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A Productivity Plan for Accomplishing What Matters Most

Brazen Careerist


Following a few years of following the traditional post-college career path, I decided to strike out on my own and build full-time. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster of emotions, productivity, success and failure, and it has helped me to better understand what I need to do to keep myself on task.

I’ve learned that it’s entirely possible to put a LOT of hours into your job, get a good night’s sleep and still make time for fun.

Here’s how:

1. Figure out what matters

An obvious first step, but an important one. If you don’t know (or aren’t told, as the case may be) what’s important to you, it’s pretty impossible to focus on it. These days there are a few things that matter to me:

  • Growing my business (70%)
  • Cooking more and eating better (15%)
  • Personal growth and learning (15%)

Knowing what you want to and need to focus on helps to filter out all of the noise and distractions. Assigning a weight to a certain bucket in your “what matters” list helps to eliminate the need for a lot of time-consuming decision making.

2. Figure out what’s hogging your attention

There are two ways to attack this one: Become extremely self-aware, or use an app that does it for you. A combination of both is most effective. Start paying attention to how you spend your time. How many times a day do you check Twitter? How many days a week do you find yourself sucked into primetime TV shows? How many times did you check Facebook before your morning coffee?

I’ve been using RescueTime for a while now, and though I don’t actually check on my statistics very often, I know I’m being tracked, so I tend to be on my most-focused behavior. And when I do check my stats, I can see where my huge time-sinks are.

3. Kill those things

Get them out of your life. Or at least minimize their potential for distracting you. Notifications and status icons are a gateway drug — you thinkyou can just check one or two, but before you know it, an hour has gone by and what have you accomplished? Nada.Some things to consider killing:

  • Growl notifications: I turned these off during college and never looked back.
  • Twitter notifications: You know the ones that make the icon in your menu bar turn blue whenever there are unread tweets? Disable that now.
  • Alert Sounds: My exception to this rule is the “first IM received” notification in Adium. You’ll especially want to kill things like the sign-on/sign-off alert in your IM client.
  • Your TV: If you have one, unplug it from the wall. It makes it a lot more difficult to just casually flip it on for a show and get caught up from 8 to 11 p.m.

4. Get stuff done

Now that all of the distractions are out of the way, get to work! You’ll be amazed at how much more time you have in your day now. Maybe you’ll use it to get more work done, maybe you’ll finally get to go out to dinner with those friends you’ve been ignoring for the last few months, or maybe you’ll find a new project. The options are endless! Enjoy it!

5. Rinse and repeat

Keeping your time in check is an ongoing process. Every couple of months (or couple of weeks if you feel yourself slipping), stop and take an audit of your time again. If you have something like RescueTime running, you can just check in on your stats and adjust as needed.

6. Productivity is great, but balance is better

Don’t forget to build in time for play. Not everything you do needs to fit into your “what matters” buckets. Sometimes you just have to turn off your brain. Burnout is a much bigger problem than losing a few hours to a movie or aimlessly poking around Facebook. Don’t forget to have a social life. Don’t forget to water your plants. Don’t forget to have fun. Most importantly, don’t burn out.

Jenn Vargas is the Founder of, the online community to achieve your dreams. Jenn has been designing and developing websites since she was 14 years old and has worked as a Product Manager at Yahoo, Flickr, and Etsy since graduating from Cornell University in 2009.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.