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Maybe you’ve been there: It’s Monday morning but in your head, it’s still Sunday night. Caffeine only somewhat shakes your groggy mindset, and when 5pm rolls around, you’ve only done half the work you set out to — which as a business owner is no good at all. 

As an entrepreneur, I live by the philosophy that every minute of every hour of every day counts, and must be productive if you want to be successful. Think about it: in 24 hours, we average about the same hours of sleep as the hours we put into work. You better believe your brain is making the most of your resting hours — clearing waste, reenergizing cells, and reinforcing memories. The trick, then, is to make the most of our waking hours too, especially while we’re at work. 

Here are four proven ways to make every minute count and ensure you enjoy a more productive work day.

1. The power of lists

I believe wholeheartedly that lists are the key to productivity. But for a list to abet productivity, it can’t just be done in the moment. I spend time setting goals for my day either after waking or before going to sleep so that I can start my day already knowing what I have to accomplish. I also set weekly and annual goals.

I’m not the only one with a penchant for list-making, either. Says Corcoran Group founder Barbara Corcoran, “the productiveness of any meeting depends on the advance thought given the agenda, and you should never leave a meeting without writing a follow-up list.” 

The basic truth is that organization, preparedness, and note-taking will amplify yours and your team’s abilities to get things done in a timely manner. 

2. Get up early and make the most of your evenings

It’s not a rumor that successful people wake up early — it’s a trend. I myself wake up at 5 AM each day so that I can make the most of the hours to come. Others including Apple CEO Tim Cook, former FLOTUS Michelle Obama, ‘Shark Tank’ investor Kevin O’Leary and a number of other leaders wake up before dawn as well, some as early as 3:30 AM. 

In addition to my early start I like to think of my evening as a separate part of the day to look forward to, and will often make plans to fill that space. This way I am not only working toward my listed goals each day, but I also have a non work-related chunk of time to look forward to later. It’s a habit I’ve found to help drive productive even further.

3. Be active — physically, mentally, and emotionally

Waking up early provides a great window of time to get active before your work day starts; I typically do so for an hour every morning. According to Brookings, this is good for productivity: “a regular exercise routine can make you happier, smarter, and more energetic.” It gives you energy throughout the work day, yes, but also throughout your entire life by increasing mental acuity in the long term. 

Being active can mean so much more than a trot on the elliptical. During your work day, taking walks and frequent breaks can get your blood flowing and ideas circulating. 

Taking the time to flex your mental and emotional muscles is also important, I’ve found. It makes sense, then, that avid readers report higher levels of productivity as do those with fulfilling family lives. 

4. Minimize distractions

In the 21st century workplace we are all at the whim of frequent distractions — from the internet, our phones, and any other disturbances that take attention away from the tasks at hand. This can be a hard nut to crack, especially because more and more people have been diagnosed with learning disabilities that may hinder output, CEOs included.

There are actions we can all take to minimize distractions and be more productive, though, starting with limiting our phone and social media time during work hours. For those in busy workspaces, noise-cancelling headphones can drown out the noise. For those working from home, a designated space away from cats, kids, and chores should make for more productive hours.

5. Don’t put the tough things off 

It’s my personal philosophy to do what I can, today, without making exceptions for things I might be dreading or find difficult. The fact of the matter is, a minor or major catastrophe could happen at any time, and procrastination will only make matters worse. 

This is difficult, I know. That’s why I recommend doing what you hate first — it’s like getting a monkey off your back. Let’s say you have to fire someone. Nobody likes firing people, but waiting until 5pm to do so is a supremely bad idea; it will weigh on you all day and interfere with your other tasks. Do it bright and early and the rest of your day will be far more productive. 

Whatever side of the bed you woke up on, you’ll want to have made every minute matter when 5pm rolls around, not to mention go to bed feeling satisfied with your accomplishments. If some of those minutes are spent moving, planning, or otherwise strategizing for a more efficient workflow, that definitely counts as progress.  

About the Author(s)

Debrah Lee Charatan

Debrah Lee Charatan is an entrepreneur and real estate veteran widely recognized for her experience brokering, investing and developing commercial, residential and mixed-use properties in the New York City area.

President, BCB Property Management
How To Make Every Minute Productive