If all the tips for getting things done needed to be summarized in three words, they would be, “Do it Now.” Today is a more valuable time to start than tomorrow. Working on the project in the next hour is better than putting it off until later in the day. Changing a habit this month is better than putting it off until next January.
Another way to summarize this lesson in productivity would be: make your time top-heavy. People who get stuff done have top-heavy schedules. Chronic lateness and procrastination are the result of bottom-heavy schedules.
What is a Top-Heavy Schedule?
Being top-heavy means the bulk of the work is at the start. A top-heavy joke has a long build up for a short punch line. A top-heavy schedule emphasizes the start, leaving more space at the end. When it comes to productivity, there are a few things you can make more top-heavy:
- Volume of Work. Put most your work earlier in your schedule. This could mean working all morning while having little to do in the evenings.
- Importance of Work. Put your most important tasks first. Do the tasks that have a long-term impact before taking on the minor problems.
- Difficulty of Work. Put the hardest tasks first, when you have the most energy. I love writing articles, but it takes a great deal of energy and thought before writing each post. Putting my writing work earlier lets me write when I’m the most energetic.
A bottom-heavy schedule would be the opposite. It would place the most work, the most important work and the most difficult work at the end of your schedule. This is a recipe for procrastination as you burn yourself out on the tasks that don’t matter.
How to be Top-Heavy
There are three different scales you should keep in mind when asking how top-heavy your schedule is. These are on a:
- Daily Basis. Is your work shifted earlier into the morning or late into the night?
- Weekly Basis. Are your Monday’s and Tuesday’s busiest, or are you finishing up everything Sunday night?
- Long-Term Basis. Are you doing the bulk of work on your goals now, or planning to work harder in the future? If I have a project I expect to take 4 months, I make sure the first two contain the most work.
Being top-heavy at all of these levels accomplishes two things. First, it ensures that you actually get work accomplished. Bottom-heavy schedules make it easy to waste time and miss deadlines. Second, a top-heavy life is more relaxing. By finishing your work early, you can have guilt-free relaxation time nearer to the end of your schedule. Waking up early and finishing by 2:00 or 3:00 with several hours to relax is better than getting a lazy start to your day and cramming work in by midnight.
Here are a few ways you can tip the balance in your schedule:
- Start a Morning Ritual. Wake up earlier and plan out a routine for your first hour. This will make sure you can start working right away, instead of fighting off sleepiness for the first few hours.
- Set Daily and Weekly Goals. I maintain a weekly and daily to-do list. Both of these lists help me chunk down the infinite number of tasks I have into something more manageable.
- Preserve Your Rest Time. I make a commitment to take at least one day off completely each week. Having a guaranteed rest day makes it easier to work hard now.
- Find Your Procrastination Items. Pick those things on your to-do list that you are most likely to procrastinate on. Then make sure to get those done first. Finishing the difficult work early on makes life less stressful.
- Expect Interruptions. Schedule your week as if you expect unforseen work to be added. This way, if no extra work comes by, you have more time to relax later in the week. If new work does come, you’re prepared.
- Set Your Own Hours. You can create more productive days by defining between what hours you will work. If you don’t allow work to expand into your personal time, it becomes easier to work top-heavy days.
- Make Realistic To-Do Lists. Whenever I set my daily and weekly goals, I’m careful to only add on an amount I think I can handle. If you don’t believe you can everything done today, you won’t work as hard. Setting a slightly shorter list and finishing early is best.