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The Full Potential of a Day

Spring brings fresh starts and new beginnings, so it was very timely that I decided to take a vacation day to re-examine my goals and priorities, and spring clean my Trello boards.  I was feeling somewhat overwhelmed the past few weeks, as I had been juggling a lot between my day job, volunteer work and home life.

So I first started with a “Life Repair Day” – this is something I read about last year and I have completed it a couple of times since. It is very similar to “Inbox zero” but much more.  It took me two hours to complete everything on this list:

  • Every email answered (yes, every email – for all your email addresses).
  • Every bill paid or put in place where you’ll pay it later.
  • Every piece of paper, envelope, and post-it filed or thrown away.
  • Your system of physical files is up-to-date.
  • Every text on your smartphone is answered.
  • Your physical desktop is clear, and your computer desktop is free of those stray files.
  • Your in-box (literal and virtual) is empty.
  • Everything is backed up.

It is such a freeing feeling, getting caught up on all the little things – it really makes a difference.

Next I reviewed a system that has worked well for me in the past – I find my productivity skyrockets when I follow the very simple principles. Over the summer it is easy to fall out of good habits so I vowed to begin again – the Single Best Time Management Tip Ever.

It is called “Multiple Put Down” and you work on a task in 20-minute increments, with absolute focus, and then put it down, over and over, until you’re done. Here are the steps:

  • Alert your brain that a task is coming that will require its recall, creativity, and brilliance. Then let some time pass – a day perhaps.
  • When you’re ready to start, set a timer for 20 minutes, such as the stopwatch feature on an iPhone. Set your cell phone to airplane mode, turn off your email, and silence all other distractions. Then hit start on the timer.
  • During the 20 minutes, you must focus on that task without interruption. And unless the building burns down, do nothing but work on that task until the timer goes off. You may hit the wall, but keep going. The vast majority of people find they can work on that task “in the zone” until the timer goes off.
  • After 20 minutes, you have a choice: keep working or take a break. If you keep working, reset the timer to 20 minutes and go through the process again, without interruption until the next 20 minutes are up. If you decide to take a break, it can be short (such as refilling your coffee cup), medium (returning a phone call) or long (going into a meeting, or working out).

This technique will save you so much time – in three hours I was able to develop two presentations from scratch and write an article. This would have taken me a full day if I hadn’t used this strategy; having zero interruptions kept me concentrated on the task at hand.

Now that I am caught up, my mind is clear and I can refocus, instead of having that feeling of being “too busy” (I would never want to be someone who complains about how busy they are). I love what I do so I want to enjoy the ride and take it all in – being proactive in my work instead of reactive makes such an impact.

At the end of my day I made one last goal for the coming months after reading the article “Disruptions: More Connected, Yet More Alone”.  The video embedded in the article really affected me, so I decided to “break free” from my smartphone and limit my usage. The article suggests that “life is better led when it is lived, rather than viewed through a four-inch screen” – this statement is so obvious, yet after watching the video I realize we are living in a culture of smartphone obsession. I plan to still take my phone with me, but I will mindfully leave it in my purse so that I can take in more of life’s moments, rather than posting a picture or video about it. I can’t imagine how this will change my life as a result.

So all in all, my vacation day was exactly what I needed to reset my priorities and get several items on my to-do list accomplished. I encourage each of you to schedule some time for yourself whenever you are feeling a bit overwhelmed or need to recharge your batteries.  It is all about finding what works for you – working smarter, maximizing your time, and getting things done.

What goal-setting, prioritization and/or time management tips work best for you?



Note: This article was originally published in Canadian Government Executive in 2011 - “The Full Potential of a Day” and has been updated and adapted.


Sounds a lot like the Pomodoro method! Pomodoro is the idea that you work in set minute increments, and then a small break after each set. After you complete a 'set of sprints', then you take a long break, and then start again. 

You mention GTD in your tags, have you had success with this? I use GTD methodology through a board in JIRA to track my work tasks, and a Trello at home. Love the simplicity of it all! I find the biggest benefits to be that everything is available at a glance and can tick off the easiest things first every time. 

I'm a bit of an etch-a-sketch in that whenever I lay down, everything that was written on my brain from the day before disappears. I attribute this to having a crazy-mom schedule. Implementing these kind of task management lists has really helped me get my sh*t together. 

Here's the GTD methodology workflow in case anyone is interested:


Like # people like this

Hey Meg! Yes I heard a few people call it the pomodoro method, but I didn't look into it! I just read it as multiple-put-down from the article I read about it. It works wonders, I am all about turning off distractions, it clears my mind and I can get so much accomplished. I even put in ear plugs, as I like that tiny bit of white noise. Oh wow, I love your GTD methodology diagram! I can't only imagine how simplified that must make your life!

I once took a memory course and the instructor said that writing things down is in fact our external memory. When I have a lot on my mind from work I leave a journal on my nightstand to jot ideas down when I wake up. Otherwise I wake up and can't get back to sleep as I am so afraid I will forget about it. Once I write it down I fall back to sleep immediately. I keep my phone out of my bedroom, so I can't add to Trello directly, but I transfer my hen scratches to Trello in the morning :)

I look forward to learning more from you and your amazing organization tips, I can already tell I love the way you think :)

Pomodoro is just all about the fun timer: (I mean, I GUESS it's about the productivity)


A memory course sounds like precisely what I need, if I could only remember to find the time! 

Your 'forgetful person' coping mechanisms though sound very similar to mine. Looking forward to sharing and learning from you as well, Jodi =^_^=

Thanks @Meg Holbrook - sounds like we have lots in common :) Also, I really need to get me one of those tomato timers! I am all about the red tomatoes as you've seen from my other post :)

Thanks so much for this article @Jodi LeBlanc! I've been in a life-clutter rut for a few weeks and this was the impetus to start getting organized last night. Still a long way to go, but got enough taken care of that the rest could all be done in a day or tackle one or two items every morning before work.

Thanks @Daniel Eads _unmonitored account_ that's fantastic to hear! I try to schedule a "Life Repair Day" in spring and fall and it really takes that overwhelming feeling of busyness away and puts me in a much better mindset :)

Thank you for that amazing article and comments. 

I will start a new things from tomorrow. 

Like Jodi LeBlanc likes this

Thank you @Gonchik Tsymzhitov how are you liking the multiple-put-down technique (aka pomodoro technique)?


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