On a recent Facebook thread, friends asked about different nuances of how I approach getting things done. Another friend asked about how I relax and then get going again. At first glance, those two topics don’t seem to relate to each other. But after some thought, I think they’re absolutely connected.

Here’s a few of my best tips, Q&A style.

1. How do I separate my work and home life and still get things done?

After many years of trying, I gave up on this. In fact, I don’t even strive for balance in the traditional work-life sense. For me, knowing my priorities and preferences, and then doing my best to integrate them has been a more successful strategy. I recognize that this can be difficult in some work environments, and I try hard to avoid them. In general, I think most of those limitations are self-imposed. I’ve found that most people are willing to offer flexibility as long as the results and communication are sufficient. Transparency is also important. I can’t pretend to have a “normal” life. I have to admit that I’m different and be willing to accept the consequences of that – both the benefits and the challenges.

So, to me, a day is a day. There’s not much difference between a Saturday and a Monday. I aim for a period of physical activity, connecting with my family/friends, generating value on work projects, and learning. The ratios of each of those change depending on the needs of each situation. Some days may be mostly about a critical work project; other days might involve a long bike ride; and I might take a chunk of Wednesday to have lunch with my daughter at school. I do try to recognize the Sabbath on Sunday, attending and serving in our church and planning for the week ahead.

2. How do I better prioritize tasks? Harder ones, linger ones, etc first?

I don’t have any hard rules on this. It all depends. As long as I have a good understanding of my active projects (in every area of my life), the critical stuff is usually apparent to me. I do most of this type planning on Sunday evenings. Usually it takes an hour or two, and this is how I approach it.

  • List all my Active Projects and their main sub-projects. At a high level, I would have each client or company, and beneath that I would have the main projects related to it.
  • Identify the deadlines or milestones for each of those sub-projects.
  • Using a sheet of paper for each day, I visualize and plan what each day that week will “look” like. First, I write in meetings or other chunks of time that are already committed. Then, I block out time when I know I’ll likely be needed to put out fires. This is usually an hour or so each morning.
  • After that, I usually still have plenty of “white space” in most days. I literally think about how I typically feel during those times of day and which types of projects are a best fit for my energy level and which office I’ll be in (to minimize travel time). If I have a key project that needs doing, I try to schedule it when I know I’ll be mentally sharp. (I also rely on Monster Rehab plenty.) In late afternoons, I’ll often bundle several small tasks together and knock them out.
  • As the week progresses, I make note on each day of whether it “happened” as planned, or if I got off track. Occasionally, I do have big curveballs come my way. Most of the time, I can live a day exactly as I’ve seen it in my mind as long as I leave some margin for the unexpected.

3. How do I ramp up my productivity, relax for a while, and then ramp up again?

For me, relaxing is all about having an empty mind, knowing that everything rattling around up there has been identified and planned for.

If I know I need (or want) a down day, like a holiday with family, I visualize it that way and adjust my plans accordingly. For a while, I prided myself on being a workaholic and never really unplugging. After much research and self-awareness, I’ve realize that thinking is flawed. I can deliver much more value in an hour of performing at my peak than a day of grinding when I’m exhausted.

To minimize the transition time, I’m sure to plan the day after my break as well – or a least the first few hours. It prevents sitting down at my computer and staring at a blank screen until my mind comes back. Now, I’m sure to have a list of exactly what I need to do first when I resume working.

What other questions do you have about workflow and productivity systems? I’d love to answer them in a follow up post.