Marlene Oliveira

Structuring your Day for Maximum Productivity

By: Marlene Oliveira | January 27, 2015 | 

Maximum ProductivityBy Marlene Oliveira

Almost exactly a year ago, I was looking up at a mountain of work knowing it was going to take a special strategy to tackle it all.

I knew I was going to have to produce, produce, produce.

At the very same time, I stumbled upon an excellent model for structuring your day for maximum productivity.

Time is money and productivity is essential for all entrepreneurs.

And in my view, nothing compares to simply scheduling in time to produce. This is how I do it.

Maximum Productivity: The Structure of a Kick-Butt Morning

For me, achieving maximum productivity is really about scheduling a productive morning.

Here’s what a super-productive morning looks like for me, borrowing heavily from Ed Gandia and the tips he shared a year ago on his podcast.

8:00 – 8:50 a.m. 50-minute productivity segment (Project/Task A)

  • Choose a priority task that must be tackled.
  • Set a timer for 50 minutes.
  • Start working on that task and only that task until the timer goes off.
  • Stop working and take a break.

8:50 – 9:10 a.m. 20-minute break

  • 10 minute walk.
  • 10 minutes of responding to email and social media.

9:10 – 10:00 a.m. 50-minute productivity segment (Project/Task A)

  • Repeat above productivity steps until Task A is complete.

10:00 – 10:30 a.m. 30-minute break

  • 10 minute walk
  • Grab a snack
  • Remaining time on email, social media

10:30 – 11:20 a.m. 50-minute productivity segment (Project/Task B)

  • Repeat the steps listed above for Task A.

11:20 – 11:40 a.m. 20-minute break

  • Often lunch—I’m always hungry early!

11:40 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. 50-minute productivity segment (Project/Task B)

  • Repeat above productivity steps until Task B is complete.

I find that if I start the morning this way, I can relax and be more fluid with the afternoon, fitting in other aspects of my work that can wait, such as:

  • Answering/reviewing less urgent emails.
  • Client phone calls.
  • Another 50 minute productivity segment.
  • Professional development: Webinars, videos, reading.
  • More time to respond to and schedule social media activity.

The Benefits of a Maximum Productivity Schedule and Structure

Here’s what I love about this schedule:

  • It fosters discipline and focusI honestly believe one of the best assets anyone who works from home can have is the ability to stay focused. We all know how easy it is to get pulled away from our priorities by distractions or more enjoyable tasks. But we need to train ourselves to stay put until the hard work is done, and repeating this schedule does just that.
  • It ensures priorities remain priorities. As you can see, the productivity segments are based on tackling two major projects or tasks per day—and making a serious dent in them. To hit the ground running in the morning, I need to make thoughtful decisions the evening before about how I’ll allocate this valuable time. If I get a little off-track in the afternoon, I know I’ve already made major progress on the most important work.
  • It keeps momentum going. Sometimes, when the work gets tedious or difficult, the desire to flee the scene—or just procrastinate—kicks in. Sound familiar? However, until the timer goes off, I don’t allow myself to give in to this desire; a break is coming and I just have to earn it. Also, with this schedule, returning from my break to a second hour on the same task allows me to quickly get back into the ‘zone’ and maintain the momentum I previously created.
  • It boosts creativity. Working for hours straight without a mental break can lead me into a creative rut. A quick break does the opposite, often giving me the shift in context I need to tap into new ideas and approaches. My breaks also always include a walk—even if it’s just a very quick one. Research tells us that walking boosts creative thinking and I know some of my best ideas—and solutions to problems—come to me out on the sidewalk.
  • It supports healthy habits. It’s healthy to get up from your desk once in a while. It’s healthy to keep active, even if just in small bursts. It’s healthy to give your eyes a rest from screens. And it’s healthy to fit in small, nutritious snacks. These are all built into my schedule!

This productivity-boosting schedule is rigorous, but worth it.

When I first adopted this schedule, it was a major crunch time and I implemented it every single day for months. But I’m not going to lie; it can be a bit exhausting.

At this point, I use this schedule most days, but not every day. Taking a less structured day or relaxing the structure once in a while keeps me from feeling like a slave—to myself!

Are you structuring your day for maximum productivity? How do you do it?

About Marlene Oliveira

Marlene Oliveira is a copywriter and communications consultant at moflow and founder of the Nonprofit MarCommunity. She specializes in helping nonprofits to produce better content and has worked in the sector since 1999. Marlene’s approach is to work with clients and community members, tapping into the knowledge and wisdom they already possess, to help their communications ‘flow’.

  • Interesting. I was just talking to someone about how I find it really helpful to set a timer to get myself to dig into a project. Sometimes I’ll set a 30 minute timer on something I’ve felt like putting off, and by the time it goes off, I’m so into it I don’t actually stop working on it. I kind of like the discipline of this approach though …  I want to try it!

  • These are really great ideas, but I can’t fathom ever being that structured! LOL That said, for someone starting something new, or just entering the workforce and not quite ‘sure’ what their work habits are like yet, excellent steps to get in some very good habits.

  • Erin Ferguson

    The point “It keeps momentum going” really hit a chord with me. Procrastinate? Never…but in reality my most productive days are when I can knock out a chunk of a project that has been sitting sadly on my to-do list, and that happens when I stop checking emails or social media and work exclusively on one project.

  • mo_flow

    Erin Ferguson Thank you, Erin! Momentum is everything for me! We all have so many things on the go (both important and not-so-much), so digging and rolling along with one or two major priorities makes a big difference.

  • mo_flow

    belllindsay Haha! I totally hear you. Sometimes I long for a boss who is a bit more relaxed. 😉 But even one of these days a week can go a long way!

  • mo_flow

    Eleanor Pierce Eleanor, I eventually landed on 50 minutes after trying 25-30 minute segments and like you, finding it wasn’t long enough. Sounds like you might be ready to take it to 50 minute segments as well!

  • Thanks Marlene, I struggle with “distraction”  my arch nemesis. I’m a list maker, I prioritize and hope for the best outcome. I like the timer idea, because I do “lose track of time”  or quiet often find that “time flies” I think I’ll the timer a try.

  • mo_flow We are hardest on our own selves, always. 😉

  • mo_flow

    Digital_DRK You and I both! Sometimes, even without distractions, my nemesis is ‘mind wandering’. But knowing the timer is still running is my reminder to stay (or get back) on task!

  • I love this structure. Especially in our jobs when we have so many distractions, blocking out a solid 50 minutes can be a magical thing!

  • mo_flow

    LauraPetrolino It is, indeed, my magic bullet!

  • Digital_DRK I also work with the “to do” list Darryl and I fight with “what should I do first”, then I get to work and don´t stop until I am super hungry. Not very effective.

    mo_flow the timer idea sounds really good. It reminds me of high-school (in a good way). I´ll give it try. Thanks Marlene.

  • mo_flow

    Corina Manea Digital_DRK mo_flow You are most welcome! As for hunger…I didn’t get into it very much in this post, but it’s a constant concern for me that must be carefully managed!

  • I am SUPER productive and extremely task-oriented, but I’m not going to lie…this made my brain hurt! When the heck do you have meetings? A good 50% of my day, every day, is filled with meetings. Coaching my team. Working with clients. Presenting to prospects. 

    I have found that I’m most productive when I have “need lots of time to do this” and “can do this quickly” lists. Then, when I have 15 minutes in between meetings, I can tackle things on the short list (such as editing guest blog posts). And then, after my meetings are over for the day, I can tackle the bigger stuff. I suppose I probably use a looser version of this for that, but could do better at taking a break after 50 minutes of solid work. I actually set my UP band to buzz at me every hour, if I haven’t moved, and I tend to ignore that when I’m in the zone.

  • Gini Dietrich

    I’m not going to lie…this made my brain hurt.

  • jogosdofriv42

    These are really great ideas, I love this structure. Thanks Marlene |

  • Lindsay Bell-Wheeler

    HAHAHA! Why??

  • mo_flow

    ginidietrich Ha! Well first, this schedule still leaves 12:30 pm onward available for meetings. But also, based on what you’re saying, I definitely have far fewer meetings than you. I’m closer to an average of one per day and they are usually via phone/Skype/Hangout! When I do schedule meetings, I really try to book them in the afternoon and if that’s not going to work, then I rearrange my day and likely take a break from this schedule. 

    Over my years on my own, I’ve realized that I’m much more productive and less interrupted/distracted in the morning, so meetings after producing work better for me!

  • mo_flow

    jogosdofriv42 Thank you so much! I hope it works for you.

  • mo_flow I’ve always done meetings in the morning (I like to have them all finished by 1 p.m.) and work in the afternoons. So we’re opposites, but tend to work a lot the same.

  • Ellie Pierce

    I would think it would appeal to the robot part of your brain, Gini! No??

  • Wow, that is structured! But I think the takeaway for maybe “less structured people” is to figure out the time of day when you are feeling most energetic and productive and devote that time to the tasks that require the most brainpower. 
    For me, that’s writing (sometimes known as content creation). But I can’t do it in short blocks. I need to block out several hours. And I write best in the morning, so I avoid doing conference calls and meetings during that time.
    And I always keep a running list of administrative work to fill the times when I’m feeling tired.

  • mo_flow

    RobBiesenbach So true about that takeaway! And it looks like you’re the more ‘naturally’ structured of the two of us. I developed the system over time because with me, if the focus is not enforced, it doesn’t happen!

  • Gini Dietrich

    There is no time for meetings!

  • Ellie Pierce

    Or for bathroom breaks every 15 minutes …

  • Gini Dietrich

    Good point!