Pardon the long-winded title, but I wanted to get in there the concept that I have learned a great deal by example, and by diving in headfirst, often to the point of nearly drowning.  Over time, however, I’ve learned to tread water and then to swim, gradually, and I’ve gotten fairly good at budgeting my work day’s time so that I can accomplish the things that are genuinely important without getting bogged down by the trivial stuff.  I’m going to share the concepts that have worked best for me to increase my productivity at work while at the same time freeing up considerable amounts of my time.  Many of these concepts will work well for you, and perhaps you might not be ready to use others, but think about using all of them with an open mind.  I’ve found that my own perceptions of what I’m capable of doing have evolved over time, and as I’ve implemented more of these tips, it has become increasingly possible to do more with my day.

Urgent vs Important: realize the difference

Urgent/Important Matrix
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Before you start your day

Make sure you have one big goal for the day.  There is always one thing that is the most important thing for you to get done on this particular work day, so make absolutely sure that you get that one thing done!  It’s very helpful to consider the simple concept of the “Urgent vs Important” matrix (pictured above), and select one goal that is important, not merely urgent.  It is, of course, okay if it’s urgent, but the idea that the one most important goal of the day should be the one you accomplish first is the main thing here. 

Write this on a whiteboard or “dry erase” board as they are sometimes called, and make sure that it’s at the physical top of the board (if there are leftover tasks on there from yesterday, that’s no problem, but the one thing you should get done today above all else should be situated literally above the other items on your whiteboard).

ECR4Kids Message Store Dry Erase Bulletin Board Set, 24" by 36"
Amazon Price: $54.99 $49.07 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 17, 2014)

During the day

If you own your own business and can make your own schedule, that’s fantastic, but you should still make sure to schedule a fixed amount of time you’re spending at the office (or at your place of work).  I like to shoot for six hours (I do more work at home for the gym I run, but prefer not to spend more than 6 hours at the gym itself, with the exception of Wednesdays, my 9 hour day).  Keeping a consistent routine and using the same “office hours” on a daily, or at least weekly, basis will really help you settle into your routines, and if your habits are good, you will be well on your way to being productive every single day.

Here’s how a typical day at the office looks for me:

  • 4:00 PM:  arrive at the gym
  • 4-5 PM:  focus on the most important task for the day (NOT a BAU - see below)
  • 5-5:30:  meet with our sales manager to discuss updates 
  • 5:30-6:30:  teach or train BJJ
  • 6:30-7:30:  catch up on emails and meet with students 
  • 7:30-9:00:  teach and train 
  • 9-10:00 PM:  close up shop 

I can assure you that this day is no more busy than it would have been a few years ago before I had such a regimented schedule, but I can also assure you that the routine and predictability allows me to get a ton more done.

BAU vs improvements

 Let’s get back to that Urgent/Important matrix idea for a minute.  Recall that tasks are generally in one of the four quadrants.  Well, there’s a category of work related tasks called “BAU”, or “Business As Usual” stuff that has to be done on a daily or regular basis.  As a business owner, you absolutely have to do these things routinely every day in order for your business to operate. 

Your mission as a business owner should be to spend less time doing the BAU stuff and more time accomplishing big goals.  This is very difficult for many business owners to grasp at first, and it may seem like you’re abandoning your ship or letting your clients or customers down if you focus on improvements instead of the BAU stuff, but the truth is that a great business is constantly improving, and the owner is the person who drives those improvements.  This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the day to day tasks at all, but it does mean that you need to allocate gradually more time to improving your business, and less time to running it.

If you’re not already doing so, keep an Agile progress board.  ALL of the tasks on this board should be non-BAU stuff.   Essentially, the board should have three columns: to do, in progress, and done.  Keep just one or two in the "in progress" column (see the pic of the board at my gym, and remember there are multiple people using this board).  Keep track of really important tasks here, not BAU stuff.

Project board

End of the day

Reflecting on what you’ve accomplished for the day is both helpful in terms of productivity, because you can evaluate how the day went, what got in the way of your progress, ect; but it’s also a fantastic opportunity for you to mentally wind down.  Allocate at least 10 minutes at the end of your work day to mentally go over everything you’ve done today, making sure to be grateful for at least a few things that went your way today (there are always good things that happen, and remembering them can make you mentally much more healthy and happy!). 

Finally, it’s time to set a goal for tomorrow.  Remember that whenever you’re making a goal, use the SMART system for creating the goal.  SMART is an acronym for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

In short, make sure you can achieve your goals and measure whether or not you have reached them!  Setting  a solid goal the night before will help your head to be clear when you get up the following morning, and it will be easy to focus on the day's tasks.


In closing, make sure that you have clarity over the tasks that are important, not just those that are urgent.  Once you have focused on the important tasks, pick the one that is most important for the day, and budget time to accomplish that particular task.  Settle into a routine every day so that your time is predictable and you have allotted plenty of time for non-BAU activities, and conclude every day with reflection.  You'll be more productive in virtually no time at all!