9 Productivity Rules I Follow Every Day

How do productive people get things done, even when life gets crazy?

If you’ve tried to get organized in the past, you know that it takes just one week of sick kids, one emergency, or one big holiday to throw a wrench in your plans.

What was once a well-organized home and a neatly-written to-do list becomes a haphazard collection of dirty clothes, missing papers, and a pile of “stuff” that needs to get put away, at some time or another.

This used to be my reality too, until I started to build some new habits and rules for myself to help me weather these storms of life.

My goal was to be able to stay on track even when things got crazy, and over time, I’ve become able to do that.

I’m not here to brag—instead, I want to share my 9 personal productivity rules that have helped me to stay organized and on track even when life gets a little bit out of control.

Let’s dive in.

Table of Contents

  1. Rule #1 – The Two Minute Rule
  2. Rule #2 – Break It Down Into Steps
  3. Rule #3 – Just Do The Next Thing
  4. Rule #4 – First Things First
  5. Rule #5 – Small Daily Habits
  6. Rule #6 – Everything is a Project
  7. Rule #7 – Plan By Roles
  8. Rule #8 – Know The Order Of Your Work
  9. Rule #9 – Have a Plan to Get Back on Track
  10. Conclusion

Rule #1 – The Two Minute Rule

If something takes 2 minutes or less, do it now.

This is a life-changing rule introduced by David Allen in his famous productivity manifesto, Getting Things Done.

The idea is this: If you notice that something needs to be done and it takes 2 minutes or less, it’s better to do it right away and get it off your mind than try to write it down and remember it later.

The time it will take you to write it down, find a new time to complete it, and then do the actual task (not to mention the burden of having to remember it), is more stress than just simply completing it and getting it off your mind.

So if you see something that needs to get picked up and put in a drawer, instead of saying, “I’ll do it all later when I have time,” you can do it right away and get it off your mind. If you remember you need to text someone, you can stop what you’re doing, text them, and then move on.

If something takes 2 minutes or less, it’s better to do it right away and get it off your mind than try to write it down and remember it later.

This has saved me so much time and stress since I started implementing it a few years ago. Things don’t pile up anymore. I don’t have to worry for a week about when or how I will text someone. I just do it the moment I realize I should. My mind is clearer than it used to be because I’m not trying to keep track of tons of little tasks.

But, there’s a caveat for moms of little kids or kids with special needs. When kids are around, you won’t always be able to get away or focus on something for 2 minutes. When my kids are around, I consider this the 10-Second Rule. I will still text a friend or throw something in the trash if it takes 10 seconds or less, but for longer tasks, I will keep them aside for when my kids are asleep or at daycare. But I still try to do them as soon as I can, rather than saving them for another day.

Rule #2 – Break It Down Into Steps

Every project gets broken down into each little step.

I love setting goals and planning big projects. Things like planning a big event, putting together a marketing campaign, or self-publishing a book all sound exciting to me.

But big projects can quickly get overwhelming. There’s so much pressure to do them well and get a good result. Just thinking about all the effort and time it will take to pull something off can stop some people from ever taking action on their dreams.

Luckily, there is a way to combat this. If you break your big projects down into each little step, it becomes easy to take action. Instead of focusing on the end result, you only have to do the one next step.

If you break your big projects down into each little step, it becomes easy to take action.

I’m constantly working on big projects, and that used to stress me out. But since I’ve learned the value of breaking things down into the smallest possible steps, I don’t feel that way anymore. In fact, it’s really motivating to check things off as I go along.

You can try this with that big goal or project you’ve been putting off. Ask yourself: What’s the next baby step to get there?

Rule #3 – Just Do The Next Thing

Don’t worry about the end result yet; just do the very next thing.

Once I started breaking my projects into steps (see Rule #2), it didn’t magically help me to be more productive. I still found myself procrastinating on projects because I was too worried about the end result. What if the event fails? What if I can’t think of anything to write for my next client project? Oh no, I’m running out of time to do everything! And so on.

The breakthrough came when I realized that I was spending precious energy worrying about a day that wasn’t here yet. I started thinking about what I was thinking about. And I realized that worrying about an end result did nothing but waste my time. Instead, the best thing I can do is complete the next step. And I could put off thinking about the end result until the day came.

It was a new kind of procrastination—procrastination that felt really good, because I was putting off worrying and over-thinking, and just doing the very next step.

I realized that worrying about an end result did nothing but waste my time. Instead, the best thing I can do is complete the next step.

That’s now become a habit for me, and I no longer stress about big writing projects or new endeavors for my family, business, or volunteer organization.

You too, can teach yourself to procrastinate worry and stress and just do the next thing.

Instead of worrying if I will think of a good idea for my next project or if I will turn out a good final piece, I do everything in order: the first day, I let myself think of tons of ideas without any judgement. On day 2, I pull together an outline. On day 3, I write a messy draft in a stream-of-consciousness style. On day 4, I take all of that mess and edit it into something that sounds okay. On day 5, I polish it into something good.

It never fails.

Rule #4 – First Things First

Know your priorities and put them first.

We know priorities are important. But have you ever stopped to list your very top priorities in life, in order?

Here’s my list:

  1. My well-being
  2. My family
  3. Financial stability
  4. My volunteer work
  5. Friends
  6. My business

And so on.

This little list informs everything that I do and everything I spend my time on.

If #1 isn’t good, I will step back in everything below it to fix it. And the same goes for each priority in order.

When you know what comes first in your life, you can always make sure your actions are in line with your priorities.

I like to make sure I’m doing well by getting a good sleep and having a morning routine that makes me feel energized and ready for the day.

(You can get tips for creating your own morning routine here: How To Create The Perfect Morning Routine For You.)

When you know what comes first in your life, you can always make sure your actions are in line with your priorities.

I also make sure to have time for my family, time to work and earn money, and time for the projects that are close to my heart.

If you don’t schedule time in for these things first, other people and other projects will swell up to take up your time. That’s why I like to decide when and how I will prioritize these things in my daily routine and in my weekly schedule. The rest of the time can be used for other things.

Rule #5 – Small Daily Habits

Add small habits to your daily routine to build into big results.

In life, we often look for the big results: slimming way down, running a marathon, building a huge business, or publishing a book. But we also often overlook the fact that these big results are made from small day-to-day habits.

Slimming down might come from regular exercise, eating a healthy breakfast, and getting enough sleep.

Running a marathon might come from daily runs and strength training.

We often overlook the fact that big results are made from small day-to-day habits.

Building a successful business starts out with daily outreach to new potential clients, building skills, and creating content to share with the world.

You could even publish a book each year if you set aside 30 minutes a day to write.

So here’s what I do: I like to think of big results I want to see in my life, break them down into tiny habits, and fit them into my daily routine.

Some things I’m currently doing every weekday are: reviewing a set of flashcards to improve my Japanese, doing a 30-minute writing session, and reading the Bible and writing down 1 verse to focus on for the day.

What kind of goals do you want to achieve this year, and what kind of daily practice could help you get there?

Rule #6 – Everything is a Project

Everything you want to do that takes more than 1 step is a project.

Projects are not just those big undertakings that you plan for, like wedding planning or writing a thesis.

In my life, a project is anything that takes more than 1 step to complete. (I learned this from Getting Things Done, by the way.)

If I need to change batteries in a remote, that’s a project. The steps are: figure out what batteries I need, go buy batteries, replace the batteries.

(If I need to hang the laundry, that’s not a project. It’s just a single task.)

A project is anything that takes more than 1 step to complete.

I add each project to a big list, naming it after the outcome: “Replace Batteries in Remote,” “Throw a Christmas Party,” “Take a Vacation to Italy.” Then I add the steps I need to complete the project (or at least the very next step.)

That way, I know what I need to be doing at any one time. Plus, I can also create project files where I write down ideas and notes, add links, or attach files that I need to have in order to complete that project.

If you want to feel more on top of everything you’re doing in your life, I recommend creating a project list just like this one. Everything you want to do that you can’t complete right now in this moment should go on it. Everything from changing batteries all the way up to writing a novel. Little projects for this week and life-long goals all go on this list.

You’ll feel just how freeing it is for your mind to have everything (absolutely everything) written down.

Rule #7 – Plan By Roles

Use a list of life roles to plan out your goals and weekly priorities.

I’ve always felt overwhelmed trying to plan out goals for the new year.

It’s like, where do I start? What do I want to do with my life? What if I forget something?

But I’ve found a more intuitive way of planning goals that makes sure nothing falls through the cracks.

I have a list of life roles, and I plan goals according to it.

This idea comes from First Things First (and Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) by Steven Covey. He recommends coming up with 7 major life roles that encompass every role you play in life.

I have a list of life roles, and I plan goals according to it.

For an idea, here are mine:

  • Self
  • Wife / Mom
  • Volunteer (for an organization I’m in)
  • Team Leader (for same organization)
  • Team Leader (another team, same organization)
  • Business Owner
  • Home Manager

Once you have these roles, you can use them to plan your goals to make sure you’re on track for every facet of your life.

You can also create a more detailed list of Areas of Responsibility within each role where you write down each thing you’re responsible for inside that role. These could be things like relationship building, cleaning, meal planning, client outreach, hiring, etc. And you can set an overarching vision and mission for each role so you know the long-term destination you want to arrive at for each one.

I like to use these for planning out long-term goals and for planning out my week. (You can learn more inside First Things First where he describes the weekly planning routine.)

(Read more about how I use life roles to plan in this article: The Biggest Productivity Hack I’ve Discovered This Year: Life Roles)

Rule #8 – Know The Order Of Your Work

Know what kind of work gets done first, second, third, and so on.

How many times have you sat down to work, looked at your list, and found 37 things that are all equally important?

This happens to me more or less every day.

What often happens is, we feel paralyzed and unable to choose, and we end up watching YouTube instead of doing anything on the list. (At least, that’s what I do.)

But here’s something you can do to combat this problem.

You can create a checklist that gives you clear instructions for deciding what to do when, so you don’t have to choose anymore.

This works best when you have all your tasks written down in a to-do list and all your upcoming deadlines in a calendar. You can read more about what I recommend in this article about getting organized.

You can create a checklist that gives you clear instructions for deciding what to do when, so you don’t have to choose anymore.

Here’s the order I follow:

  1. First, I do urgent things that are overdue or due right now.
  2. Second, I do things that are scheduled on my calendar or part of my morning routine. (My morning routine is long, but it contains everything I need to get done each day to keep moving toward my goals. Then when it’s done, I know I can spend the rest of the day on work and other things I need to do.) (Read more about creating a morning routine that works for you here.)
  3. Third, I do things that are due today.
  4. Fourth, I do things that I’ve scheduled for today in order to get projects done on time. (Like writing a draft for a client project due at the end of the week.)
  5. Fifth, if I have extra work time left, I will work on other projects that I want to move forward on. (Having a Projects List with next tasks for each helps.)
  6. After work time is over, I can relax and do whatever I want.

You can follow my list or create your own so you don’t have to face decision fatigue anymore.

Rule #9 – Have a Plan to Get Back on Track

Have a checklist that can bring things back into order no matter how messy they’ve become.

It’s easy to be productive when you’ve got everything in your life perfectly written down and scheduled.

But what happens when life gets crazy, and everything gets a little off track?

You stop writing to-dos, you get behind on projects, and suddenly you feel totally disorganized.

Some people see this as failure. They throw it all out and go back to the way life was before.

But what I’ve learned to do is accept these moments of chaos (because they happen all the time, pretty much every day) and take a few minutes to an hour to get back on track.

I’ve learned to accept these moments of chaos and take a few minutes to get back on track.

To do this, I’ve made some checklists that I can follow to get re-organized step-by-step.

For example, I have a Weekly Review checklist that prompts me to go back through all my projects, tasks, and papers and make sure everything is up-to-date. (This is from—you guessed it—Getting Things Done.)

I also have a home inventory checklist with everything I want to have stocked in the house. That way, I know I can make a shopping list in 15 minutes and the house will be re-stocked again. (Read more about this in my article about my 30-minute meal planning routine.)

By the way, I schedule both of these things into my calendar so I always get back on track every single week.

The greatest gift I can give myself is a new, fresh start every week—that’s why I put these systems into place.


There you have it—9 powerful productivity rules that will help you get organized, stay organized, and move closer to achieving your big goals every week.

I don’t recommend trying to adopt them all at once. Habits are built one at a time—do too much at once, and it’ll become harder to succeed.

Instead, I recommend picking just one and implementing it until it becomes second nature, then trying another one. Any one of these new habits will help you in a big way.

Which rule do you want to adopt next?

About the Author

Leave a Reply


Sign up for free and get new guides and inspiration delivered to your inbox every week!

Success! You're on the list.

By clicking submit, you agree to share your email address with the site owner and Mailchimp to receive marketing, updates, and other emails from the site owner. Use the unsubscribe link in those emails to opt out at any time.

%d bloggers like this: