Two tips to prioritize your day

There are many ways to increase productivity, but these two simple ideas should make the biggest difference.


One of the biggest struggles I had after graduating from college was determining how I should structure my day. More specifically, I struggled with how to find the time to do the things that mattered to me when I wasn’t at my day job.

It wasn’t easy, but eventually I got the hang of fitting it all in: taking classes for my professional coaching certification, updating my blog several times a week, taking on freelance writing assignments, and attending yoga twice a week.

Recent college grads often ask me how I was able to do all of this while holding down a 9-to-5 job. Luckily, there are only two things you really need to know.

First, determine what actually matters to you.

Between the ages of 22 and 25, my day job gave me the salary I needed to live and start saving, but my focus in my free time was devoted to what I was truly passionate about: my health and creating my own business. Nearly everything I did outside of my day job fell into those two categories.

I had a very clear vision for what I wanted out of my life, and I made it priority to do whatever work was required to make this vision a reality. Even now, a few years later, I take some time every December to re-envision what I want and prioritize accordingly. This can be harder than it sounds, so it may help to find a tool or program that can help you identify what’s most important to you. I use “The Desire Map” by Danielle LaPorte to help me out.

One of the biggest lessons I had to learn as I began to prioritize the things that mattered to me was to get comfortable with saying no.

— Amanda Abella

Second, start saying no.

I’ve wasted a lot of time and money doing things I didn’t actually want to do, but thought I should do or felt pressured to do — like going to out to an acquaintance’s big birthday dinner and splitting the bill or getting into a gym contract because of a new fitness craze. That’s why one of the biggest lessons I had to learn as I began to prioritize the things that mattered to me was to get comfortable saying no.

When I was working at my day job and building a business in my free time, I had to learn to skip social events if they were going to interfere with my ability to reach my goals. Now I say no to just about anything that gets in the way of my main priorities. I actually say no far more than I say yes.

While there are many time management tricks and productivity hacks out there, following these two guidelines have helped me prioritize my life and move me in the direction I wanted to go.

3 Simple Productivity Hacks to Try

Some days there’s just too much to do and not enough time. Here are three ways to help make your workload more manageable.

1. Set specific times to check and respond to email (or texts). Research by McKinsey suggests that email takes up 28% of the average worker’s day — that’s 2 hours and 15 minutes for an 8-hour workday. Close your email program and only check it periodically.

2. Ditch the to-do list and create a schedule. While many people swear by a checklist approach to day-to-day tasks, if you have one nagging item on your list — say, filling out that grad school application — actually scheduled a time to complete the task, undistracted. It’s hard not to hold yourself accountable when you’ve specifically side time aside for something.

3. Declutter — yes, really. Mom may have been onto something with her incessant reminders to clean your room. Clutter has been shown to cause anxiety, not to mention it’s distracting. Take some time to clean your workspace — and keep it tidy.