Clearly productivity is a hot topic these days. We're all complaining about having more to do and less time to do it. We have incredible technology, apps everywhere, productivity coaches and productivity workshops, but are we winning?
Personally some days I am, other days not so much. But I am always looking for more ideas, here are twenty-one of my favorites that I use. My advice is simple - introduce one idea a day, or even one idea a week and you will become the most productive person on the planet (well I hope so).
1. Schedule time every day for the unexpected.
Every day we have unexpected things happen. These might be requests from customers, new opportunities, staff issues to handle or personal things that need our attention. At the start of the day we didn't know about them, but they appeared in the course of the day as "unexpected" gremlins. But are "unexpected" things really unexpected? I allow two hours a day for "unexpected" things. One hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. I don't think I've ever had a day where I didn't use at least one of these hours. And of course if nothing unexpected comes up, I'm sure you've got plenty of other things to do in that hour.
2. The best productivity tool ever.
For me it is the good old egg timer. I have a minute hour glass that I use to monitor how much time I spend on social media, on calls, doing specific tasks that have a habit of taking far longer than I planned. Watching the grains of yellow sand flowing and realizing just how quickly they flow has given me real perspective on what I can do in a 15-minute block of time, but it has also helped me to avoid wasting a lot of time.
3. Invest in learning how to use your technology.
Most of us totally under use technology- whether it be our phone, computer, an app or a microwave oven. Who takes the time to read the manual? Very few people. I pay people to teach me how to use my technology. If I get a new app, or new computer, I pay my IT advisor to spend a few hours and show me all of the features. I might get them in a few times to do this, just until I get the hang of it. Now I don't claim to be using all of my technology to it's full capacity, but I use a lot more than I did. And as most technology is designed to help us save time, in some shape or form, I'm far more productive as a result.
4. Keep meetings to fifteen minutes.
There is nothing worse than a long winded meeting, that seems to drag on because people simply like to hear their own voice. Try and keep as many meetings as you can to 15 minutes (put the hour glass on the table to speed things along). Generally, you can have everything covered in a short amount of time, and you can do four meetings in an hour as opposed spending half a day. Clearly if you can master this, you will save a pile of time if you live in a world full of meetings.
5. Take the time to do things once.
We all have those tasks that take longer and are more complicated than they need to be, but because we keep half doing them, instead of taking the time to do them properly, they take longer than they should and cause us no end of frustration. My philosophy is to take the time to do the job properly and do it once.
6. Work out how much it costs you to use social media.
I recently worked out the actual cost of using social media on an hourly basis. What I mean by this is how much does it cost me to run my business for an hour. Now once I had this figure in my head, idly wasting a few hours on Facebook had a real dollar value and I certainly don't do it as much, which has in turn improved my productivity.
7. Get really good at using five minute increments.
Throughout our day we have many little windows of opportunities, normally five minutes or less. What do we do with them? Check Facebook? Flick through email. Maybe waste time waiting for whatever we are waiting for. I stopped wasting that time by making a daily list of things I need to do that will take less than five minutes. Then throughout the day when I have this little window, I open up my list and get a few things done. Now collectively over a day, I get a lot done - if I sat down and did them all one after another they would take quite some time and bite into my day. Doing it this way I don't even notice, but I get the satisfaction of crossing a pile of 'to do's' off of my list.
8. Plan your week, your day, your hour.
One of the big problems with productivity is losing control of our day. Hence I recommend doing a lot of planning, and revising your planning on a daily and even hourly basis. Many people say they don't really have time to plan, and I know we all know the value of planning, but do you do it enough? The best planning I do is "the next hour" plan. That's the one that makes me really productive.
9. Learn to lie.
When I am traveling for work, I seem to have a crazy busy day before I leave. It's like everyone thinks I'm leaving the planet. Now I tend to tell a fib and say I'm leaving a day earlier than I actually am. The purpose of this is to give me a day without interruptions before I actually leave, because everyone thinks I'm out of the country. I get more done on that "bonus" day than in the week before. I think that sometimes it's OK to tell a white procrastination improving lie.
10. Make decisions don't procrastinate.
I think many of us are so overwhelmed that simply making decisions has become a lot harder. Add to this the fact that we have so much more information to absorb and in many ways, we've become all become procrastinators. I've learned to make decisions quickly. Get the information in front of me, commit time to "making decisions about important stuff" - and I do.
11. Stop Multitasking.
This is simple, retrain your brain, do one task at a time and do it really well. We've all read that multitasking is a myth, it is. Get far more done by doing one thing at a time and your quality of work will increase, your brain will love you for it and you will finish your day feeling far less fried.
12. Record responses and send MP3 files.
I've been doing this for years. Whenever I have a long email or document to send to someone, rather than sit down and spend hours writing it, I talk into my phone and send an MP3 audio file instead. Now of course this won't work with every document, but it will work with many. It saves a pile of time, my clients love it - and I do a better job because I don't dread sitting down for hours to write a long winded response to an email.
13. Re-organize your work space.
Periodically re-organize your workplace. Move things around, pull things out and clean behind them, bring in new furniture, put stuff where it will be efficient to help make you more productive. Often we don't move thing for years and in fact our office is not really ideally laid out to suit our needs. So if it has been a while since you moved your office around, give it a go, think about it before you do, use it to re-energize yourself and to implement much more productive systems.
14. Turn off all alerts.
This is a simple one that we call all do right now. Turn off as many alerts as you can. Especially the ones that really aren't that important. We are so attuned to beeps and pings and funny little sounds that drag us away from whatever we are doing and distract us. It is far better to get into the routine of checking what you need to check when it suits you, instead of becoming a slave to the sound of alerts.
15. Start a "Drives Me Crazy" board.
Do you have things in your business that you've been meaning to address but you just never seem to get to it. They drive you crazy every time you use them or walk past them, but you never stop to address them. I suggest starting a "Drives Me Crazy" board. Carry some sticky notes in your pocket and when you come across an issue that drives you crazy, write it on your sticky note and put it on your "Drives Me Crazy" board. Then commit time each week to addressing the things that drive you or your team crazy. Give it a few weeks and you will be amazed at how many issues you resolve once and for all and that will make you feel better and be more productive.
16. Don't get "guilted" into committing on the spot.
I struggled with this a great deal. I would bump into someone on the street, they would ask me to come and do something, always for free and I would feel too guilty saying no, so I would commit and walk away angry and frustrated with myself. Now, I never commit on the spot. I always say something along the lines of "that sound interesting, let me check my diary and my commitments and get back to you". This gives me time to think about whatever it is that I'm being asked to do and decide if I want to do it. It's much easier to decline via an email if I don't want to do it.
17. Take the time to delegate cleanly.
In the past I've been a terrible at delegating. I always found it irritating and I would rush through what I expected of the person I was delegating to. I have learned that if I slow the process down and actually do a thorough delegation process, it will ultimately save me a lot of time with questions, mistakes, crossed wire and other end results of poor communication.
18. Don't confuse distractions with opportunities.
When I had an office with staff I used to get really frustrated with the constant interruptions. I let my team know and accordingly, they stopped interrupting me which initially I thought was great. Of course the problems started to arise as I realized that I wasn't giving them the direction they needed. It was my business and I was sabotaging it. So I re-framed my thinking and decided to look at interruptions with my stuff as an opportunity - to do what we do better. I just retrained them to be better at interrupting me. Choose a better time, make sure I'm not in the middle of stuff, email and check for a good time and so on.
19. Ask a busy person how they do what they do.
We all know that one person who seems to do ten times more than you, and they do it in such a relaxed and easy way. Sure, they are probably paddling like a duck below the surface, but to all outward appearances they are a sea of calm and a "getting stuff done" machine. Ask them for their advice, their tricks, their systems, and whatever words of wisdom that you can share to help you. I've found that people will gladly share their secrets if you just bother to ask.
20. Retrain those around you to help you be more productive.
Most of our bad productivity habits have occurred over time. They sneak in. When it come to people, we need to retrain them. For example, all of my friends and family know that when I'm writing a book - leave me alone. They are wonderfully supportive, they get the challenge of writing a book and they support me. How do you need to retrain those around you to help you get more done?
21. Hold out for as long as you can before checking your email.
Most of us check our email soon after rolling out of bed. I've found that the longer I can hold off on checking my email, and spend that "email free time" doing more meaningful work, the more productive I become. Let's be honest, the minute you start checking your email, you've lost control of the day and you will spend all of your time responding to others. Unless of course you are brave enough to only log into your email a few times a day. But that's a whole other article.