Do you look up, your day is gone, you’ve been really busy, but you still haven’t touched those important projects? Here are some suggestions to increase your productivity – many of which you’ve heard before – but they will work if you do them.

1) Fighting fires – When you let fires rule your day, they decide what your priorities are and your true priorities rarely make it to the top. Here are 3 tips:

  1. Each week, make a list and prioritize them, denoting which are A’s, B’s, C’s, etc. As you go through your day, if you are spending time on anything but the high priority items, it should be for one of two reasons; 1) you had a new emergency come up that truly needs immediate attention, or 2) you have completed everything you can on the high priority items and are waiting for a response. As time permits, move on to the medium priority items in the same fashion.
  2. Don’t list overly broad items. Below each item, list specific action steps necessary to complete that task. For example, don’t just write Schedule trip to Italy. Under it write • check the weather for that time of year, • find out when spouse can get off work, • talk to travel agent about places to visit, • research hotels. Smaller steps bring order and help you manage your time.
  3. Keep this list in a visible place and check it frequently. Keeping it top of mind will make a difference. Each week, start a fresh list, moving items from the previous week if necessary. I guarantee if you are disciplined about checking and working this list you will stay focused and accomplish more in your days.

2) Letting your inbox control your day. Don’t let the pop-up window distract you. Schedule time to read emails and respond. Separate the emails into “reading” “urgent action needed” and “it can wait”. When it’s your scheduled time to read emails, you can easily prioritize the urgent action items from the less urgent action items. And the reading can wait until the appointed time you’ve scheduled for yourself. Don’t let emails determine what you work on each day.

3) Clutter. Do you think you don’t have time to get organized? I would contend the exact opposite. You can’t afford NOT to be organized. Think about how many minutes you spend each day looking for a file, figuring out which is the last version of a spreadsheet you created, looking for that article on organization you cut out last week, or trying to find your keys/phone/ipad/glasses…

  1. Make a place for everything. Organize your desktop, your inbox or your drawers with folders specified to your style.
  2. Put items in the exact same spot every time. If you take off your glasses, they should go in your glasses spot. Once you’ve read an email it should go in the appropriate folder. There should never be a question as to where something is, because it is exactly where you put it – in its home.
  3. Make your system SIMPLE. A simple system you will use is far more effective than no system, or a complicated system you feel overwhelmed by.
  4. Put it away right away. Don’t buy into the thought that you’ll put it away later. It only takes 5 seconds to file something. But it might take 5 minutes to find it later. And worse, once it piles up, you won’t find the time to file it later.

Recapturing your day and being productive is really about systems that work for you and discipline. We all have discipline when and where we want it, so why not use it toward work? Think about how much more accomplished you will feel once you are in control of your day. I challenge you to pick one system to create this week and use it!