Productivity at work – How to start a good day -3

productivity at work

Productivity at work is the  3rd step of our topic “How to start the day”

Previously :

You stood up after a good night’s rest, did your morning exercises. Your children, if you have some, got up also well rested, slowly. After small morning activities, you all had a good breakfast, and you left a tidy home.
You drop the little ones to school, to the nanny, or they are old enough to go to it alone .

You’re in your car or, in public transport to get to work. All right, you see?

This travel time, whatever it is, is still time for you. Read, listen to music or a podcast, think about a project you have, it is YOUR time. Then E-N-J-O-Y! Leave off your smartphone, avoid those calls from car that will annoy you in the morning. And for that, tell you:

I have to stay focused on my road. It is full of people who are not as awake as I am, who are very late because they are not as well organized than me, so I need all my vigilance.

And presto, play the music that energizes you, dance in the car, just for you. I love the music of Mannix from Lalo Shifrin; it gives me joy and energy!
Besides, I propose here a little hilarious video.

Here you are at the office, and you turn on your computer.

What to start with?

First keep in mind your goal: To have a productive day so that you will be satisfied. Those productivity consists in achieving what need to be done. But that will end at a specific time, that time where you will run to join your family, your gym, your friends to the movies … well your personal life. Reach out its professional and personal goals is nothing paradoxical, both are necessary and essential to your well being. And you must be satisfied on both sides.

The famous To Do List

First thing to deal with, your ToDo list for the day. Ideally, the day before leaving your office, you have already laid the foundation of your day. Jot down everything you have to do for each task, write some sub-tasks. For example, you have to organize a workshop on a subject so you might have:

  • Organizing meeting on X
  • set list of participants
  • find the perfect date
  • book a meeting room
  • draft the agenda
  • book meal trays, etc …
    and so on.

Then sort tasks by priority. Knowing that you are “fresh / cool” at this moment of the day, start with the most difficult action, eat your frog, even if it puts you off at first.
Also, plan a “fun” task i.e. something that makes you happy for the early afternoon, a time when we traditionally feel sluggish. The fun side will help you keep focus and motivation despite the slowdown.
Do not forget the “pain” task, one that does not motivate you. However, if you avoid it, it will cause calls, mail recovery, unexpected visits … and thus waste of time.
I recommend this excellent article by Shane Parrish, on a very productive vision of task prioritization.

This ToDo List can be done on a notepad, notebook or PC. I use Asana application for my ToDos and project management. The big advantage of this free application is that it is available on all media, PC, Mac, iOS and Android so that my ToDo follows me everywhere. I can easily add something there then I am traveling, in a meeting, etc. I use it for professional and personal tasks. I will have the opportunity to come back in a future post.

Small example below:

exemple asana productivité
exemple asana

There are many applications like this, do your market if you want to go digital!

Ok, the ToDo is done, then immediately start on the first task, one that is a bit difficult and requires concentration and time.
Turn off your phone or switch to silent, turn off all kind of notifications from your computer, close the door if you are in a business where office doors are always open, breathe deeply and go!

Two possible strategies to manage time and tasks.

  1. If it is a task that will require more than an hour of work, I recommend that you take a break of 10 minutes after 45-50 minutes. Studies show that beyond this period, attention relaxes. Get up, go greet some colleagues that you have not seen it yet, grab a coffee and go back to your task.
  2. For a shorter task, use the Pomodoro method. This is a timer for 25 minutes, then a 5 minutes break and again 25 minutes and so on. This technique allows you to chain several short tasks. The timer effect helps to focus quickly to complete the task. The app is available for PC or smartphone, or online. My favorite here. But you could also use you phone timer, a kitchen timer …

If someone interrupts you, remain firm and concentrate. Have a look to this interesting and detailed post ( in French) to help you handle interruptions, from “Temps action”. I have summarized in an infographic.

Dealing with interruptions

You can be yourself the cause of the interruption. An idea comes out of nowhere, about a “forgotten thing” or a ” to do”. I am specifically speaking to ladies, as we are the best for ideas coming at the most unexpected times, you know what I mean;-)? In this case, note there immediately and clear it from your mind and go on!

Inbox Management

Contrary to what many people believe, be glued to his mailbox all day is anything but productive. Your time is then grabbed by the incessant demands, and you are not in control of your time.
Good technique is to check you emails only twice or three times a day. Your colleagues must realize that email is not a tool for managing emergencies, there are phone calls for that and you are not a clone of Google! And please, do not be fooled by “I know I’ve already asked, but I can not find the data about XXX, and you’re so organized that you’ve probably kept.” Come on !!! Go away ….

Mails check should take you a few minutes to:

Browse mails “Inbox” and sort out.

There are many tools generally provided in your mail manager to help you make efficient sorting.

  • To or CC

Quickly view if you are the only recipient of an email or copy only. That allows you to manage the reading priorities.Here is an example of a filter with Lotus Notes. This is not set by default, so you have to do it yourself

paramétrage filtre lotuc
paramétrage filtre lotus

Three kind of icons will be positioned on each mail header, to define what is to be read first (blue dot), second (blue / white) and in last (white dot)

  • Assign color

You can assign a color to recurring senders (your boss, a client), etc … which will help you to sort their mails.

  • Automation

Finally, automation sorting, your newsletters, for example, activity reports you regularly receive and which do not have a sense of emergency.
Just read the emails. All emails that need less than 2 minutes of work, treat them immediately and classified them. This is not a homemade advice; it comes from the world-known technique GTD (Getting Things Done) David Allen, Guru in time management. I practice the ” 2 minutes rule” for long, and I guarantee you its relevance, not just for mail, but in all daily tasks.

Sort the remaining messages into different categories:

  • To deal with now (i.e. soon)
  • To deal with later (but not forget). Remember also to use reminders or bookmarks with a due date to meet the senders proposed deadline.
  • Trash after reading
  • Archived


So, your inbox is empty; you close the box soon after added to your To Do the actions to process from the “to deal with now” folder and you continue your tasks. We can not necessarily reach 0 inbox every day but keep the goal of achieving at least on Friday. And it is quite realistic!

Possible variant:

In some organizations, there is a night life either because of the industry or because of the global coverage of your company. Therefore it is sometimes impossible to ignore reading mails at first in the morning. In this case the first thing to do would be to quickly process mails as described above in order to integrate possible emergencies in the ToDo list item. To help you, and to prevent your mailbox becomes your tasks manager, most Todo management applications offer the ability to send email from your mailbox to this app and thus transform the mail into task. This is possible with Asana I mentioned above. More on that in my next article.

Calendar management and meetings:

Another crucial point of the office morning routine is calendar.

  • You put in priority meetings with the place where they take place, and the time go to there.
    You could try to limit for no more than two meetings per day, to allow time for your other tasks. According to experiments, either all in half a day, one in the morning and the afternoon.
  • For those who use shared calendars or accessible to all, do not forget to schedule when you decided to work on a particular issue. Indeed, the advantage of these calendars is the acces to colleagues availability. The risk is that your charming teammates schedule meetings at ” available” times on your calendar but where you have planned to work on a specific topic . So block these hours ” for you” to avoid disappointment.
  • Also avoid the automatic processing of calendar entries proposed by some applications, YOU are the master of your calendar, and as a result you confirm what goes there. And do not hesitate to refuse meetings that are not accompanied by an agenda, especially if you do not know why you’re invited.
  • Finally, let “free” zones in your calendar, allowing you the flexibility to deal with emergencies, respond to unexpected demand. By the way, you will not be the overwhelmed person who needs a 4 weeks notice for a meeting.
  • Feel free to firmly hold your calendar. I mean by that, to “charge” for every unexpected “upheaval” . How can you achieve unrealistic goals that your new boss has given you if he spends his time playing the big messes-all with your organization? Hold on, and use time “buffer”.
    “Sorry, I am not available for an unscheduled point, but what do you think of Thursday at 4 pm?”
    Does this sound hard? Try you will be surprised!
  • Or negotiate
    “Ok for this meeting, but in this case I will need one more day to treat the X”
    This is the principle of quid pro quo or “no concession without consideration” and other business ( and personal ) balanced relationships.

Last on the calendar management, is punctuality.

Nothing is worse than being on time for a meeting, and having to wait 30 minutes or more.

Two tips:

  • You are the organizer; you should always be on time (and by that I mean early, meeting room ready to receive attendees). Wait 5 minutes the “last” attendees and start the meeting and too bad for latecomers.
    Another point when latecomers arrive, do not summarize the situation for them; Wait for the break. You do not have to fall behind on your agenda because of them. You do not have to interrupt or cut the creative impulse of the rest of the team for them. Why else would they be on time next time? And for Parisian (which I am), stop with the famous Parisian quarter of an hour! There is enough information tools to help you avoid traffic jams or to leave early … and arrive on time. If others do why not you?
  • You are an attendee, and your organizer is late. Examine circumstances (snow, transport strikes or other extreme factors). If none of these “reasons” are present, after 20 minutes of waiting, I go, especially if the guy has not bothered to prevent the delay. If he warned, or if I made a long road to get to the appointment I do that. Upon the arrival of the organizer, I tell him that the meeting was scheduled to end at a certain time and that I have commitments after that. I will not be able to stay longer to compensate for the delay. And tell yourself that you are not lying. After this meeting you definitely have not planned to go back to your office to sleep, haven’t you? You are organized and, for this reason, have some things scheduled after this meeting.

Keep in mind that punctuality is “the politeness of kings”. By that you show your respect to the time given by your colleagues or contacts. The constant delay is also a sign that the latecomer considers that his time is much more valuable than the others, and as such he can do what he wants.

Other factors for better productivity in the office:

Do not waste time chatting:

You always have in mind your precise office leaving time, satisfied by your accomplishments of the day.
So, don’t dwell one hour at the coffee machine with colleagues. I do not mean to be antisocial, far from it, but a few words are enough. You can have lunch with colleagues, visit them outside the office! Today you are here to be productive and be SATISFIED with your working day and not trying to pester because you have not completed this or that.

Chase the social loafer

However, you may also be disturbed by the social loafer. I’m sure you know at least one or … I have two well in mind! People charming, jovial, but always seem to wander in corridors, generally not busy and on the lookout for an ear to listen:

  • small problems
  • Last weekend / holiday / short trips boast
  • the secrets that they should not tell you but that you entrust all the same (as in the whole floor)
  • Conspiracy in progress against them. Since that everyone wonders what they are still there, fantasies are going well. From freemason to relative of the CEO, or “the guy who was great but never recovered from his divorce eight years ago” … Maybe he discovered that you made secret incantations against him 😉

As they are charming, it is very difficult to “chase”, but again you have to hold on and do not hesitate to be strict on the fact that you have tasks (you). Even offended a bit, it does not matter. In addition, to convince you, try going disturbing the guy the one and only time he is busy (maybe it will be difficult to find that moment;-)). You will be surprised to see how he will send you packing! Try and tell me!

Last thing, leave on time !! It is possible!

If you also have tips and tricks to improve your productivity in the morning, let us know !!!

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Thanks to Sebastien Rives for his wonderful picture !
Priscille LIVENAIS
J'ai une passion pour l'organisation, la gestion des projets et les outils de productivité. Mon but n'est pas de tout faire, mais de ne faire QUE ce qui compte vraiment pour mener la vie que je souhaite, tout en sérénité.
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