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When your to-do list feels out of control, try thinking small.

That’s one of my strategies featured in the article “The 12 Secrets of Productive Entrepreneurs” on the blog for the e-learning site Daily Bits Of.

Work from your to-do list first thing in the morning, productivity expert Maura Nevel Thomas says.

Try working from your to-do list before you check email every morning.

The article’s author, Mickey Gast, noticed how much distraction and multitasking derailed her productivity. So she collected ideas from entrepreneurs and CEOs on how to stay focused and accomplish more.

Here’s my contribution:

The next time you have a spare moment, instead of reaching for your phone or tablet, just let your mind wander. Your brain needs quiet time to make connections and generate insights.

Thinking small also helps. You don’t have to persuade yourself to do everything on your to-do list; you only have to persuade yourself to do the NEXT thing. Sort by due date with only a few things due every day.

Let’s expand a little on that idea. You do many things every day, but most of those things are probably not on your to-do list at the start of the day. They’re the tasks that come up in the moment as people email, call or drop by your desk. They may be urgent, but they’re probably not the actions that will move your significant results forward.

On the other hand, the actions you add to your to-do list may not be as urgent as the tasks that get thrown at your during the day, but they do tend to be the ones that will advance your most important work.

If you can tackle all the little tasks that come up during the day and complete a handful of actions you identified as important, then that’s a good day!

To-Do List First, Then Email

The best way to devote more time to your important tasks is to skip checking email first thing in the morning and instead start your day working from your to-do list. Devote your attention to your priorities for an hour or so before looking at your email and other messages. That way, you’ll still be on top of any urgent tasks that come your way, but you won’t sacrifice your priority work.

Want to be even more productive? Work in offline mode while you’re handling your tasks. That way you won’t be distracted by incoming emails. If you just can’t focus on your tasks because you’re afraid of what’s lurking in your email, skim it from your phone. But don’t look at it on your computer because then the temptation to let it take over your morning becomes too great.

Mindfulness and Productivity

Another tip I really like from the Daily Bits Of article is this one from John Turner, the CEO and Founder of QuietKit:

Building a daily meditation habit can help you be more productive.

Just a few minutes each day, before you start work, of sitting up straight, closing your eyes, and focusing on your breath, will do wonders to strip away anxiety and stress, and will allow you to be much more productive throughout the day. An increase in mindfulness – which is the ability to be aware of what’s happening in any given moment, as well as be aware of the emotions you’re experiencing – will help you to get better at choosing how to act as opposed to letting your emotions overcome you.

In an upcoming article, I’ll share one of my favorite tools for becoming more mindful. In the meantime, you can also explore the ideas in my article “Mindful Busyness Fuels Your Productivity.”