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How to Make Your Day More Productive and Less Stressful

Make your day more productive and less stressful by focusing on what needs to be done, rather than how much you can get done. This post shows you how.

This is part 1 of a 2 part series that describes how to manage your day to make it more productive and less stressful.

The Keys to a More Productive and Less Stressful Day

The keys to a more productive and less stressful day are to –

  • Focus your day on one or two sets of tasks

  • Limit each set of tasks to no more than 3 tasks

When you think about the tasks to focus on for the day, ask yourself –

  • What are my 3-6 highest priority tasks?

  • What are the tasks that, if I complete them today, will let me look back on the day and call it a success?

Not convinced that 3-6 tasks are enough for you to tackle in a day? Rather than try and do it myself, I’ll let FastCompany, LifeHacker, and ZenHabits convince you that it’s plenty!

How to Make Your Day More Productive and Less Stressful

To accomplish this, I recommend –

1 – Creating two simple lists of 3 or fewer tasks in each list. The lists can be be titled something like –

  • 3 for Today – Work

Use this list to manage your work related tasks, e.g. update report for tomorrow’s meeting.

  • 3 for Today – Personal

Use this list to manage tasks related to your personal life, e.g. research flight prices for upcoming vacation. I actually call this list “3 for Today – Admin”, as I find that most of the tasks related to my personal life are administrative in nature.

Put the lists somewhere where you can easily access them at the beginning of the day and during the day. I like to put the lists somewhere where they are easily accessible, however at the same time easy to hide, so they’re not staring at me all day long.

One potential pitfall of this list-based approach is that these lists become sucked into an overly complex task management process or system. When this happens you end up focusing more on the process or system itself, rather than the tasks at hand, eventually abandoning the system altogether.

To prevent this from happening –

  • Don’t overly complicate things by establishing an elaborate system that makes you feel overwhelmed just having to maintain the system itself.

  • Use a simple piece of paper, a sticky note, a virtual sticky note that exists as a widget on your desktop, or any one of a number of task management tools available online.

Be careful and very selective if you decide to use a task management tool.  It’s critical that you choose the right task management tool and set it up properly, so that the system helps you easily manage and immediately focus on your two lists, rather than distract you, by pulling your attention into the process of managing the tool and the process itself, rather than on the tasks at hand.

2 – Adding your 3 highest priority tasks for the day in each category

Highest priority tasks to me are usually those tasks I feel that, by getting them done, will help me make the most progress toward a single goal. These can be tasks you need to do yourself or that you can delegate, for example to a virtual assistant like FancyHands. You can read more about how I choose my high priority tasks here.

If you get these tasks done earlier than expected during the day, you may actually discover some unexpected free time to enjoy. You can enjoy this free time guilt-free, if you remind yourself that, by knocking these high-priority tasks off your list(s), you accomplished what you felt was most important to get done for the day.

I’ve found this  point to be especially helpful, as it helps to reduce my tendency to keep trying to pile things on during the day and squeeze as much as I possibly can into the day. This squeeze would inevitably pull me away from the present moment, as I was always looking toward the next thing, while endlessly feeling like I was behind on my progress toward a finish line, a finish line that was constantly fading away into the horizon, no matter how hard I ran to reach it.

Using Asana to Make Your Day More Productive and Less Stressful

I use Asana to manage my two lists. You can download the same Asana template I use to make my day more productive and less stressful here.

When configured correctly, Asana can help you quickly focus on your two lists in a distraction-free way, even if you use it  to manage a number of other projects, like I do. It’s also easy to access via any web browser or mobile device and just as easy to hide when you’re not using it, simply by closing the web browser window or exiting the mobile app.

Here’s what a sample “3 for Today – Work” list looks like in my system –

more productive and less stressful day

Now that you know how to add focus to your day, I’ll walk you through the exact steps that I use to manage my with focus, in Part 2 of this series.