based focus music
Transforming your work environment into a productivity haven can be as simple as playing the right kind of music in the background.
Science-based focus music, designed to enhance concentration, acts as a catalyst for your brain’s productivity. Platforms like Brain.fm use audio tracks grounded in neurological research to help you zone in on your tasks.
It may come as a surprise that one of the most effective productivity boosters isn’t a tool or technique but rather a form of art.
While work distractions, multitasking, and lack of motivation are often blamed for low productivity, one factor that often goes unnoticed is the impact of your environment. Listening to focus music can greatly enhance your concentration levels and work efficiency.
I switched to Brain.fm from Spotify after only two days of testing it because I realized it actually helps me maintain focus for longer periods of time. Now I almost exclusively listen to Brain.fm music when I work.
10. Make good use of browser extensions
Whether you use Google Chrome or some other browser, making good use of browser extensions is a smart way to get more done in a day.
Installing some useful extensions that enhance your productivity is an easy way to make your daily workflow more efficient.
Depending on your type of work, you may need different browser extensions to streamline your tasks and ensure the most productive web browsing.
You may even take advantage of some trendy AI Chrome extensions that can generate content, help you out with research, convert text to speech, summarize long stuff, and more.
Again, don’t rush into installing everything that seems interesting. Find one or two that have the potential to make the biggest difference in your productivity, and test them for a few days to get used to using them and evaluate the actual impact.
What is an unproductive day?
An unproductive day is one where you find it difficult to concentrate on tasks, accomplish meaningful work, or make progress towards your goals. It’s a day characterized by distractions, procrastination, and a lack of focus or motivation.
On an unproductive day, you may find yourself frequently checking social media, engaging in aimless activities, or constantly deviating from your planned schedule.
Despite the hours passing by, you may feel as though nothing substantial has been achieved, which leaves you dissatisfied, inefficient, and discouraged.
What makes a productive day?
A productive day is one where you effectively manage your time, check tasks off your to-do list, and advance toward your goals. During this day, you have at least a couple of periods of deep focus, stay disciplined, and get a sense of accomplishment with every task you complete.
Despite the challenges that may arise, you navigate them successfully and make the most of your time. By the end of a productive day, you feel satisfied with your progress, and you’re at least one step closer to your goals.
How to turn a lazy day into a productive one?
Even if you felt lazy for the first half of the day, you can still turn things around and transform this day into a productive one. Here are a few effective strategies:
- Start small. Begin with easy tasks that require minimal effort. This can create a sense of achievement from the get-go and build momentum for more complex tasks.
- Break tasks down. Large tasks can feel overwhelming. Break them into smaller, manageable tasks that feel less daunting.
- Use time blocks. Allocate specific time frames for different activities. This can help create a structure for the day and enhance focus.
- Leverage focus tools. Whether it’s concentration music or focus applications for time tracking and distraction blocking, find a way to stay focused on the task long enough to finish it.
- Implement the “2-minute rule”. This is one of the simplest yet very effective time management strategies. If a task takes two minutes or less to complete, do it immediately instead of postponing it.
Having a productive day doesn’t mean you need to accomplish a huge amount.
It’s about making the most of the time available, maintaining a goal-oriented mindset, and making progress, no matter how small.
Every day can’t be perfect – expecting that will only bring you disappointment. Apply these tips, be adaptable, and work with what you have on any given day.