A lot of efforts to change or improve fail because they are too ambitious. Attempting too many things at once it one of the best ways to ensure that none of them will happen.
In the spirit of the Pareto, or 80/20 principle, one should generally pick the one thing that will produce the most yield, and work on that first. Doing this process iteratively is by far the best approach in most cases.
One way of doing this that reliably yields actionable insight is to look for bottlenecks. This could be any number of things.
A very common one I hear from coaching clients is just getting started.
Most people, once they get started on a task, don’t have too much trouble keeping at it for a good while or even finishing it, but too often fall victim to procrastination.
If this is you, discovering the right small change that makes it easier to get started, like a pre-work ritual, may make all the difference.
Similarly, it’s a mistake to try to plan/optimize every minute of your day. Most way’s I’ve seen people try to do this collapse under their own weight in no time at all.
It’s far better to carefully plan and optimize your peak working hours and then cutting yourself plenty of slack for the rest of the day.
More specifically, another thing worth optimizing are your highly productive mental states, both your ability to get into them and your ability to leverage them when you do.
An example of this is my recent blog post on Soft Blocks and Passive Timers. The idea is that being in a highly productive groove is an exceedingly valuable state, so you should structure your time in it to minimize disruption if if all possible.
More generally, the two things you should look at first are a) your transitions into highly productive states, and b) maximally exploiting that state when you get there.
For most of us, there’s no way that we’ll be highly productive all day, or even most of the day. But getting there consistently there, and making sure you can stay there and exploit it for as long as it lasts, is more than enough.
As to specific times to think about, I’ve found three particularly important ones.
The first is when I get up in the morning. Literally the first few minutes. If I can get up as soon as I wake up, grab some water, and work for at least 30 minutes on an important, usually creative task I defined the night before, I will almost always get a lot more done that day than if I goofed around.
Another is when I first get into work. In this case it’s advisable to do a quick email and calendar check to make sure nothing really urgent came through or that there isn’t a meeting you forgot about, but this should be quick, and I find it important to jump into a well-defined task (usually spelled out in a Morning Note) right away.
Still another is right after I get home from work. Now, plenty of days you’ll just need to rest when you get home, but some days, either if you have extra energy or if something really needs to get done, it’s better to set in a work for half an hour or so before you goof off or get involved in household chores.
These times and states will vary between people, but everyone has them, and it’s well worth reflecting on what they are for you so you’re not accidentally letting them go to waste.