Daily Goals: How to Get More Done in a Day

An Ink+Volt Action Pad, silver pen, and grey planner on a white countertop.

Do you ever get to the end of your day and realize you’ve barely made a dent in your daily goals or to-do list?

This used to happen to me all the time. I would write out an organized, smart to-do list in the morning, and by the end of the day I would have accomplished a million things — none of which were actually on my my list.

Every day, things get in the way of you accomplishing your biggest priorities. Our days are full of interruptions and tasks that get in the way of our goals.

Instead of getting frustrated with yourself or trying to simply “become more focused”, you need to overhaul your whole system by fixing the way you run your days. Then it’s not a matter of willpower or what external forces get in your way — when you have the right tools and strategies in place, you can’t lose.

Here are 8 ways to start getting more done on your daily goals every day.

1. Look at where you are losing time

The best way to fix a problem is to tackle it head-on.

Most of us lose literal hours of time every day on things like social media and working on tasks that aren’t actually meaningful to our goals.

Try tracking your time every day in 15-minute increments. Set a timer and when it goes off, record a quick note of what you did during each 15 minute period. It will be tedious, but enlightening.

You will see where your time is really going. You can’t ignore it. This is where you will really fix your productivity problem.

Once you see where your time is being wasted, put systems in place to recover that time. You can install software to block social media sites; you can make a choice to shut down your email except for 2-3 times a day to reply to messages.

Everyone wastes time in different ways, but once you see exactly how you are doing it, you can start to fix it. This will be a game-changer once you stop wasting time; you won’t believe how much more you will get done.

2. Only touch each email once

So much time gets wasted on email. Different studies have found different results, but it’s been reported that white collar workers spend as many as 17 hours per week on email. If you break that down over a 5 day week, that’s more than 3 hours a day.

You probably are spending way more time on email than you realize.

This strategy — only touch each email once — literally changed my life. It has completely transformed the way I do email, and saved me probably hundreds of hours.

The way it works is pretty straightforward. No more saving emails in your inbox as to-do’s or reminders. The first time you interact with an email is the last time you interact with it.

Every email gets an action. You can:

  • reply to the message
  • save it in a folder in your mail
  • archive/delete it
  • add a request/action item from it on your to-do list

That’s it. Don’t read emails until you’re ready to take action on them. Until you have time and mental space for processing each message, don’t touch them. Better yet, just close your email and don’t check it at all until you’re ready.

3. Batch similar tasks, but don’t multitask

If you batch similar actions — even if they’re not part of the same task or to-do — you can maximize your productivity on that action. This isn’t switching between tasks (which science has proven again and again our brains really aren’t that good at).

Instead, you’re planning your day by doing all of one kind of task at once, rather than several times throughout the day.

Email, again, is a perfect example for this. If you only checked your email twice a day, you would do so far more efficiently than if you opened each one as it arrived.

Instead of:

  • stopping what you are doing when you see the email notification
  • going to your inbox
  • reading the message
  • thinking about replying
  • maybe starting to reply
  • looking up the information you need to reply
  • continuing your response
  • remembering “oh shoot, I was working on this other task!”
  • trying to get back on track with that task while your mind is still halfway focused on the email you were just composing
  • going back to your inbox and writing a reply since it’s on your mind
  • feeling exhausted, so you go get a snack
  • finally returning to your original task and wondering where you left off

…you could set aside an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon *just* for email.

In that hour you’d go to your inbox and tackle each email, one by one, until you are done. The rest of your work will get done in all the remaining of your hours of the day, where it can be uninterrupted and more masterfully done.

4. Delegate everything you possibly can

If you’re a manager, you should already be doing this. Delegating is part of your job, and if you’re a good leader, you should have hired people for your team who can do things better than you can.

The work will get done faster and better when you ask qualified people to do it.

Plus, your job is to help the people on your team grow. If you keep all the tasks to yourself, your team will become disinterested in their work because they never get a chance to try a new challenge.

5. Delegate tasks in your personal life too

Delegating isn’t just for the office. By outsourcing tasks in your personal life, you free up more time and energy for the things that really matter. It costs money, but consider the value you will get back by taking things off your plate.

If you get stressed by knowing you have to clean your apartment, consider hiring a cleaner to come in every two weeks. How much better would you feel if you knew you didn’t have to do that? How much more energy could you bring to work on Monday morning if you didn’t have to clean all weekend?

Consider how much your time, energy, and productivity are worth.

6. Break big tasks down into small chunks

Your to-do list should be hyper-specific. The smaller the steps and the easier they are to complete, the more clear you are about how and when you’ll get them done. This is a really important key to being super productive.

Of course you can’t launch a full website or new product in one day, so putting that on your to-do list keeps you from making clear progress.

You’ll start out the day *knowing* you won’t get that task done. It’s too big to do in a day. So you go in with a mindset that you won’t get that task done, which isn’t a great mindset for accomplishing big things.

If, instead, you list three 1-2 hour tasks for the project each day, you can then take each task seriously and plan to finish each one.

Break down every project into the smallest possible steps. Even down to things as simple as “google how to ___”. That way, every task is achievable and you can estimate how long it will take you to do. You’ll become far better at creating timelines for your projects.

Plus, crossing things off your to-do list gives your brain a little hit of dopamine, which gives you a sense of happiness and satisfaction — which will motivate you to get another step done! The more you can achieve that feeling, the more you’ll want to do.

7. Know what you will work on — and get done — every day

You should arrive to work every morning knowing what you will get done that day.

Flying by the seat of your pants is a guaranteed way to waste time. If you can sit down every morning and simply get to work — rather than figuring out where you’re at and what you should be doing — your whole day will be more productive.

The only way to do this is with careful planning, but once you are in the habit, this planning doesn’t take long. Set aside 30 minutes to an hour every Sunday night (or Friday afternoon) to look at your biggest goals and determine the best way to plan the upcoming week.

How to do this effectively:

  • Be realistic about what you can do. I can really only accomplish 1-3 big things every day; that is true for most people. But if those 3 things really matter, then my time is well spent. Don’t set yourself up to fail by overbooking yourself.
  • Understand where your interruptions are. If you’re a manager who could be interrupted by an employee or a crisis you need to handle at any moment, then don’t plan on long chunks of uninterrupted time. Instead, leave some buffer time in your schedule to absorb the interruptions and try to keep your to-do’s small enough to get done in smaller time blocks, so you won’t leave too many tasks undone.
  • Think about where your work can make the biggest impact. Priorities shift week to week, so take a look at your big picture goals and then look at the tasks on your to-do list. Put the to-do’s that will move you closest towards your goals at the top, and then schedule time to complete them on your weekly calendar.
  • Leave time for breaks and little things. You can’t work on big-ticket projects all day long. It’s better to be prepared for that than to try to ignore it. Schedule in time for breaks (to eat, walk outside, etc), as well as time for admin tasks like catching up on email, for times in the day when you’re a little tired.

You’ll have some days where you are feeling like a superstar, and you’ll rocket through your 3 big priorities for the day early. That’s no problem when you have your big weekly goals planned out — you can simply get a jump on tomorrow’s tasks and refigure your priorities for the rest of the week.

On days where you’re feeling more human, you will have a realistic amount of work to do and everything you need to get it done.

8. Realize that productive days are about quality, not quantity

It feels good to get a lot done. That is universal. However, the quality of the things you get done is what will really move you forward in life and make you feel like you are having truly productive days.

Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re productive.

Everywhere you go, there are distractions and “urgent” things that ask for your attention. Some of those things do need your attention, but many of those things don’t.

And here’s the thing — it is impossible to tell the difference until you clearly and fully understand your goals and biggest priorities.

Those things will be different to everyone. Answering a customer phone call and spending hours finding the solution could be a really valuable use of time for someone, whereas for someone else it could be a complete distraction from their role’s main priorities.

Only you can know the difference.

Get clear on your priorities. If you aren’t clear, ask your manager. It is better to ask and know for sure than to wonder and be wrong.

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