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Productivity too often can become more than a means to an end.  If left unchecked, being more productive can simply make you feel compelled to fill additional time with more work.  That’s a fine outcome if you need to (or want to) get more done.  But balance – time away from work – is equally important to being more productive during work hours as well.

Successful productivity makes you more efficient and effective with the time you choose to give to work, so that you can choose to spend more time with your family, on hobbies, just “vegging” out, or simply recharging to be more effective the next day.  Below are seven specific things you can start doing right away to take back more time and increase your work/life balance.

Take Tuesday and Thursday evenings off

Leave the office as close to 5 p.m. as possible, and turn everything off until the next morning. No email, no Crackberry, no working. I guarantee those days will be your most productive of the week. Why? You have a deadline. You can’t leave things to work on or “finish up” later in the evening. You’ll be more focused on cleaning your plate and preparing for the next day before you stop working for the day at 5 p.m.

Take a lunch and get to work (but not on work)

Matt Heinz

At least 2-3 times a week, break for lunch. Get away from your desk, leave the building if possible, and separate yourself from the day’s immediate priorities. Walk in the sunshine, eat in a park, but do one of two things. One option is to have lunch by yourself, but with purpose.

Bring a specific topic you want to think about and focus on – without interruptions, and outside of your normal environment. Bring a paper and pen to record your ideas as you eat. The other option is to be more intentional about catching up with those outside of your office, your company or even your industry. Find people you can lunch with and learn from. Gain from their perspective well beyond your own, to bring renewed energy and creativity to your own areas of expertise and focus.

Schedule time off and stick to it

You can’t work all the time. Even if you love it, even if parts of your business feel like fun, you have to step away. This includes scheduling real vacation time.  Block time well in advance, book tickets and hotels, and get away.

Better yet, do the same thing for a 24-hour period over the weekend (say Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon). Get your spouse or significant other to help you stay accountable to this if you need the help. But this will force you to be a bit more efficient during your work time leading up to those breaks, and it will make you more energized when you pick things back up.

Exercise and eat better

Make time for this, too. Sign up for a 10K a few months from now and shame yourself into sticking to a training plan. Bring your lunch to work more often instead of grabbing an expensive and greasy sandwich. Be really careful about what you eat and drink when traveling (and consider getting up just 30 minutes earlier to hit the hotel gym briefly). You will feel better, have more energy and endurance if you do these things.

Find a hobby (ideally one that doesn’t include a screen)

Photo via Jordan Hill School

I’m a truly awful woodworker.  I’m the kind of guy who will measure five times, cut once, and still screw it up half of the time.  But after sitting on my butt in front of a computer and in meetings most of the day (and after putting the kids to bed), it’s really relaxing to do something with my hands.  Plus, the required focus of doing something precise like woodworking (not to mention trying not to cut off a finger) forces me to stop thinking about work.  Even if I just have an hour or less, it’s time well spent.

Find what you’re excited about – gardening, scrapbooking, bowling, whatever – and make a point of engaging in it on a regular basis.  Join a group, get friends to participate, and otherwise make commitments so you stick with it.

Prepare for tomorrow before you leave the office today

Dedicate 15 minutes at the end of your day to prepare for tomorrow.  Assess what was completed today, what remains, what new priorities may have been added to your plate, and write a quick list of the top 3-5 things that need to happen tomorrow.  Additionally designate the one most important thing you need to accomplish, which will be what you do first when you get in.

This frees your mind to focus on whatever you need to that evening, without worrying about how to make your next day (or at least the next morning) more efficient.  

Leave work for tomorrow

You can’t get everything done today, nor should you. Take time to go home, be with your family, watch a ballgame, get some exercise and enough sleep. This means being comfortable with leaving some work for another day, as well as leaving other projects on the table indefinitely.

You can’t do everything, and you need balance – not just for yourself and your family, but to make tomorrow a more productive day as well.

Matt Heinz is president of Heinz Marketing, a Redmond-based sales & marketing firm. You can connect with Matt via emailTwitterLinkedIn or his blog. He writes occasionally on GeekWire under the column Productivity Porn. Previous columns…An introduction to productivity porn: How to be lazy, productive & successful… 15 New Year Resolutions for Entrepreneurs.

[Work life photo via Bigstock]

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