Make sufficient sleep a top priority. Schedule your bedtime, and start winding down at least 45 minutes earlier. Ninety-eight percent of all human beings need at least 7-8 hours a night to feel fully rested. Only a fraction of us get that much regularly, in part because we buy into the myth that sacrificing an hour or two of sleep a night give us an hour more of productivity. In reality, even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a dramatic toll on our cognitive capacity, our ability to think creatively, our emotional resilience, the quality of our work, and even the speed at which we do it.
Create one to-do list that includes everything you want or need to do, on and off the job — and I mean everything, including any unresolved issues that merit further reflection. That's the essence of David Allen's simple but profound work (see Getting Things Done). Writing everything down helps get it off your mind, leaving you free to fully focus on what's most important at any given moment.
Do the most important thing first when you get to work each morning, when you're likely to be have the highest energy and the fewest distractions. Decide the night before what activity most deserves your attention. Then focus on it single-mindedly for no more than 90 minutes. Productivity isn't about how many tasks you complete or the number of hours you work. It's about the enduring value you create.
Live like a sprinter, not a marathoner. When you work continuously, you're actually progressively depleting your energy reservoir as the day wears on. By making intermittent renewal and refueling important, you're regularly replenishing your reservoir, so you're not only able to fully engage at intervals along the way, but also to maintain high energy much further into the day.
Monitor your mood. When demand begins to exceed your capacity, one of the most common signs is an increase in negative emotions. The more we move into "fight or flight," the more reactive and impulsive we become, and the less reflective and responsive. The first question to ask yourself is "Why am I feeling this way, and what can I do to make myself feel better?" It may be that you're hungry, tired, overwhelmed, or feeling threatened in some way. Awareness is the first step. You can't change what you don't notice.
Schedule specific times for activities in your life that you deem important but not urgent. With so much coming at you all the time, it's easy to focus all day on whatever feels most pressing in the moment. What you sacrifice is the opportunity to take on work such as writing, strategizing, thinking creatively, or cultivating relationships, which may require more time and energy, but often yield greater long-term rewards.