The First Grader's Guide to Productivity

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 05/26/11 •  6 min read

When it comes to productivity and getting stuff done, I’m pretty hit and miss.  Sometimes a bomb could be blowing up in the room next to me, and I’d hardly notice.  Other times, I’ll do anything I can to keep myself from having to do real work. Even work I like doing can be difficult to do.

The more I’ve thought about why this is, the more I’ve realized there are definitely similarities in the days that I get a lot done vs the days where nothing happens.

And almost every time it comes back to simple and fundamental things that I learned as a first grader.

You don’t need some super intense GTD system. Just by going back to basics and focusing on the most simple things, you’ll see the best results.

McCornack Elementary

The place where I learned all of these lessons...

The more I’ve found myself traveling and working from different locations everyday, I’ve realized how easy it is to forget about the simple things.  All of the stuff that I should have been practicing my whole life, but are the quickest to fade when things get busy or I get stressed.

I want to say straight up that this post is elementary.  It’s not going to teach you anything earth shattering.  It’s not going to give you any new ideas or tell you something you haven’t heard before. It really is a recap of all the stuff you spent years engraining into your head – only to forget when its most important.

Here are the things that I learned as a first grader, that when applied on a regular basis will make you a productivity machine.

P.E. is an Important Part of Life – Back in elementary school they would make us go to the gym for PE everyday.  We’d do windsprints, run laps, play games, and it was usually the best part of the day.  I had no idea then, but there actually was a reason they made us go do that so often – it’s important! Once you get into the working world it’s very easy to forget about exercise.  Aside from my marathon, I’ve been slacking like crazy when it comes to keeping in shape.  I write about this every so often, and it’s usually because I’m searching for some accountability.

Eat a Good Breakfast – Growing up I’d sit down and eat breakfast everyday. Even if it was just a bowl of cereal.  You know what my breakfast looks like these days? A pot of coffee and a scone (sometimes). Diet fail. I know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but for whatever reason I usually forgo it.  That said, when I follow through I have noticeably more energy throughout the day.  No wonder when I was younger I could go to school, play 3 hours of tennis, and still have a enough energy to go home and bounce off the walls.

Go To Bed Early/Wake Up Early – Just like you did when you were 7, getting enough sleep is really important.  I say this as I’m still hungover from the week I spent in NYC and it’s increasingly clear how important sleep can be.  I personally work best in the morning, so for me, when I can make a concerted effort to go to bed early on most days, I’ll get more done.  Simple as that.  Part of this is just recognizing how you work and building your life around it.

15 Minutes of Recess Can Go a Long Way – Remember the days when your teachers actually forced you to go outside and have fun for awhile? Those were the days.  Now rather than working hard and taking deliberate breaks, I sit at my computer for hours on end and am not nearly as effective as I could be because of it.  Forcing yourself to take a 10 minute break every hour, or perhaps a few hours in the afternoon to clear your head not only allows you to be more creative when you are working, but will help reduce stress as well.

Always Do Your Homework Before Playing – Have something important you have to get done? Get it done before going out and doing anything else. Seriously.  If you don’t, you’ll just be thinking about it while trying to have fun, and it will diminish the quality of both work and play.  I try to schedule fun stuff at times throughout the day when I know I’ll need recess.  That way I’m forced to get the important stuf done first, and then can be free to enjoy whatever else I’m doing.  Whether you actually succeeded in doing this or not when you were younger, give it a shot, you won’t regret it.

Drink Lots of Water – I bet a lot of your moms forced you to take a water bottle with you to school every day, didn’t they?  Now most days my liquid intake looks more like this: coffee in the morning, beer at night.  If that isn’t a disastrous recipe to dehydration, I don’t know what is.  It sucks you of energy and throws things off balance.  Start carrying a water bottle with you wherever you go, and more importantly, use it!  This is especially true when traveling and expending more energy moving around.

Make Time for Friends – In first grade it seems like all you did was hang out with friends! Well you know, after you did your homework of course.  Almost every day I was playing games, sports, or hanging out at other friends’ houses.  Those were the days.  Nothing has changed.  While there are certainly times you need to crack down and get stuff done, also making time for friends and fun is what makes the work manageable.

This post may not change your life.  But it’s had a significant impact on mine.  When things get busy, these are the things that get lost.  Yet when I implement even one of them, the quality of my life improves drastically.

One PE class, one glass of water, one good night’s rest, can make all the difference in the world.

What are the simple things that you do to keep yourself engaged and firing on all cylinders day in and day out?

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Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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