Make Every Day More Productive: 6 Tips
BY Ed Powers
I love new beginnings. But getting tons of stuff done--well--is much more fulfilling. Here's how I do it.
My favorite part of any process is the beginning. Or even that moment just before the beginning-;when the whiteboard has yet to be marked, the piece of paper stares back blankly, or the snow is unmarred by footprints I like the first day of school, the start of a new company and, in my business, when a fund has its first closing. It’s a moment of renewal and promise, when anything can happen and everyone is hopeful and positive.
That initial excitement and rush of the new is quickly followed by the need to get things done. As an owner or manager, you understand the importance of maintaining a relentless focus on your company’s productivity. But your personal productivity is just as important. Of course we all want to get things done, but every once in a while, we each need a little help to re-focus. Here are a few pointers:
1. Do the things you don’t like to do first A major personal productivity blocker is putting off difficult tasks and decisions. I once worked for a brilliant woman who suggested returning the most challenging phone calls first thing in the morning. Such tasks and decisions usually require a clear mind, when you are free of distraction and have the most energy. Attacking these tasks early in the day helps you overcome them and makes the rest of your day (or the project) better.
2. Don’t be ruled by your inbox There is a slew of research that says managing your life by email or text response might not be optimal. You know yourself well enough to realize that responding as fast as possible to an email or text will distract you from what you actually should be doing. Plus, you might benefit from a more thoughtful response later. Interacting with others is important, but it likely isn’t the only thing you are supposed to be doing.
3. Don’t play ping pong: We all fall into this trap. You bat something back over the table to someone else, so they now need to deal with it. You check it off your “to do” list, or perhaps it delays a decision you don’t want to make. This doesn’t always move things forward. Before you lob something back to someone else, consider if doing so really helps you get to your goal. As a corollary: Speak to the other party. Don’t just send an email. While email can be productivity enhancer, it often leads to a lot of unnecessary back-and-forth, when an in-person chat or quick phone conversation could resolve multiple issues at once.
4. Block out distraction When you need to do something that requires your full attention, stop multi-tasking. You will get things done faster, and you won’t be derailed by interruptions. You will complete truly important tasks better and faster when you are fully focused. If you pride yourself on multi-tasking, look at this approach as serial multitasking. You’ll be getting a lot done-;one thing after the other.
5. Get started Inertia is a powerful force, and the workplace is no exception. Things that haven’t been started don’t get started. Things that are going keep going. What seem to be huge, complicated or distasteful tasks often seem more conquerable once you get started. Sometimes the best way to tackle a monster task is to break it down and begin to tackle it in pieces. That momentum can get you into-;and through-;the tough parts.
6. Know thyself Know yourself and how you get things done. Are you really going to crunch through that entire report on the plane back from a business trip? Are you really going to be at your best when you pull an all-nighter? When you ultimately aren’t going to be productive, watch the bad movie on the plane, or get some rest so tomorrow you can get cracking early. You won’t waste your time or feel upset that you didn’t do it well. You’ll do better with fresh energy the next day.
Yes, new beginnings get me going, but the satisfaction of getting something done-;and doing it well-;is more rewarding. Recognize your productivity strengths (and weaknesses), so you too can get to that next new thing.
Based in New York, ED POWERS is a managing director and head of the Capital Access Funds team at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Capital Access Funds is an experienced, returns-driven private equity fund-of-funds.