The last few months have been insane. The days, weeks and months have flown by, and, honestly, it’s been a little unnerving. It seems like my calendar and inbox are in control instead of my objectives and priorities. It also didn't help that for 6 weeks in a row, I was on a flight to the either the Bay Area or NYC. As a result, I’ve been feeling a bit unsatisfied with my progress, and I haven’t felt very creative. So, that’s gotta stop!

I recently did a reboot to remedy this, and I thought I’d share some of my productivity and calendar hacks. The tips below have improved my effectiveness and productivity massively and, most importantly, my happiness. I’m a big GTD person, so most of this is really a realignment with the principles I already practice. For me, I need to reassess every 3-6 months to make sure my personal productivity system is working.

Here are my top hacks:

  • List my top 3-5 high-level goals for the month.
  • Decide what percentage of my time I want to allocate to each goal.
  • Create recurring calendar blocks that map to those goals.

The empty slots seen below on the screenshot of my calendar will fill up with calls, meetings and impromptu team conversations, but here’s a typical week for me, with my focus areas blocked off. You'll see that, in addition to my focus blocks, I have other regular meetings and time blocks for team 1:1s, blogging, financial reviews, Investor and Advisor relations, OmniFocus review, and end of day reviews and planning.

My Calendar

Taking Control

One of the challenges I have is managing external interruptions or meetings. The way I deal with this is that I allocate a certain percentage of my time to meetings, and then I create Google Calendar Appointment Slots that recur (see the "Appointment with Sara Hicks" appointments above). Then, if I agree to meet with someone, I simply email them a link, and they can book any of those slots that are open. I just say “Please schedule a time that works for you!” This way I’m not allowing external meetings to eat away the prioritized blocks of time that I’ve created. After a few months of insane back-to-back-to-back calls and meetings, and then leaving the office drained and only having a few more hours of work to do in the evening, I’ve learned this one the hard way.

Getting Focused

I take the first few minutes of each time block to decide what tasks I want to accomplish during that time block. I write them down on a sticky note, and as I accomplish them, I check them off. I like the old fashioned pen-and-paper checklist for these blocks. I also like to use the Pomodoro Technique to timebox my tasks. Having a timer set to the amount of time and shutting down everything else while I focus is key. Once the timer goes off, I know my time for that time block is over, and I can wrap it up.

Being Purposeful

The key is being mindful and purposeful about what and where I need to focus, and then determining and scheduling the time I am going to devote to each area. Then, once I’ve set that and cleared away the distractions, I just do it. Simple as that.

Now, instead of the days taking me, I feel like I have the upper hand. There’s still the occasional fire drill or interrupt, but that’s now the exception instead of the norm. I also don’t feel so unsettled at the end of the day, I’m accomplishing more without heroic efforts, and I’m even sleeping better. Just as in life, being mindful in my work has positive benefits beyond the "nine-to-five."

Header photo from Eric Rothermel. Thanks!