The Only Productivity Tip You Need

Hint: If you're writing your To-Do list on anything longer than a Post-It, you're doing it wrong.
Founder, Passive Panda
September 05, 2012

By nature, you are probably a starter. Most entrepreneurs are. Entrepreneurs get ideas, projects and businesses off the ground.

The problem, of course, is that often we get excited about starting something new and that prevents us from getting around to finishing the projects we already have in progress. Before we know it, there are four or five open projects on our plates at any given time.

Instead of finishing any of them, we often fall into the trap of working on one for a few hours and then switching to the next and then to the next. At the end of the day, we still have four or five things that haven’t been finished.

In business, productivity doesn’t really have much to do with how often you’re working. It has to do with how often you’re finishing. In other words, the problem isn’t having multiple projects, the problem is having unfinished projects.

Do the Most Important Thing First

If you do the most important thing first each day, then you’ll never have a day when you didn’t get something important done. This is so logical, you’ll probably dismiss it as unnecessary. Which is exactly why it’s important.

It’s not necessary to prioritize every task for your entire day. There is more value in finishing the most important thing than there is in ranking tasks two through ten.

When Matters as Much as What

If you’re serious about getting projects finished, then when you schedule them is just as important as what you’re scheduling.

For example, I used to be guilty of outlining and half-finishing tons of articles. I would sit down to write each afternoon, think of an idea, jot down a paragraph or two, and then file it away for later. Of course, later never came, and I ended up with a pack of unfinished articles.

What I eventually realized, however, was that I always finished articles if I wrote them first thing in the morning. In other words, my best creative work was always done (and finished) before noon. That insight helped me restructure my day so that I wasn’t writing articles at 3:00 p.m. I could move other tasks that I had been doing in the morning (e-mail, phone calls, etc.) to later in the day.

Find Your When

To maximize your productivity, ask yourself the following questions: 
  • When do you do your best work?
  • What time of the day is your creative energy the highest?
  • When do you feel energized and motivated?

Reclaim that time as your own and schedule your single most important task then. If something is truly important, then it needs to have space on your calendar at the time when you can give it your best.

This sounds simple, but no one does it. Let’s say you’re like me and you do your best work in the morning. How many mornings have gotten away from you and you’re at lunch and the most important things still need to be done?

Don’t let it happen again. Starting tomorrow (or starting today, if your prime time falls some time after you finish reading OPEN Forum), do the most important thing and do it at the right time. Soon you’ll have more completed tasks and fewer open projects.

That’s the only productivity tip you’ll ever need. 

James Clear is the founder of Passive Panda. He is an award-winning writer on business strategy and entrepreneurship and has delivered speeches in the United States, the UK, and Switzerland.