Productivity is often difficult to quantify, or even define. In theory, productivity is straightforward: what’s the most amount of work I can get done in the time allotted? In this sense, productivity is a measure of efficiency. But efficiency is only a part of the equation – sometimes my most productive days are my least efficient. A huge part of client service is ensuring clients feel like they’re my top priority and main focus at all times – which means that while I’ll have long-term projects I’m working on for every client, one emergency or last-minute request can alter an entire day or even week. In those cases, being productive means allocating my time and energy toward the things that are going to make the biggest impact, even if those are less efficient. Finding that balance is important, and it’s not always easy. Here are a few things I do on a regular basis to stay productive:

Ask for deadlines and priorities. In client service, it’s really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that every deadline is “now” and every project is top priority. It’s natural – we’re in a customer service business – but simply asking before assuming can help build out more efficient (and often less-rushed) timelines for projects while still keeping clients happy.

Block out the distractions. Sometimes, especially when I’m writing, any distraction can pull me out of focus. Two things I always have at the ready are a rain-sound generator and classical music. Both are soothing, don’t distract me with lyrics, and help me focus intensely. Just that focus alone can improve not just efficiency but the quality of my work because they help me think more clearly.

Build in time for setbacks. Remember those last-minute client requests I mentioned? Those happen more often than less. Some days, I’ll start a day with only a few things on my to-do list, and I’ll end the day with those same things, not checked off in spite of having been busy all day. Other days, something I thought was great just isn’t what the client is looking for. Building in additional time for approvals, re-writes or simply for unforeseen circumstances can help you meet your deadlines without sacrificing your productivity.

Keep a to-do list. Just do it. It’s timeless advice that’s been repeated for who knows how long – for good reason.

Tackle the easy things first. Sometimes this feels counter-intuitive, but I can’t tell you how many times I put off tasks that only took a minute or two because I’d get an email, or get distracted by something I felt needed more attention. They’re still on your list, and reducing the size of your to-do lists allows you to focus on the tasks that will be most impactful.

Conversely, make sure you prioritize. Sometimes the easiest things shouldn’t be your top priorities. Make sure you’re devoting your time to the things that have to be done sooner and make the most impact. Not all tasks are created equal, and missing deadlines for something that could have been done later is never a good thing.

When in doubt, just pick something. I’ve always liked to say that stress is a good motivator, but I never want to be overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed often means being paralyzed, without knowing where to start. Sometimes that happens, even to the best of us – the way out is to just pick one thing, anything, and finish it to completion. Then move on to the next thing. If you’re having trouble prioritizing, accomplishing even one task is better than nothing at all.