Surfing around the world of blogs (or online journals) this past month, I ran across the “Ultimate Guide to Productivity” project started by Ben Yoskovitz at the Instigator Blog (www.instigatorblog.com). Ben solicited bloggers around cyberspace to contribute their best tips for getting things done, and I was inspired (once I realized reading blogs is the archenemy of productivity!), to catalog my own proven tips:

1. Immediate deadlines. The key to productivity is focus, and the best way to get focused is to have a deadline (have you ever noticed how much you get done the day before you leave on vacation?). So I try to create momentum and a sense of urgency during a regular workday with "immediate" deadlines. Instead of just doing something for as long as it takes, I determine beforehand how much time I'm going to spend, whether it's writing a proposal, making phone calls or paying my bills. A time limit -- 15-30 minutes are best for maintaining urgency -- also adds a competitive element that makes even the most tedious activity seem more like a game.

Those of you who have read my articles on “flow” may remember my use of this technique at a Japanese bank where I had the brain-numbing task of processing corporate requests for bank balances. To prevent myself from committing harakiri, I challenged myself to “finishing 15 applications by lunchtime,” reorganizing the various steps of the process to minimize delays. By shifting my focus from the tedious nature of the work to beating the clock, I was so much more productive than my predecessor, that I created a backlog in the department where the completed applications were sent (and was able to negotiate a sanity-saving four-day workweek!).

2. Mini-goals. The companion to immediate deadlines is mini-goals. For each activity, zero in and ask yourself: “What am I trying to achieve?” “What am I trying to say?” You may think you don't have time to plan for every little task but have you ever spent 20 minutes writing – deleting, typing, deleting – a three-line email? Mini-goals sharpen your focus, raise your efficiency and signal when you're done!

3. Top-three list. How many of you scribble out long, multi-page to-do lists for the day that are unrealistic, overwhelming and make you feel like a slug when you don’t get it all done? Why not try a “top-three” list instead: sure, keep your master list of 79 “to-dos,” but choose the three most important things you absolutely, positively are going to get done that day. Throughout a day filled with inevitable distractions, your top-three will act as a compass to keep you on track. (And since everything is relative, you will likely derive greater satisfaction from completing the three designated tasks than if you had completed 7 from a list of 15.)

4. Control email. Timothy Ferriss, author of a new book called Four-Hour Workweek, advises disciplining yourself to check email twice a day (or less) – virtual heresy in this world where instant response (“Did you get the email I sent 10 minutes ago?”) has become the norm. He suggests setting up an email autoresponder that indicates you will be checking e-mail twice per day or less, but if you don’t want to go that far you need only train people to learn when they can expect a response from you. (Seems to work for Timothy: he speaks six languages, runs a multinational firm from wireless locations worldwide, and has been a world-record holder in tango, a national champion in Chinese kickboxing, and an actor on a hit television series in Hong Kong. Oh, and he’s 29 years old.)

5. Write it down. As productivity guru David Allen says, there is one part of the brain that is not that smart: the part that doesn’t wait to remind you to do something when you could actually do something about it. If you’re out of milk, when does your brain remind you that you need to buy more? When you’re pouring the last few drops into your cereal – if it were smart, it would only remind you when you’re passing the dairy section at the grocery store. How many times today have you had a thought that you needed to get something done that you still haven’t done? It’s a waste of time and energy to keep thinking about something that you make no progress on. Write it down, make a list and your brain will feel less compelled to keep reminding you, reassured that it’s being taken care of.

6. Stop multi-tasking. In an effort to get more done, many people pride themselves on their ability to multi-task. But research at the University of Michigan has shown that the brain has limited total capacity and that instead of working harder when engaged in more than one activity, the amount of cortex activation actually decreases as the brain establishes priorities among tasks and allocates the mind's resources to them. Moreover, the subjects in the study all lost time when switching from one task to another, and the more complex the task, the more time lost. You know what that means: no more conversations on the cell phone while driving!

7. Take a break. You may think you’ll get more done if you just keep working but taking a 10-minute break every 50 minutes or so – ideally a stroll or some stretching and deep breathing if you’ve been sitting in front of the computer – will recharge your powers of concentration and stimulate your brain to produce solutions or ideas that have been eluding you.

Follow these tips and you may even start to enjoy your productive days as much as a vacation. As former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher says: “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It's not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it's when you've had everything to do and you've done it.”

Author's Bio: 

Renita T. Kalhorn is a personal performance coach who specializes in helping goal-oriented professionals take a quantum leap in their careers. Subscribe to In The Flow, her FREE monthly newsletter and receive her FREE Energy Playbook, Find Your Flow! 21 Simple Strategies to Banish Tedium, Reduce Stress and Inspire Action at http://www.intheflowcoaching.com.