Front loading your day

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Ever wish you could be more productive, get more done, work without distraction, or waste less time each day? There’s an interesting answer to this problem if you’re willing and able to do it – front loading your day.

Something funny happens to East Coasters when we come to the West Coast. Our days automatically get front loaded for us. We wake up at 3 or 4 AM without prompting, and by the time 7 PM rolls around, we’re ready for bed. Most people make an effort to acclimate to the local time, which is a missed opportunity. If you can wake up at 4 AM feeling refreshed, you can get a workout in, get breakfast in, get all of your regular work done, and be incredibly productive, all before 9 AM local time.

The secret, to the extent that there is one, is that you can do this right now, wherever you live, without traveling anywhere. Just start setting your alarm clock 5 minutes earlier every single day, unless you’re already a morning person, in which case start chopping 15 or 30 minute blocks off until you’ve hit your target time of day to get up.

Are you willing to make that sacrifice? That depends on how unproductive you feel during the day, and how much entertainment and night life you are willing to cut. If you can shift the evening hours (which for many people is unfocused, unproductive time) to the morning, before the rest of your area gets rolling, you can get a lot more done, from workouts and health benefits to your best thinking, free of distraction.

Try front loading even half an hour into your day for a week and see if it makes a difference for how you feel and how much you get done.


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Productivity Tip: BANT on the inside

Those people who are familiar with the world of sales know the term BANT intimately. For those who have not done selling as a profession, it’s an acronym from enterprise B2B sales that helps sales professionals assess a lead’s quality. The term stands for:

  • Budget: Can the lead afford our product?
  • Authority: Is the lead the decision-maker?
  • Need: Does the lead actually need our category product?
  • Timeframe: When will the lead buy from someone?

BANT has been through its twists and turns over the years, but now I want to put a twist on it for different purposes. Most project management software I’ve used recently has been very good at setting deadlines, but beyond that, there’s very little in the way of project scoring to help you sort out what’s important from what’s merely urgent. As my friend Chris Brogan says, the inbox is the ultimate delivery mechanism for other people’s priorities, and those tend to be urgent rather than important.

So what if we scored projects simply and effectively using BANT? Rather than just leaving it in the hands of sales professionals, why not make use of it for yourself? Suppose you had a project management system that looked like this?

  • Budget: What is the revenue impact of this project?
  • Authority: Is this project needed by a superior, a peer, or a subordinate?
  • Need: How important is this project?
  • Timeframe: How urgent is this project?

Suppose you made a simple spreadsheet that, instead of an ambiguous HIGH PRIORITY or LOW PRIORITY mechanism, you actually scored your projects? Here’s an example of how this might look:

Sample BANT Task Manager
Click to see a live version you can copy

This can then map more closely to the way your team or organization works. If Authority is the true deciding factor in what needs to get done, then you sort by authority. If Timeframe is how things get done, then you sort and manage by timeframe, with the ability to sub-sort by other fields that are part of the decision-making process.

Try it out – see if BANTing your workload is as effective for your productivity as BANTing your sales leads has been.


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How I get more stuff done

In my newsletter this weekend, I talked a bit about the benefits of improving focus. As I’ve added client work to what I do, the number and frequency of deadlines and deliverables has multiplied far beyond what I had when I was just doing marketing for one brand, so managing those without breaking any promises has required an entirely new level of focus for me. I had to up my game considerably.

Here’s what I did to increase the amount of focus I brought to the table. Your methods and mileage may vary. I used to manage by my inbox, which was thoroughly ineffective. It was water spraying everywhere, so many things competing for my attention, and stuff unquestionably got lost or went missing.

Calendar

Today, I manage almost exclusively by my calendar. I block off time for each task that needs doing, and during those times, I do those things and nothing else. Client work gets repeating windows as needed, and everything else gets time as needed. The secret is this: during those time periods, one and only one thing gets attention, nothing else. Ask anyone who used to work with me how much time I spent on IM and email compared to today, where I spend almost no time on IM and do my inbox in short bursts infrequently throughout the day.

Here’s the second secret: if something can’t be defined in a block of time on my calendar, it gets put away until there is a timeframe defined. That’s the only way I’ve found that important things get done – they get a timeslot, and during those times, they get exclusive focus. If something doesn’t come with a deadline or a timeframe, then it doesn’t get scheduled and no energy is given to it.

Here’s the third and final secret: by creating blocks of time on a calendar and looking at it in a weekly view, I can move blocks around like kids’ toys so that the maximum amount of stuff gets done. If a block ends a little bit early (5-10 minutes or less), I can check messages or hit Facebook for the few minutes left over; if a block ends substantially earlier (more than 10 minutes) then I start moving things around and getting even more done. The goal is to keep a steady pace of work throughout the day with as few gaps and periods of downtime as possible while not being stressed about the workload. Having this system lets me stay at maximum productivity without maximum stress.

As I said earlier, your mileage may vary. You may find this practice drives you crazy, and that’s okay. Find a method that works for you – this is just what I’ve needed to do in order to maximize the time I have each day to get stuff done.


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