The Most Important Step in Daily Productivity and Time Management

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By Mitchell Friedman, Associate Dean of Career Development and Student Affairs

Published 2.20.13

Countless volumes have been published and scores of blog posts written about being productive and on a closely related subject, effective time management. From all that I’ve read and studied (including the sage “Getting Things Done” approach pioneered by David Allen), one action stands out as indispensable: the need to start every day by planning.

There are two aspects to the planning process.  First, there’s the investment of time and energy at the beginning of the day.  In my case, after I eat breakfast, I sit down with my journal and calendar at a comfortable spot in my home to begin to think through what lies ahead for the remainder of my waking hours that day.  This part of my life has become sacrosanct, in that I typically avoid tending to other responsibilities (including email and social media) until I’ve had this quiet time to myself.  While I often include reflection, prayer, and meditation in this morning practice, its essence has increasingly become a consideration of what I expect to encounter at work and elsewhere in my life and how I can bring my best and highest self to such developments.

In addition to allocating this time and energy every morning, there are the nuts and bolts of actual planning.  That effort challenges me to look through and see what meetings and events I have scheduled, and think through what might be expected of me. I specific consider how I can prepare accordingly to be effective (as well as engaged).  I may add items to my to do list to reflect the fresh thinking about proposed activities that this reflection inspires.  I also may journal about the meetings and activities to process ideas, identify associated feelings, if any, and/or to engage in any other freeform exploration to help me be fully present.

I’ll also review the items on my to do list, and question whether 1) I need to get them done that day; 2) until when they can be postponed; and/or 3) I can achieve a part of the task itself that day, while relegating the next step until some future time.  My overarching goals here are to accomplish what is absolutely essential everyday based on my work and broader personal goals, while both not setting myself up for frustration by listings items I can’t possible achieve and allowing myself free time to explore pursuits and interests other than those related to work.

Mitchell Friedman, Associate Dean of Career Development and Student Affairs

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