The biggest and best productivity hack

 In Action List

There’s one simple productivity hack you can easily introduce. It will make massive improvements to your productivity and help you (and maybe your team) get more of the important things done.

However, this technique is not sexy, or cool, or remotely exciting. But it works and almost all of the most productive people and top productivity thinkers use and recommend a version of this technique. Examples like Ivy Lee and Mark Ford have previously been written about, but if you delve into any super-productive person’s habits, you’ll find this is a cornerstone of most top leaders.

It usually doesn’t take much time, but neither is it easy (otherwise we’d all be doing it, right?).

The productivity hack? Take 10 minutes to plan your day

I warned you it was boring. Taking just 10 minutes at the end of each day to really think about which few actions will make the biggest difference the next day. This simple habit will change your approach to productivity.

In fact, I’d go as far to say that creating a daily action plan will literally change your life.

But it’s perhaps not exactly what your thinking, and while the subtleties are small, they make all the difference.

A to-do list is not a daily action plan

In days gone past, I believed I started each day with a plan. After all, I had a huge to-do list that I would re-write each week, so my plan was to do all the things remaining on my to-do list.

But this was not effective – for two reasons;

  • There were always 20+ things on my to-do list, and I hadn’t followed through to decide exactly which ones I would tackle each day. Which usually meant I would delve into the easiest, most fun, quickest-to-get-done tasks. The tasks that took me out of my comfort zone remained on the list day after day. As did the tasks I wasn’t sure how to begin. Of course, prioritizing my tasks helped somewhat, but it still wasn’t the full solution. The most important, highest impact things would remain outstanding.
  • The other problem with using a to-do list each day was that it was generally extremely demoralizing. Each day, I’d complete 2, 3 or maybe 5 things, but there’d still be a long list staring back at me, reminding me of all the things I hadn’t achieved. And like most of us, I always had a lot of ideas and so most of the time, my to-do list would actually grow. Try as I might, I could never get all the things done. Which made me feel like I was failing. And over time, this zaps your energy and makes it extremely hard to stay motivated.

This is why you need a To-do list and an Action List.

The productivity hack of writing an action list is not about transferring your to-do’s from one day to the next. It requires you to get strategic and really think about what will move the needle. What is most important for you right now? What are a few small, but important actions should you take that will move you closer to your goals?

(I know, that type of thinking hurts my head too but it’s what makes all the difference.)

Begin with the end in mind – start with your goals

When creating an Action List, to keep your actions strategic, you should first remind yourself of your goals (ideally read them!). As so many leaders and productivity experts have better expressed than I ever will, without clear goals, it’s too easy to get caught in busy-work that will not take you towards any particular destination. For big goals, a stepped out plan is also a good idea (try this roadmap maker).

By reading over your goals first, you’ll automatically get clarity about where the most important areas are for you to spend your time. (Obviously this means knowing your goals first, but we’ll write about that another time.)

Once you’re crystal clear on your goals, you might also want to check your to-do list. See what items jump out as being most important. Then, you’re ready to write your action plan for the day.

Write a Daily Action Plan

We’ve previously written about how to write a Daily Action List, but basically you should;

  • Include only 3-5 actions. Yes, it’s tempting to add a lot more than that, but you want to benefit from the momentum and motivation that comes from getting them done. If they’re truly important things, chances are they may not be easy, so aim low and then surprise yourself. (You can always do more things if you finish early!)
  • Each action should be planned so that you’d expect it to take less than an hour. Yes, that only means you’d have 3-5 hours of work planned out but remember, many things take longer than you’d think and it’s much easier to tackle smaller things than huge projects. Set yourself up to win the day. If the things you need to do require more time, break them into smaller chunks.
  • Make each action a verb. It has to be described as something you can actually do. It should be written in a way that tells you how to start. For instance; decide on xxx, draft xxx, speak to xxx, send out xxx, research xxx, fix xxx, create design for xxx, etc. Ideally, it should be clear when you have finished.

An action like “new website” is not a good action item. It’s way to big, and doesn’t tell you what to do next. Instead, you could plan actions such as; “contact 3 potential web designers”, “brief web designer”, “draft copy for product page”, “create image for home page”, “plan site structure”, “create contact page”, etc.

Create an Action Plan Each Day

At the beginning I said that writing a daily action plan will change your life, and it will! Although it may not seem like much when your actions are quite small, the compounding impact of taking consistent action each day is phenomenal. That’s the secret of the daily action plan – it’s a productivity hack that seems too simple to work.

The power of this method is the reason I decided to dedicate the next chapter of my life to creating an online productivity tool that makes action planning easy. (If you’re interested in trying it out, it’s still in beta but you can get access here. But whether you use an online tool, a written planner, or even just post-it notes, it’s a system that works and I’d encourage you to give it a go.

So… what’s on your Action List for tomorrow? Implement this productivity hack and write out your action plan now!

Recent Posts
daily action list