4 Overlooked Tasks That Boost Productivity

Man writing in diary

Photo by cottonbro studio

Your calendar is a powerful productivity tool, but only if you take control of it.

If you’re careless, your calendar will fill up with other people’s priorities. We want to avoid this and ensure critical activities are given the space they deserve. Booking recurring appointments is a great way to ensure you spend time on tasks that are important to you.

As an example, here are four often-overlooked activities I schedule as recurring activities to ensure each week is productive.

1. Day Planning

Day planning is how I avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Each morning, I spend 30 minutes reviewing my task inbox and planning what to work on. I consider my calendar and determine how many meeting-free hours I have, then I block it out to focus on my important tasks.

If I don’t do this, two things happen. Firstly, my task inbox overflows, and I lose confidence in my to-do list. Secondly, my day unfolds according to what I remember is important. My memory sucks, and so this means I always forget to do something.

I also use these 30 minutes for the occasional spring clean of my task list. I walk through my various projects and double-check all the tasks make sense and are still relevant. It’s amazing how many tasks I delete during this process.

30 minutes spent planning more than pays for itself during the day.

2. Lunch Break

On a busy day, one of the first sacrifices is often lunch.

Not anymore. I hate working all day without a break, so I’ve made a habit of booking a recurring appointment for lunch. Usually, this is a full hour, which I can spend going for a walk or grabbing some food. I schedule this break as a recurring appointment, but I’m happy to move it around (a little) to accommodate unexpected meetings.

If I have unavoidable evening calls, I will often extend my lunch break to keep my working hours in check. I find that when I don’t do this, especially over several days, I get exhausted.

Booking a lunch break might seem petty, but I’ve concluded energy management is an overlooked aspect of productivity. There’s a reason professional athletes have a half-time break, and office workers are no different.

3. One-to-One Preparation Time

One-to-one meetings can be powerful, or they can be passable. The difference is in the preparation.

These meetings should be more than a social catch-up. Ahead of the session, each person should spend time thinking about the points they want to raise. Managers might focus on feedback, guidance, or questions about projects. Peers or team members should think about flags to raise, questions to ask, and so forth.

I schedule 60 minutes a week to plan my one-to-ones. I review the notes from the last meeting, consider the team strategy and my own task list, and note down several topic areas. This is in addition to the ad-hoc noting of topics as they arise during the week.

To encourage my team to do the same, I ask them to send one-to-one topics the day before our meeting. This has had a huge impact on meeting quality.

4. Big Picture Thinking

There’s a management idiom that says you should work on the business, not in the business.

Like most idioms, this isn’t universally true. But I’m convinced everyone should spend some of their time thinking about how they work, and what they’re focused on. Without this, you can spend your entire week in execution mode. With your head in the weeds, there’s no way to know you’re putting effort into the right things.

I schedule 3 hours each week to review the team strategy and take a deep look at each in-flight project. And once a month, I have an entire day set aside for big-picture thinking. Scheduling this is easy thanks to my practice of meeting-free Mondays.

I’ve found it helpful to maintain a separate task list for this big-picture work. This helps give some structure to my strategic work. Without this, it tends to dissolve into Groundhog Day, and I re-invent the strategic wheel every week.

The Things I Didn’t Mention

The list above contains some of the overlooked tasks that can get lost in a busy week.

On top of this, I have several other recurring appointments that keep my life organised. Each day has two 30-minute slots for email batching. And my mornings are kept free, so I can spend at least two hours working on important tasks. I block out that focus time to avoid it getting trampled on.

If something is important to you, make sure your calendar reflects this. Recurring appointments are a productivity hack that ensures you get the time you need. Try adding some more today (especially the lunch one!).