If you’re anything like me, you hate rules. You don’t like it when someone tells you what to do and tries to keep you contained. It turns out, however, that rules are less annoying when you set them for yourself.
The beauty of these work rules is that they won’t make you feel restricted. If you follow them, you’ll finish your work faster and end up with more free time. Rules are the key to freedom.
I have five rules that help me work smarter and achieve more throughout the day. If you apply them, they’ll help you waste less time.
It takes a lot of discipline to follow them. You might fail in the beginning, but as long as you try again, eventually, these rules will become second-nature. You’ll follow them without even trying.
1. Stop Watching Netflix During the Day
Days are for work. Nights are for you. That’s the rule.
When someone takes a break from work in the middle of the day, they normally turn to Netflix. The problem is, these shows are addicting. One episode can quickly turn into two, and since you’re already settled on the couch, it’s easy to give in to temptation.
The biggest problem is how lazy it makes you. Even if you only watch one, you may have realized that your energy and motivation to work plummet. You became comfortable so now you don’t want to be productive anymore.
This kills your progress toward your goals. Instead of watching Netflix during the day, set a rule to watch it (and really, do whatever you want) after eight. Dedicate the daylight to your work, and when the clock strikes eight, close your laptop and call it a night.
Breaks feel much more deserved when you’ve worked for them. You’ll genuinely be able to relax instead of worrying about the work you need to get to.
What can you do during your break time in the middle of the day? Instead of watching a show, read a book, take a walk, or do anything else that gets you off a screen.
2. Work on Your Top 3 Priorities First
If you’re not going to follow any of these other rules, at least follow this one. You need to figure out what your three most important tasks are, and you need to do them before anything else every day.
As a rule of thumb, your priorities are the steps that’ll help you reach your goals. For example, as a writer, my priorities are:
- Write an article
- Edit and publish (or submit) an article
- Write fiction for one hour
It doesn’t matter if it takes me three hours or six, I can’t move on unless I’ve finished these three tasks. Your workday should be: priorities first, everything else second.
Figuring out what your priorities are helps prevent stress and overwhelm. Instead of scrambling at the end of the day and causing unnecessary stress, you’ll have already gotten through the bigger tasks.
Of course, you might not work every day of the week. When I say every day, I mean every day of your workweek. If you take weekends off, then you don’t need to work on weekends if you don’t want to.
Whatever your schedule is, work your priorities around it. If you have a full-time job, you can still work on your side-hustle priorities after.
3. Plan Your Week Every Sunday
If you have a lot going on and want to manage your time better, purchase a weekly planner (they’re less than $10 at Target), and plan your week every Sunday.
By doing this, you’ll avoid the question, “What do I need to do today?” and the overwhelm that answers it. All in all, it’s going to save you time.
Simply writing down your tasks is helpful. It helps you get a clear idea of what your work week will look like, and how to prepare for it ahead of time.
The key is to write down tasks that relate to work only. If you write down personal goals (i.e., read for thirty minutes, read two articles, etc.) then it simply adds to your overwhelm.
For example, I try to write five headlines every day, but I don’t add it to my to-do list. It’s not important enough and only makes my day look busier than it actually is. I just know to do it before I go to bed.
You don’t need to add more items to cross off. Stick only to four to six tasks every day. This will help you be clear on what you need to do exactly instead of busywork. If you add busywork to your to-do list, you’ll be tempted to work on it first because it’s easy to cross off.
4. No More Than 45 Minutes on Social Media (And Only on the Phone)
I have my screen-time on my iPhone and limit my social media use to 45 minutes a day. The reason I rarely use it for the full 45 minutes is that I never have my phone beside me. As I write this, it’s upstairs.
You’re only tempted to use your phone because it’s beside you. But you don’t need your phone for work. If someone texts you, if someone tweets you, if someone likes your comment, you can view it later. Keep your phone away from you, and you’ll find you rarely use it.
Since you have social media apps on your phone, you don’t need to use it on your laptop — that should only be for work. I use the Chrome extension Block Site to block Twitter, YouTube, and any other distracting sites. It works because once you block a site, you’ll be too lazy to unblock it.
Anytime you accidentally type Twitter, you’ll land on a page that tells you the website is blocked. You’ll be angry for a second, but it’ll remind you that you need to be working anyway.
Ever since I stopped using social media on my laptop, I finish my work faster. I’m not drowned in meaningless, distracting content. Plus, concentration makes for better work.
5. Get 8 Hours of Sleep
Never underestimate the importance of sleep. If you want to be more productive, then you need your full seven to eight hours. While some productive-obsessed people preach that you only need five hours, they couldn’t be far from the truth.
Sleep is proven to boost productivity and concentration. You could wake up sleep-deprived and work for ten hours. Or you can sleep the full eight hours and get the same amount of work done in five hours.
“If a person gets more sleep, then they are more focused and better at performing tasks. Therefore, they get more done and can feel better about their work. This, in turn, can help sleep because people feel like they have “earned it.”
If your eyes are closing, if they feel heavy and like they’re burning, that’s a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep. Once I started waking up an hour later, it made all the difference. Not only would I remain energized throughout the day, but I was also less moody and able to get more work done.
It might sound contradictory, but if you want to work harder, you need to rest longer.
These five rules have dramatically helped me improve my workday. While I do suggest you follow them all, your rules can vary. Maybe you want to spend an hour on social media every day instead of forty-five minutes. Maybe you’re okay with seven hours of sleep instead of eight.
The point is to figure out what works for you. Take these rules and mess around with them a little bit or set up completely different ones. Just make sure they work for you and help you work smarter.
Experiment and stick to the rules that work best for you. You’ll find yourself working faster and being smart about the productive choices you make.