The Ultimate Productivity Tips Roundup
What happens when you type “Productivity Tips” into google? You get masses of hits containing hundreds of results. The problem is how to find the grains of gold? You could start ploughing through each result one by one and see what they say (don’t do that!).
Here’s what you do instead.
I’ve been through hundreds of the best productivity tips from experts around the world. I’ve sorted them, chucked out the stuff that doesn’t cut it, deleted duplicates and organised it into a single uber-list. It turns out that the advice from productivity experts can be categorised and that’s what I’ve done to make searching for exactly the kind of advice you’re looking for easy to do.
So whatever kind of productivity advice you’re looking for, there’s going to be a tip here for you. The headings below are broad categories. Click on the title and it will take you to that section. Then you can scroll down until you find something that interests you.
If you’d like to use productivity apps to become more productive there’s a fantastic list of time management apps here. Alternatively you could check out my advice here.
1. Focus On What’s In Front Of You And Avoid Multitasking 2. Batch Your Jobs and Tasks 3. Build Consistency In The System And Methods You Use
- Set Things Up A Day Ahead
- Delegate It
- Deal With Distractions
- Eat That Frog
- Look After Your Health
- Manage Meetings Better
- Organise Your Workspace
- Outsource It
- Develop A Positive Mindset
- Use Rituals To Create New Habits
- Say No
- Build Your Self Awareness
- Simplify It
- Step Back From It
- Manage Your Time
- Use Travel Wisely
- Use Technology
Write It Down
- Focus On What’s In Front Of You
Prioritise Your Most Important Tasks What The Science Says Our brains are actually not evolved to multitask. When we were first walking about on the savannah, it didn’t pay to be distracted. You generally got eaten. Task Switching as it is known has a quantifiable impact on the time taken to complete tasks. The general rule is that lost time increases with the complexity of the task involved. The cost involves the brain undertaking two switches. First the task of changing subject, from one task to another. Then the second task of finding your place in the task you are switching to. Although these costs are quite small, they do add up. One tactic to minimise task switching which experts suggest is to prioritise your most important tasks. By focusing your attention on your most important tasks, you will reduce the likelihood that your attention will waver. Nicole Fallon Taylor takes up the suggestion that “goals are the most effective way to prioritize what’s important so you can delegate or eliminate the most unnecessary tasks that slow you down”. In her article published on Business News Daily she shares some advice from Kathleen Kobe, founder of Smart Business Mom who states categorically that we should avoid multi-tasking. says, don’t do it and I agree. You can read the rest of Fallon’s article here. We Just Aren’t Evolved To Multitask Robin Sharma makes the point that multitasking can also reduce our cognitive capacity. He cites research which “confirms that all the distractions invading our lives are rewiring the way our brains work (and drop our IQ by 5 points!).” The Daily Muse puts it this way: “Stop trying to multitask! We’re really not built for it, and while it may feel like you’re getting more done, everything will ultimately take you longer.” Brandon Turner, reflecting on a past year of improved personal productivity writes: “This past year, I made a commitment to multitask less and focus more on the task at hand” The Take Away Check to make sure you’re spending time focused on your most important goals. To increase your effectiveness, create opportunities to zero in on one thing at a time and avoid the temptation to try to focus on more than one activity at a time.
- Batch Your Jobs And Tasks
Use Time Slots One way to deal with the damaging effects of multitasking is to chunk your jobs or tasks into time slots. I call this batching. Brandon Turner explains what he does. ”Simply take your to-do list and give each item a place on your calendar. it doesn’t matter if you use a physical calendar or an online one; simply block out time to work through each item on your list”.
Graham Allcott speaking on ITV News suggest we should undertake a 5-minute re-boot whenever our attention or energy level is waning.
“Do you find yourself staring at the screen, feeling a bit jaded? The average attention span is typically 25 to 45 minutes, depending on the person and the time of day. So every half an hour, take a five minute re-boot – get up, grab a drink, focus your eyes on something else - even a couple of minutes away from the screen will help stop your attention from waning and keep you fresh through the day”.
Match Your Work With Attention Span And Energy Levels Organising your work so that it matches our natural attention span seems like a sensible manoeuvre. The Daily Muse even suggests allocating a time slot for you favourite distractions: “Budget limited time for your favorite distractions”.
“Knowing that you’ll get to spend 10 minutes on Pinterest after you work for a couple hours can help you avoid wasting time on it now. Plus, using that as a reward for getting through hard work can help you stay motivated.”
The advice to allocate time to tasks doesn’t just apply to your daily activities. As The Daily Muse suggests, allocating periodic time to administrative tasks can have a big pay off too. “Once a quarter, do a massive inbox clean and archive all messages older than 2-3 months. (Seriously, answering them at this point would just be embarrassing.) As emails you’re subscribed to roll into your inbox, make a snap decision about whether you actually read them or if you should unsubscribe”.
The Daily Muse continues: “If email’s really getting you down, try Time Management Ninja’s system for only checking it twice a day…Only check email at specific times during the day, and try to limit it to only 4-5 times a day. If you don’t have nearly this much self control, use a tool like Inbox Pause to keep emails from showing up in your inbox until you’re ready for them”.
Robin Sharma batches his email activities to match his energy levels. “Check email in the afternoon so you protect the peak energy hours of your mornings for your best work” You can have a look at my own advice on email management here. Put Time In Your Schedule Stacia Pierce has a different take on batching. Her advice is not just to make a list – something a lot of us do. She goes further, recommending: “Give yourself an allotted time to get things done. When I am planning for events, I often block of chunks of time weeks in advance so that I can research, plan and write my presentations. I often use my morning hours to get it done…Blocking time allows you to get into a zone. You can use the Rescue Time app to eliminate distractions from your computer and devices so that while you’re in the zone you are completely focused”.
Laura McClellan argues that this principle applies to lots of things we do each day. “If the demands of your day include routine tasks, try to group similar tasks and schedule certain times during the day to knock them out. Answering emails? Returning phone calls? Entering expenses into a spreadsheet? Instead of interrupting your other tasks to do these things piecemeal, batch them”. Use Tools To Help You Stacia has some advice for us about dealing with the incoming tide of information hitting our inboxes and other kinds of content we come across while on-line.
“Create organized reading lists with the Pocket app and Instapaper. As you browse the internet these apps allow you to put articles, videos and other information in a virtual pocket for you to read at your own leisure. Facebook allows you to save videos and Instagram allows you to save posts that you want to reference later as well”.
I’m a big fan of Instapaper personally. I use it not only to save items I’d like to read later, but I can also clip internet pages I might want to refer to again. Once I’ve reviewed them later, if I want to keep them I send them into Evernote.
Of course, we also need to manage our social media feeds. Here’s Stacia again: “Save time with Social Media. Let’s face it, social media is here to stay and it plays a major role in business marketing. To stay on top of it all, use Hootsuite, my tried and true app for years, to automate social media posts to Twitter, Facebook and more. The app has gotten more sophisticated over the years and offers many more social media management tools as well. Hootsuite has never let me down. I love that it organizes your time lines, direct messages and mentions so that you can review them easily”. Hootsuite is a great app, but today I use Sprout Social. I prefer the way it organises my feeds and I find the scheduling capability suits my way of working better.
Go On The Offensive Rounding up this section on batching, The Harvard Business Review in a collection of articles from top leaders shares the approach Tom Rath takes. He makes sure that he can: “Block out time to work away from email, programming your phone to only ring for select colleagues, and resisting emails first thing in the morning until you’ve achieved at least one important task.” Control Interruptions
Finally in this section, Bruna Martinuzzi suggests taking a leaf out of the restauranteur Danny Meyer’s approach to managing people: “He has his assistant group all questions that come up during the day in one list so she doesn’t have to interrupt him repeatedly during office hours. Take a cue from this and see how you can ask others on your team to group questions, requests and other non-urgent inquiries so you’re not distracted by interruptions that don’t add value”.
So that concludes the round up of top advice about batching jobs and tasks. Avoiding multitasking and batching activities can make a huge difference to our personal productivity. The Take Away If you’re already implementing the advice to avoid multi-tasking it makes sense to create time slots in your day. Use these time slots to match work to your energy levels and attention span and allocate time in your calendar to tackle similar tasks in groups. You’ll find this easier to accomplish if you deploy tools to help you. Remember to control distractions that could throw you off course
- Build Consistency In The System And Methods You Use
Build A System With so much complexity around us and with so many ways of receiving information it is inevitable that without some kind of system we are going to get overwhelmed. This is one of the most critical steps any of us can take to become better organised and so more productive. I’ve written a series of posts about my own approach to these issues. You can read my note taking method here. Create A Schedule Of Activities
At its most basic a system has a schedule of activities that you follow in a pre-defined way. Brian Tracy puts it like this.
“Scheduling your time reduces stress and releases energy. The very act of using your organizational skills to plan your day, week, and month gives you a greater feeling of control and will help increase productivity throughout your day. You’ll feel in charge of your life. It actually increases your self-esteem and improves your sense of personal power”.
There is a psychological aspect to developing a system – it creates a sense of order around you and that helps to reduce stress. When we are stressed our creativity and productivity drops exponentially.
Manage Your Diary Scot Farquhar has this recommendation for diary management: “Review your diary at the end of each week. Literally print it out and review it. Ask yourself three questions: (1) did we achieve what we wanted to (2) did I personally need to be there (3) could it have been achieved in a shorter time frame. It will transform how you spend your time.” This regular discipline can pay you back many times over. Manage Your To Do’s April Underwood, Vice President at Slack reminds us of how important it is to have a system for managing all of your to-do’s. “Have a clear system for to-dos: whether it’s ‘Getting Things Done’ or the ‘Checklist Manifesto,’ just have a system and stick to it. I have a very specific method I use in Slack and in email that works for me, and knowing I have that system keeps me from feeling overwhelmed even when I’m behind or the to-dos pile up.” Big, Brave Goals Release Energy Here’s Robin Sharma again: “Remember that big, brave goals release energy. So set them clearly and then revisit them every morning for 5 minutes”.
Regular and consistent seems to be the way. Larry Kim is dismissive of To-Do lists as they are not actually a system but actually in Eric Barker’s words, a ‘pipe dream’. “Have you ever had that to-do item that simply wouldn’t disappear? It hovers at the bottom of the list or scratched in the corner, petulantly scowling at you for days, weeks, even months! As more time passes, you feel even less inclined to give it attention. We’ve all been there–it’s just one of the reasons I’m saying out with the to-do list and in with scheduling”.
This means you have to be realistic about what is possible. Eric Barker suggests we should: “Seriously sit down and consider your available time and what specific slots you can designate to completing certain tasks in a given day. To-dos are pipe dreams. Scheduling is a game plan. Studies show that even scheduling free time can be rewarding and can result in better quality of time spent – even if that time spent is playing PS4 or reading a Stephen King novel”.
Always Have Back Up Tasks The Daily Muse reckons we could all do with having a list of things we can turn our attention to when we are blocked from working on what he have planned to do. “Always have backup tasks. There are times when life will try to derail your productivity: A person you need to talk to is unavailable, the internet is down, or you just can’t focus on the task at hand. Always have other options so that you’re able to get something done even when you can’t finish your primary task.” This method ensure there’s always something we can move forward, even when our planned activity can’t be worked on. Clarify Your Three Most Important Goals Many of the experts included in this round up recommend adopting a ‘top three things’ approach. J D Meier has written extensively about this method in his brilliant “Getting Things Done The Agile Way.”
Writing about this Stacia Pierce suggests: “Streamline your focus. Instead of trying to get a million things done in a day, write your list then choose the top three things to accomplish each day. These three things should be of the highest priority and once accomplished will leave you feeling satisfied with your productivity. Use the Streaks app to be reminded to accomplish your top 3 daily goals. You can also turn your most important daily tasks into new habits with this app’s features”.
The trick is to ruthlessly prioritise. Kathleen Kobel, founder of Smart Business Mom makes this clear: “If you can, set aside the low-priority items and come up with a plan to delegate or outsource them so that you can spend more time on the things that add more value to your position and the company.”
Have A Great Filing System There’s so much information we now have available to us, that the premium on great organisational systems for storing and retrieving that information has never been higher. Brian Tracy suggests: ”Resolve to improve your organizational skills and use a filing system both at home and at work. …There are few activities so frustrating as spending your valuable time looking for misplaced materials because no thought was given to a filing and retrieval system”.
He suggests that the best systems are probably the simplest. He recommends using an alphabetical system and then creating a master list which enables you to understand very quickly where everything is. Never Procrastinate Having a good system is one thing, but it is crucial that you develop some self-discipline too. Not only will this help make the system stick, it will also stop things piling up, particularly if you follow Anthony Tan, CEO and co-founder of Grab’s advice: “Just get it done right away. I don’t wait until I get home, I take calls wherever I am. I execute on any feedback I get right away. That way the work never piles up.”
The Take Away To be a more productive person, build a system that you can trust. Manage your time, your to-do’s, and major goals. Have a plan for when you get side tracked. Avoid procrastination.
- Set Things Up A Day Ahead
Prepare The Night Before There are only 24-hours in each day. There’s obviously a limit to how much time you have and what you can get done in a single day. Some productivity experts recommend getting a jump on each day by preparing the day before. Bharath Kumar writes: “The family is asleep. They think the weekend is over. Monday morning is yet to come. Work through Sunday night, or at least till 3AM. You get at least 4 hours of extremely productive, thoughtful, non-interrupted time with no expectations. When you get work done on a Sunday night, your Monday is awesome. You meet colleagues with confidence, and can do meetings to plan the next week - all armed by a productive night.”
The Rationale For Preparing A Day Ahead Brian Tracy is another who uses this practice to increase his productivity. He explains the rationale for doing so like this: “A major benefit of preparing your daily list the night before is that this exercise lets you sleep more soundly. A major reason for insomnia is your lying awake trying not to forget to remember everything that you have to do the following day. Once you have written down everything you have to do on your list, it clears your mind and enables you to sleep deeply. This will help you increase productivity throughout the next work day.”
In a later section on looking after your health there are some further suggestions about how getting a good night’s sleep can have a positive impact on your personal effectiveness. Thorin Klosowski discusses Barack Obama’s approach to preparation: “By the end of the day, most of us want to relax with some cable TV and zone out for a while before our next stressful day. Barack Obama reminds us that a better approach is to spend a little bit of time preparing for the next day”.
He suggests that Obama would often stay up late into the night flicking through documents to help him get his thoughts organised. Klosowski suggests: “The president’s job is much more stressful than yours, so implementing this as a daily routine makes sense. The rest of us can utilize this tip before big meetings, presentations, or deadlines”.
Beat Monday Mania Larry Kim uses this practice to avoid what he calls Monday mania. He suggests that it’s not necessary to spend a lot of time working. It’s more a matter of switching your brain on ahead of time. “You don’t need to make calls or even answer emails – simply assess what your Monday game plan will be, and you’ll sleep a little more soundly”.
It seems that priming the brain a day ahead creates some advantages. It enables the mind to start processing ahead of time and it means you feel more prepared and ready for the day ahead. Even a simple review of what lies ahead can help. Laura McClellan writes: “The best way to hit the ground running is to start the night before. Before leaving your workspace, or before going to bed, take ten minutes to look over the next day’s commitments”.
The Take Away A stitch in time saves nine. Get a jump start on your day by preparing the night before. Just a quick review of what lies ahead will be enough to get your unconscious churning away so that when your day starts you’ll have the benefit of that predigested thinking.
- Delegate It
You Are Not Alone – Use The People Round You Mastering the ability to delegate is a crucial productivity competency it seems. It stands to reason that if we are faced with multiple demands on our time we need to maximise our ability to engage others in completing the tasks we have to complete. Laura McClellan offers some very practical advice. We can ask these questions she suggests: “What tasks could someone else do, thereby freeing you up to focus on the things only you can do? Look around you: who is available to do some of those tasks? A secretary? A colleague? A family member? A paid helper? An important key to productivity is doing only those things that only you can do, and giving somebody else the opportunity to contribute by doing those other tasks”. Daniel Tan, a web entrepreneur is very clear about the benefits of delegation. “Delegation is the most important fuel for productivity. Having more staffs should double, triple, quadruple, etc., your time.”
Get The Most Out Of Delegation
To get the most from delegation he argues that staff should be set free, and not micro-managed. “Let them fly with their wings. You hired them, they are surely good. Otherwise, why keep them? Since they are good, there is really no need to check on them all the time. Cultivate a sense of ownership and let them work like they are the boss. Things will go so well when everyone think they are the owners of the company and act in it’s best interest”.
The Take Away
Make the most of the team you lead. Empower them and increase not only your own productivity, but make their lives better too.
- Deal With Distractions
Switch Off Laura McClellan hits the nail on the head when she says: “One of the major productivity killers is the distraction of constant interruptions. Emails, phone calls, people appearing at your door… The technology that can (and should) make our lives easier and better also can make it virtually impossible to maintain the kind of focused attention that’s necessary to work efficiently and effectively”. There is a huge problem which is inadvertently created by the very technology which was supposed to make a work easier to accomplish and amplify our productivity efforts. The question is what can we do about it? Bryan Guido Hassin makes a radical suggestion: “After noticing that he got some of his best work done on long intercontinental flights, Guido established “Airplane Days” to help him get things done”. “On “Airplane Days,” Guido restricts his Internet access, removes distractions, and churns through his high priority to-do items.” He offers some advice based on his implementation of this strategy which he claims creates the most productive time of the week by far. “At the beginning of each week, I carefully look at my schedule and declare one day (or two half days) to be Airplane Time. I block it out on my shared calendar and treat it as if I were in the air: working out of the office, disabling my phone, and shutting off network connections on my laptop.”
Dealing With Social Media
Social media can be a huge distraction, with it’s constantly updating streams which can litter our screens and cause big reductions in our effectiveness. Roman Grigorjev has a clever hack for Facebook: “He partially quit Facebook by moving all his friends to acquaintances.” He explains: “You can move everyone from ‘friends’ to ‘acquaintances.’ You will still get updates, but instead of ‘check out what I ate for breakfast,’ you will only be shown the most important posts, i.e. 2-5 new posts max a day from hundreds of your friends. That would save you lots of time and make you 5-10x more productive.” The Daily Muse recommends an app which can turn off our social media streams completely while we are at work. “Try an app like SelfControl to block your access during the workday”. Larry Kim recommends turning off notifications – something which I totally recommend. I’ve written a post about my app set up which discusses how to do this this at some length.
It’s not just social media that jostles for our attention. News feeds can also create unwanted distractions. Larry Kim offers this advice: “The idea that we need to keep up to date on the news is largely outdated. Most of what passes as news today is prettily packaged garbage – it’s trivial, depressing, and unreliable. If something major happens, you’ll find out one way or another. Instead, focus your attention on what’s useful and actionable in your life”. The Take Away Learn how to control distraction and you’ll already be ahead of most people. Try some of the methods suggested here and regain control of your time and what you seen it on.
- Eat That Frog
Tackle The Worst One First Brian Tracy’s best selling book, Eat That Frog!: Get More of the Important Things Done - Today! is based on the idea that quite often the thing that weighs on our mind is the thing we tend to put off. I’ve explored previously how this is a problem for us, these ‘open loops’ will continue to deplete our mind’s mental energy store and make us less likely to make good quality decisions. Brian’s advice is that we should deal with the most unpleasant task first. It’s really surprising how doing this releases a ton of energy and some endorphins too as you realise you’ve actually dealt with that problem. He calls them Frogs because the idea of eating of frog to most of us is – well fairly grim. Anything we eat afterwards will seem much more palatable as a result. Murray Newlands takes this philosophy and uses it to: “Schedule the most vital activities first. If you first deal with your most critical tasks first, it’ll be easier to discover time for less important tasks. If you permit yourself to become sidetracked on busywork or unimportant tasks, odds are you never will get to the things that really matter” Alok Bhardwaj says that this is the way he starts every morning. “Do the least desirable tasks first thing in the morning. Try to work 2-3 hours straight on getting stuff done first thing in thing in the morning, before email or anything else”. You’ll Feel Much Better When It’s Done People develop their own rationale for eating frogs. Nicole Fallon Taylor tells us what her’s is: “Instead of waiting until the last minute to finish a task, get it off your plate as soon as possible. Your other tasks will seem less daunting by comparison, and you’ll stop stressing about that one task all day, making you more productive overall”. Graham Allcott doesn’t use the term “frog” but it’s clear that he has his own method for dealing with the difficult or the unpleasant tasks we all have waiting. He has what he calls a “Power Hour” approach. “So the Power Hour is a single hour each day, where you schedule in an obligation to tackle the difficult, or unclear, or scary, or tedious. Power through those things in an hour, and then you don’t have to think about them for the rest of the day.” Jason Kanigan adopts a similar strategy, terming it the “Golden Hour.” These are times when you are functioning at peak performance. “Figure out when your ‘golden hours’ are, and protect them at all costs. Permit no distractions during those times. Then ‘Eat That Frog’– pick the biggest, hairiest, most difficult goal that stands between you and the next giant step towards success … and Do It Now. “A small number of decisions makes up the majority of your life experience (the 80/20 rule strikes again!). Therefore, a small number of activity choices make up the large majority of your achievements … or lack thereof.” Wrapping up this section, Brandon Turner has the simplest advice which captures the essence of frog eating. He puts things like this: “This year, I made a change. I decided to tackle my biggest task first, before anything else.” The Take Away
Stop avoiding that job you have kept pushing away. You’ll be amazed at how liberating it is not to have the anxiety these postponed ‘frogs’ create swept from your mind.
Look After Your Health Mental And Physical Well Being Matter It’s important not to overlook the role that your physical and mental well being play in maintaining peak performance. There’s little point in designing systems and building workflows if the engine that drives them (that’ll be you) is faltering. Eat Breakfast Larry Kim’s advice is to start each day by re-fuelling, priming your mind and body for another day of peak productivity. He says: “Eat Breakfast! Breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day–it’s not a ruse put on by Dunkin’ Donuts. A morning meal gives you the fuel you need to be present and productive at work, so don’t skip it”. Laura McClellan confirms this noting that there is a lot of evidence which confirms the importance of beginning each day with a good breakfast. “Healthy people are more productive. No matter how busy you are, eat a decent breakfast. It’ll fuel you for a terrific start to your day”. Stay Well Hydrated It’s not just breakfast however, it’s also vital to make sure that you are properly hydrated. Robin Sharma makes the point: Drink more water. When you’re dehydrated, you’ll have far less energy. And get less done. Thorin Klosowski takes a look at what US Presidents have done to maintain their personal health. Here’s a quick summary: “A large number of presidents have made it a point to add exercise into their daily routine. Obama planned for an hour of exercise a day, Clinton was an avid jogger, Teddy Roosevelt loved tennis, jogging, and boxing. George W. Bush was also an avid tennis player and jogger, while Jimmy Carter was a cross-country runner. John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan were all swimmers. Time and time again we’ve seen that exercise is as important for physical health as it is mental health, and in the stressful position of president, that seems to hold true”. Benefits Of Exercise The benefits of exercise on your mood can change how you feel. Your mood can be given a quick positive injection of productivity enhancing hormones that will help you power through the tasks in front of you. Larry Kim writes: “It’s been shown that exercising in the morning can greatly improve your productivity. Exercise energizes rather than exhausts you, contrary to what the couch potatoes might tell you. (Not that I’m judging. I can be very spud-tacular myself at times.) Exercising also promotes good health (quick, alert the press!), and some studies have shown that exercise can improve your mood for up to 12 hours following your workout. Less stress, more efficiency – it’s definitely worth setting that alarm 30 minutes earlier”. Why Exercise Makes Sense If you want a quick summary of the reasons why you should start an exercise programme today, take a look at this article by Whitson Gordon. He lists 10 reasons to exercise regularly.
- You’ll just be happier.
- You’ll live longer.
- You’ll get sick less often.
- You’ll have better sex.
- You’ll get sick less often.
- You’ll sleep better.
- You’ll de-stress.
- You’ll boost your confidence.
- You’ll improve your posture.
- You’ll improve your memory.
The Take Away There is a simple truth in the maxim: a healthy body, a healthy mind. Take action to improve your physical and mental well being and not only will you become more productive, you might leave longer and more healthily too.
- Manage Meetings Better
We Spend Way Too Much Time In Meetings According to Scott Dockweiller if you’re a middle manager you’re likely to be spending 35% of your time in meetings. This figure climbs to 50% as you enter the C-Suite. Given the huge time commitment that meetings require, it’s critical that you maximise the productivity you obtain from meetings. Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault and Nissan, is strict on the timing allotted for single-topic, non-operational meetings: He allows a maximum of one hour and 30 minutes. Fifty percent of the time is for the presentation, and 50 percent is for discussion”. Source: The Daily Muse Adjust The Default Times In Your Calendar One way to start is to adjust the default settings in Outlook or whichever calendar app you use to manage your time. Jeff Haden suggests: “Whoever invented the one-hour default in calendar software wasted millions of people-hours.” Most of the time a meeting doesn’t need more than half and hour – often fifteen minutes will suffice. Parkinson’s Law will operate if you don’t do this. Re-set expectations and change the default. You can free up a huge amount of time by tweaking this one setting. Plan Your Meetings If you’re responsible for organising a meeting, there are some simple rules that just have to be implemented. The Daily Muse hass a super formula for conducting highly productive meetings. Start with a plan for the meeting, facilitate for focus – organising a distraction free environment if possible and keeping everyone on track, and then closing out effectively with a clear series of next steps. As The Daily Muse puts it: “Be incredibly proactive about keeping meetings on track. Send everyone an agenda for each meeting, and, if the conversation goes off topic, don’t be afraid to rein it in . A simple, “Let’s schedule time to discuss that later if it’s helpful, since we only have 10 minutes left,” works perfectly”. Avoid Pointless Meetings Finally, remember that you always have a choice. Avoid pointless meetings at all costs. Graham Allcott makes this suggestion: “Avoid pointless meetings Meetings can be a massive time-suck. Never take part in a meeting that doesn’t have a clear purpose, a clear agenda and clear start and finish times. But even well-organised meetings can be a time suck! The occasional sending of your apologies can all be good ways to reclaim some vital hours to put your attention to better use than sat in a boring meeting”. The Take Away Many of us spend a lot of time in meetings. These are therefore very important opportunities for us to maximise productivity. Avoid the pointless ones and plan the one’s you lead.
- Organise Your Workspace
Clutter Creates Distractions It’s surprising how an untidy and cluttered working environment impacts on productivity. There are the obvious reasons to do with inefficiency. It’s much harder to find what you need in a disorganised workspace. It can be hard to lay out your work and make it easy to understand what you have to do. The signal an untidy or disorganised workspace sends to our brains is more insidious. We know the place is a mess, so our mind wild it’s best to keep track of where things are. This is an unconscious process that will be stealing energy from the processing power you’ll need to perform at you best. These are more of the mental “open loops” which will quickly drain your mind’s battery. It makes a lot of sense to create a well organised and uncluttered environment to work in. The Daily Muse emphasises the impact clutter can have on your ability to focus: “Just like multitasking, clutter overloads your senses and makes it harder for you to get stuff done. So if you find yourself having trouble focusing, look around at your desk (and your computer desktop) to see if any of them need a little tidying.” Organise Your Workspace What do the experts suggest? Nicolle Fallon, quoting Kristoph Matthews suggests a remedy: “Before you do anything else, take a few moments at the start of each day to organize and de-clutter your workspace. Having a clutter-free environment helps you think more clearly and produce better results, said Kristoph Matthews, founder of on-demand storage company Boxbee. By cleaning up and organizing your space, you will greatly increase your productivity and limit the time you spend searching for items.” The Take Away A disorganised and cluttered workspace will leave you prone to distractions. Not being able to finds what you need, coupled with the ‘open loops’ such environments trigger in your brain will drain your mental reserves dramatically.
- Outsource It
Value Your Own Time Not everything that’s on your plate has to be dealt with by you personally. If you are lucky enough to have a team, you can empower them and delegate tasks to them. Sometimes you need to go further. Two good questions to ask are: 1. Does anyone need to do this task? If no, then stop doing it. 2. Do we absolutely have to do this ourselves? If no, then consider outsourcing it. There’s no doubt that highly productive people are very picky about how they spend their energy and time. Bruna Martinuzzi offers this advice: “Do a cost/benefit analysis of how you spend your time and see if it’s worth offloading some repetitive tasks so you can focus on what will bring value to your company”. Some Outsourcing Options Marissa Brassfield suggests there are some areas of your life which could be potential candidates for out-sourcing. These are: Appointments, Reservations, and Logistics Coordination Fancy Hands 1. TaskRabbit 2. Task Bullet 3. MyTasker 4. Zirtual 5. TimeSvr 6. Prialto For Call Handling 1. AppleTree Answers 2. Ruby Receptionist 3. MyReceptionist 4. VoiceCloud Research 1. Fiverr 2. Freelancer.com 3. Elance Graphic Design and Freelance 1. Fiverr 2. Elance 3. 99 Designs 4. Guru 5. DesignCrowd Putting Together Furniture, Dry Cleaning Drop-Off, and Other In-Person Tasks 1. Zaarly 2. TaskRabbit Shopping for Fresh ProduceShopping for Fresh Produce There will be many suppliers that can tailor an offer to your needs based on your specific geography. Marissa is very clear about the advantages she finds in out-sourcing: “…the truth is, you can outsource more than you might think—for less than you’d imagine—using the tons of online virtual assistant and delivery services out there”. The Take Away You really don’t need to do everything yourself. Leverage these resources to free your time up for the tasks that you and you alone can do.
- Develop A Positive Mindset
The Happiness Advantage I’ve written a summary of the best books out there on how the mind works. One of the books which made it to the list was Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage. This books reinforces the principle that happiness drives success, not the other way round. It’s no wonder that productivity experts emphasis the importance of cultivating a positive mindset as part of your strategy to become more productive. President John F Kennedy once said: “Of course, while it’s important to learn from past mistakes, nostalgia for the past can be a boring, manipulative emotion that blinds you to the needs of the future”. Having a growth mindset means that you will be on the look out for learning and will assume that even when things haven’t worked out, it will be possible to learn from them. They key is not to wallow in the mistakes and spend time recriminating. Monitor Our Internal Conversation We can also prime ourselves for improved future performance by being careful with the language we use in our internal conversations. Graham Allcott suggests you should: “Use language to change your motivation. If you’re dreading doing a particularly boring task, don’t say “I have to…”, say “I get to…”. The language we use with ourselves is a key component of productivity psychology”. The Take Away The new field of positive psychology creates some powerful new insights for people interested in improving productivity. Maximise your personal effeorts by building an appreciation of positive psychology – reading the Happiness Advantage is a good place to start.
- Use Rituals To Create New Habits
Build New Habits No-one can operate at 100% of their ability constantly. Optimising the periods of time when we are at our best is one of the principles behind improved productivity. You are looking for a way to organise your routines into some kind of consistent pattern which you know helps you work at your best. Brigid Schulte puts it like this: “…we have been seduced into thinking that if only we try harder and work longer, we can achieve anything. Top performers take a different approach. They recognize and honor their physical limitations by getting plenty of exercise and sleep, cycling between 90-minute bursts of focused work and short restorative breaks, and taking time to disconnect from email for some portion of their off-hours”. Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project suggest four ways of setting up rituals to automate behaviours that will make you more productive. One of them is to define one task each day which you will prioritise – then start the day focused on that task. “Force yourself to prioritize so that you know that you will finish at least that one critical task during the period of the day when you have the most energy and the fewest distractions,” Schwartz says. Building rituals is something that successful people have done over time as Robin Sharma describes: “When I studied the creative lives of massively productive people like Stephen King, John Grisham and Thomas Edison, I discovered they follow strict daily routines. (i.e., when they would get up, when they would start work, when they would exercise and when they would relax).” Meditation Helps Ideas Develop Stacia Pierce has a meditation practice she uses to start each day: “Every day, I spend time meditating before I start my day. Meditation for at least 15 minutes can get you focused and help to improve productivity. Insight comes early; if you sit quietly in the morning and meditate and then listen within, you will discover brilliant ideas are ready to burst out of you”. Tackle Habits You Want To Change The flip side of positive behaviours you want to encourage is those bad habits you’d like to change. Here’s one piece of practical advice from Larry Kim: “Sometimes the best way to break a bad habit is to make things incredibly difficult for yourself. If you hate that you watch too much TV, keep the remote control in the upstairs closet”. The Take Away To be productive you need to master your own behaviour. Lots of our behaviour is driven unconsciously which is why habits and rituals play such an important role in driving improved productivity.
- Say No
You Always Have A Choice No is a very powerful word which you can use to regulate how much you have to do. It is sometimes difficult to say no, but developing a confident ability to recognise when you are already shipping water is a strategy many experts recommend. Adam Grant’s book Give and Take reveals the findings from his his research into strategies for giving and receiving help. While his study demonstrates that successful people tend to be people who are prepared to help others without expecting something in return, he noticed something else too. The Harvard Business Review puts it like this: “While giving can certainly help you succeed, Grant’s data also reveals that helping everyone with everything is a recipe for failure. So how do you do it right? Top performers, Grant argues, avoid saying yes to every helping opportunity. Instead, they specialize in one or two forms of helping that they genuinely enjoy and excel at uniquely”. Learn How To Discriminate Larry Kim offers a clear rationale for cultivating the ability to discriminate – to be clear what you can take on and what you really shouldn’t. “Remember, it’s not simply a matter of being agreeable – when you take on too much, all your work suffers. You may end up missing deadlines, and despite good intentions, you could end up disappointing others when you are unable to meet the extraordinary expectations you’ve created for yourself”. The Take Away Remember whenever you say yes to something, you’re also saying no to something else. There are only so many things which it is possible to do in any allotted time. Learning how to say no, to discriminate between the important and the not so important can have major benefits to your productivity.
- Build Your Self Awareness
Increase Productivity With Prime Time Brain Tracy has made a career from providing advice to business leaders. His conclusions are based on thousands of hours of observation and conversations with some of the world’s top business leaders. He suggests you should: “Organize your life so that you are doing creative work during your internal ‘‘prime time.’’ Your internal prime time is the time of day, according to your body clock, when you are the most alert and productive.” By identifying when you are at your most productive, you will maximise your ability to work at your optimal level of productivity. This appears to be one of the characteristics of some of the most successful business leaders. Here’s Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics: “The key for me is you have to understand how your brain works and when you are most productive. For me, I’m most productive and creative in the morning through early afternoon, so I’ve gotten rid of lunch meetings to keep my productive time going as long as I can. I make sure the tasks I have at the beginning of the day are the tasks that require the most creativity or, in other words, tasks I have never done before.” Think About Your Thinking Henry Ford once said: “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probably reason so few engage in it.” There are huge benefits you can obtain from spending time considering carefully about what you have to do. “But quality thinking time is vital not only to our productivity, but to our sense of control and well-being at work. Regularly reviewing what we’re working on, what’s on our schedule and what’s coming up can help us spot efficiencies, empower us to be realistic and say no to requests, and get the clarity we need to create momentum and remove procrastination from our working week”. Psychologist Ivan Staroversky, a counselor, psychotherapist, NLP trainer, and Lifehacker, uses the knowledge he has acquired about how our minds work to help him be more productive. He says that he listens to his Ultradian rhythms which are natural body cycles that rise and fall throughout the day every 90-120 minutes. He explains: ”Approximately every 90-120 minutes, the mind and body give us clues signaling the need for rest and change in physical and mental activity. Ignoring these signals may lead to fatigue, stress, and ultimately physical (psychosomatic) illness. These rhythms suggest that its time to take a break and can help increase your productivity. Basically you have to: - recognize the signals - listen to yourself - make time for rejuvenation and awakening”. You can find out more about his work on his blog. Cool Off Before Responding If you’re provoked, it’s all too easy to snap back. Similarly, following our instinctive response can lead us to places we didn’t ever intend. While there’s nothing wrong with encouraging a creative exploration of other possibilities, sudden, reactive changes in direction can be a serious problem. President Thomas Jefferson gave himself some rules to counteract these tendencies: “When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, a hundred”. Allowing a pause between the stimulus and your reaction to it make a lot of sense. Bear in mind that if you can’t always control what happens, you can always control how you respond to it. Switch Locations We are all made differently and one of our points of differentiation is how we respond to the environments we are in. For some people, changing your location can lead to a big boost in productivity. Meghan Khaitan, founder of seat belt buckle device MyBuckleMate said that a change of scenery can be a big help in boosting productivity. “Head to the library or a local park (weather permitting), or find a place that’s quiet and full of natural light. This can help spur new ideas or shed new light on an old problem.” Silence Your Inner Perfectionist If you wait for everything to be in perfect alignment, for the absolutely perfect set of conditions, you might have a longer wait than necessary. This is a twist on the paralysis bu analysis maxim – which argues that enough information is enough information. Robin Sharma argues we should quit waiting for perfection: “Stop waiting for perfect conditions to launch a great project. Immediate action fuels a positive feedback loop that drives even more action”. It’s not just when we wait for the perfect situation to begin our tasks that we lose potential productivity opportunities. It’s also when we try to perfect what we’re doing. Larry Kim sums it up: “Yes, a single piece of work can always be better, but what are you sacrificing by laboring over slight improvements? Do the best you can do in a reasonable amount of time, and then stop. Your inner perfectionist can be helpful, but it also needs to be kept in check”. Make A Verbal Commitment If you’re the kind of person who finds it tough to honour promises made to yourself – and let’s face it many of us are, why not follow Larry’s advice to make those same commitments to another person? “It’s easy to break a promise to yourself, but it’s much harder to break a commitment you’ve made to another person. Words have weight and power–make vows to friends (and ask them to hold you accountable), and you may find it easier to keep commitments you wouldn’t necessarily hold yourself to”. The Take Away Build a better understanding of how you work at your best will pay you back handsomely. You will then be better placed to choose the times when you’ll be at peak performance. You can choose more than when you work, you can also influence how productive you are by choosing where you work. Controlling your reactions to adversity and maintaining your focus are all skills which you can cultivate.
- Simplify It
It’s Simple, Stupid – Focus On What Matters Winston Churchill once gave a speech, which he began by apologising that it was going to be a long one. He hadn’t time he said to write a short one. President Woodrow Wilson said much the same thing: ”If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.” One way to achieve a measure of simplicity is to narrow your focus. Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, says, “I keep things focused. The speech I give every day is: ‘This is what we do. Is what we are doing consistent with that, and can it change the world?’” Jason Goldberg, CEO of Fab.com, has an alternative message: Pick one thing and do that one thing—and only that one thing—better than anyone else ever could. He argues: “We can derive a great deal of power from developing a laser focus on our top business priorities. It’s one of the attributes that sets apart the average businessperson from the more successful one. The Take Away When you commit to use your time, make sure that it is focused on your most important goals. That way you will make more progress. If you’ve got an important presentation to make, ensure you make enough time to deliver a short, simple message.
- Step Back From It
Maintain Perspective This article is about implementing productivity hacks that will help you get more done. Jeff Lawson reminds how important it is to keep a perspective on what you’re doing. For example, many people advocate clearing your emails to zero each day – something which I do recommend. Jeff has his own take on this: ”Inbox zero is a fool’s errand. I don’t try to keep up. I feel perfectly fine picking and choosing what I want to engage in.” This is an an example of an important caution about following anyone else’s advice. In the end, you have to make the choice about what’ll work for you. No-one else can do that. Step Away From The Daily Grind Too As a Harvard Business Review makes clear, “in a knowledge economy, productivity requires more than perseverance — it requires insight and problem-solving”. HBR presents a strong case for allowing a space to open between the hurly-burly of the daily business hustle and gain some perspective. “Research indicates quite clearly that we are more likely to find breakthrough ideas when we temporarily remove ourselves from the daily grind. This is why the best solutions reveal themselves when we step into the shower, go for a run, or take a vacation”. “Top performers view time off not as stalled productivity but as an investment in their future performance”. Larry Kim puts it succinctly, arguing that we you shouldn’t drown in the shallow end of the pool. “When a hundred little tasks are nibbling at your brain, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost at sea. However, a little perspective can do you good–remember to not sweat the small stuff. If you’re going to worry, worry about the big things, not the little ones”. The Take Away It pays to remember there’s always a bigger picture available. Find ways to ensure you’ve got the ability to climb out of the detail from time to time and check to make sure your goal still makes sense. Finding time to regain a focus on your larger goals can help you recognise when it’s time to reevaluate.
- Manage Your Time
Expect The Unexpected There’s always something you didn’t think of, and the chances are that it will make itself known to you when it’s least convenient. Murray Newlands believes the problem is caused by over-tight schedules. “If your schedule is so tight that you do not allow for the unexpected, you drastically increase your odds of feeling chaotic throughout the day. If you must be somewhere and you’re able to make it in 15 minutes, permit 25”. “Leave tiny, unscheduled time blocks all through your day in order for you to have a buffer against the unexpected.” Use Deadlines And Time Constraints As A Positive My father used to say: “if you want to get something done, ask a busy person”. Busy people don’t have time to procrastinate and often keep things moving as a result. However, there’s also a false busyness where we feel like we’re busy when actually we are caught up in distractions. Then it’s too easy to let time just slip between our fingers, particularly when the world is full of so many interesting alternatives to the task in hand. The Daily Muse offers this advice: “Even if you don’t technically have a deadline on a task, set one for yourself. Knowing that you only have two hours to get something done will help ensure you don’t waste an hour of it on the internet.” The fact is that Parkinson’s Law does operate. The tasks we have have a habit of expanding to fill the available space. Of course the opposite can also be true as The ITV reported: “ The work we do in the two or three hours when our attention is at its strongest, are really what defines our productivity – not the hours we spend looking busy until the boss goes home”. Manage Meeting Time As we’ve already seen, there are lots of things we can do to make sure the time we spend in meetings can be as productive as possible. Here’s a further tip from The Daily Muse: “Do not schedule more time than you need. Most meetings are scheduled for a full hour, when they should be 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or 45 minutes max”. Take Time For A Break It’s true that: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. In this context, “dull” means less sharp, weary and more liable to make mistakes or take longer to complete a task. Larry Kim suggest we should be kind to ourselves: “Give Yourself a Break, Man! You work hard–you deserve a break! Maybe with a Kit Kat, maybe with a cup of tea, maybe with a walk in the park. It’s easy to burn yourself out if you try to work at full throttle all day long. The truth is that our minds just aren’t designed to work that way. For optimal productivity, try the popular and praised Pomodoro technique–work for 25 minutes, then give yourself a five-minute break”. Business News Daily took up this theme when discussing how to enhance personal productivity. It cites Kathleen Kobel, the woman behind Smart Business Mom: “Take short breaks. Whether it’s a walk around the block, a run to the nearby coffee shop, reading a magazine or visiting with a colleague, taking short breaks that are unrelated to your work can make a huge difference in your performance. Your productivity diminishes the longer you go without a break, Kobel told Business News Daily. Kobel explained that this is why it’s recommended that people don’t work more than 8 to 10 hours per day — at a certain point, your body and mind simply cannot produce anymore, she said”. The Daily Muse recommends you schedule plenty of breaks throughout your day. Building this into your daily schedule can be tricky, so they offer this tip for hard pressed and busy people whip struggle to male this happen: “Try using an online timer to remind yourself to get up from your desk, grab a snack or some water, or chat with a co-worker for a few minutes before getting back to the grindstone”. For a more formulaic approach, here’s Murray Newlands again, describing how he ensure that he makes time for breaks during his day: “I utilize applied focus sessions where I do 45 minutes of focused effort, followed up by 15 minutes of something else. After 45 minutes, our ability to focus starts to taper off and we no longer optimally perform. I utilize those 15 minutes for strolling around, getting something to drink, answering calls, or anything else that distracts me from the activity at hand”. “Oftentimes, that’s when my best ideas come to mind, and I wind up feeling invigorated and prepared to make things work.” Keep A Track On Your Time There’s always a possibility that time will pass without you noticing. This can be a big problem, particularly when we are concentrating hard on something. Over time these can lead to large amounts of time that we are unconsciously using. Bear in mind that time is a non-renewable commodity, it only moves in one direction. That’s why so many people recommend we track our time: “To figure out where your time is heading, attempt to keep a time log for one or two weeks. How much time is actually being lost on unimportant tasks? Where will the majority of your interruptions come from? Will they happen within specific periods of time or on certain days of the week? Once you have this data, it’ll be simpler to eliminate time-wasting tasks, along with interruptions and distractions”. There are tools out there that can help you do this. They work in the background, keeping track of what you’re up to. Here are are two that I’ve used: 1. Rescue Time 2. Toggl If you use these tools you’ll have a much better idea about how your time is being spent. Over the course of a week or two, you’ll start to get a sense of what the time-sucking culprits are—and be able to plan your attack for how you’ll get rid of them. The Take Away Time is a non-renewable resource. To make the most of the time we are given is one of the more important productivity skills you need to master. It’s also one of the productivity areas that spills over into the rest of your life. Find some ways to manage your time and you’ll feel the benefits far beyond improved personal productivity.
- Use Travel Wisely
Leverage Travel Time Lots of us travel to work each day. Time spent commuting can feel like time that’s lost. However there’s lots of way we can leverage this time to become more productive. When driving I often listen to podcasts or Audible. Larry Kim makes the point: ”Those hours don’t have to be wasted–consider scheduling calls in the morning that you can take during your drive to work”. Advice For Flyers Flying is a whole other story. A few years back, Hughes Air West an airline that used to serve the western U.S. Made a study of the comparison between working when flying economy, first class and working in a normal office. What they found was that one hour of uninterrupted work time in an airplane yielded the equivalent of three hours of work in a normal work environment. As Brain Tracy explains “The keyword was ‘‘uninterrupted.’’ If you plan ahead and organize your work before you leave for the airport, you can increase productivity by accomplishing an enormous amount while you are in the air.” See Travel As An Opportunity Rather than thinking of travel as down time, Murray Newlands suggests we ask ourselves these questions instead: “Can you find a method of listening to crucial data that you normally would need to read later?” As he explains there’s really no excuse for travel to reduce pour productivity. “Have something around that you’re able to do whenever you’re stuck waiting around. Making use of time that normally would be wasted is an easy way to create more time for those things you have a desire to accomplish”. The Benefits Of No Distractions As we’ve already discussed, the fact the airplanes enforce a restriction on connectivity on many flights, can produce a huge productivity boost. The Take Away Like a lot of the best productivity advice, travel is as much about our state of mind as it is about the situation we are in. If you can see your travel time as a productivity benefit you’ll already be half there to improved productivity while travelling.
- Use Technology
Unlock Your Full Potential Today’s digital technology is amazing. In fact there’s so much of it that it can sometimes be difficult to work out what to use and how to link things together. That’s why I’ve written up the way I use my laptop and iPad. People where I work keep asking me how it all works so I thought I’d just write it down and share it. If you’d like to see what I do you can read about it here. The truth is that technology can be a big help in our efforts to become more productive – to spend more of our time, our energy and out attention on our most important goals. Adam Grant, a respected Professor of Psychology at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania writes: “Most people type much, much slower than they think. Work on increasing your typing speed—or invest in voice recognition software. And then stop wasting time reading productivity tips.” Stop Repeating Yourself On of my favourite tricks is to use keyboard short cuts to trigger large or small blocks of text to appear. It’s one of the things that people have noticed when the see me working and it’s probably the most commonly asked question I get. The Muse sums it up pretty well: ”Use canned responses to avoid typing the same things over and over again. For any email that you send regularly—or even just part of an email, like the wrap-up paragraph—create a canned response that you can pop in whenever you need it. My favourite tool and in my opinion the best one out there is TextExpander. Use The Cloud There’s no excuse for not having your documents, files and reference materials with you wherever you are and whatever device you’re working on. There are many different cloud providers available. Some of the ones I use are: 1. Dropbox 2. Evernote 3. iCloud Take a look at my setup here. Stacia Pierce summarises the benefits: “Take your important docs with you everywhere by using the cloud. Apps like Box.com and Dropbox enables you to access important docs, photos and music and more from any device and anywhere on the go. You can sync the files with your desktop so that you always have the latest version. Team members can comment on files, make revisions and more”. Help With Your Email Monster Most of us have struggled with email occasionally (make that constantly - Ed.). I’ve written a piece about how I tamed my own beast which you can read here. The Daily Muse has a recommendation of it’s own. “Use Boomerang to pull emails out of your inbox until you’re ready to deal with them. This is useful for two reasons: First, it gets the message out of sight and out of mind, giving you space to think about other things. Second, it automatically reminds you about the email later on, giving you one less task to worry about tracking on your own”. Set up automatic filters to immediately pull emails out of your inbox and into the right folder. (This is a great option for things like newsletters that you want to come back to on your own time.) Daily Muse Here’s a great summary from Larry Kim detailing the technology he uses: • For tracking your time management, try Toggl or Yast. • Are you a savvy social manager? Go with Hootsuite, which offers a central dashboard for managing all your social media accounts. Also consider Buffer, which makes it super easy to share found articles across various social sites. • For saving articles to read at your leisure, go with Feedly, Pocket, or Evernote. These apps are compatible across devices; you can earmark a blog post on your laptop and read it later on the train via smartphone. • Sick of forgetting passwords (then resetting them, getting an email, and choosing a new password, which you’ll forget again next time)? Try LastPass, which keeps tabs and secures all your various passwords for you. If you use numerous accounts in one day (and who doesn’t?), this one can be a serious timesaver. Personally, I prefer to use 1Password for keeping my passwords safe and Sprout Social for social media but this is a great summary nevertheless. Have A Good Second Brain Our brains evolved to think not to hold things in their short term memory. Have a good second brain The human brain is incredible - but our brains are close to useless when it comes to short-term memory. On average we are unable to hold more than five to seven things in this short term memory. But even this comes at a price – it takes a lot of memory power to accomplish even this meagre feat. That’s why it makes sense to think of technology as a second brain – designed to be far more efficient at these sort of jobs. ITV News reported: “Keeping a good “second brain” – that is, a list of all the tasks we have to do, and a list of all the projects they relate to – allows us to free up our brain for the stuff it’s brilliant at, and not rely on our brain for the things it’s lousy at”. Don’t Forget Your Browser Has Secret Powers Too Bloggers have always used browser extensions to speed up their workflows. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t deploy the same tools to produce amazing productivity benefits during your day. Many of us spend lots of our time inside browsers, so each little moment that we save by using these tools can add up to significance numbers across the week. Harsh Agrawal, a successful blogger offers this advice: “Use Browser extensions Extensions or addons are great productivity tools for bloggers. Firefox is serving addons since long time. Recently Google Chrome also introduced extension. These extensions are very helpful for getting work done easily. You can use SEO tools to check website’s stats, YouTube extension to watch videos and also take notes without leaving your browser”. In my browser I have extensions for the following apps: 1. Instapaper 2. Evernote 3. Dropbox 4. 1Password The Take Away It makes sense to deploy technology to do the jobs our brains aren’t well suited to. My strong advice is to find a system and stick to it. There’s plenty of good places to look for advice about how to do this. Start by looking at these websites and then make your choice. 1. The Sweet SetUp 2. Asian Efficiency 3. Healthy Leader Blog
- Write It Down
Understand Your Goals There’s something particularly committing about writing things down. It’s not the same as tapping the same words into an electronic device. If you really want to build a productive day then why not follow the advice given from CEO Rachel Haurwitz? “Know what significant goals you want to work towards every day. Many days, I start the day by writing, ‘How I will build the company today’ on a blank sheet of paper, and then I list a small number of high value tasks or goals for the day.” Clarify Priorities Sometimes you can feel there after just too many issues jostling for attention. If you’re leading a team one of your most important responsibilities is to provide direction, making sense of competing priorities and ordering priorities. Joe Zadeh tackles this dilemma head on. “At the start of each week I write an email to my team to share what I’m focused on and what’s inspiring me outside of work. It not only forces me to prioritize my week, but the act of writing helps organize my thoughts clearly. It also means each week I’m making deposits into the ‘context bank’; my team gets early transparency into what issues I’m thinking about. I find that all of these benefits accelerate me for the week by reducing confusion and need for 1-off meetings.” Fidji Simo, Director of Product at Facebook uses this weekly practice to stay focused. “Write down your priorities on Monday morning, and rearrange your agenda for the week to make sure it will allow you to address these priorities. If I don’t do this, I find myself reacting to what’s most urgent during the week, instead of focusing on what’s most important.” Build Your World One Day At A Time Sam McIntire believes that it is vital to stay on track and uses his daily goals to help him do that. If you can consistently spend time on your most important goals, then you will eventually achieve them. By writing down your daily goals you are making a clear commitment to spending some of you limited time and energy on them. “Write down your daily goals. It’s not always easy to keep track of everything you need to do, so start each morning by writing down your goals for the day. When your focus is broken or you find yourself procrastinating, you can use this list to keep you on track…” Sam McIntire told Business News Daily. “Write your list down on a Post-it or something that’s clearly visible from your desk, then return to it when you need a reminder of what you should be working on.” Inspire Yourself: Make A Note Of What You’ve Done Most things in life, if they are worth having, are not easy to achieve. That’s why hard won achievements feel so good when finally we can say we got them done. You can build momentum for your self, as well as get a good old endorphin rush by building a practice of noting this successes down. Here’s how Michael Peggs describes it: “If I’ve already finished something, I write it down and check it off the list. It always feels good to see something get done.” Break Down Complex Projects Into Smaller Steps When you want to accomplish something complex it’s important to understand that even the most complex of undertakings is really only a series of steps which have to be taken. These steps are sometimes in sequence, sometimes running parallel to the main thread of what you’re doing. Before beginning any major project, spend some time working through all the elements that must be accomplished to deliver the end result. It’s much easier to do this free form on a piece of paper. The world renowned scientist Dr. Linus Pauling once said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” Most leaders and entrepreneurs are visionaries who generally don’t lack good ideas; however, capturing all these ideas is often a challenge for busy people. Evernote is a popular, free program for collecting ideas. There are also a lot of digital tools that can help you. There’s a great list prof resources here. Some of my favourite ones are: 1. Evernote 2. MindNode 3. OmniFocus You can read my advice about how to set up your mobile device here. It’s often easier to scribble while you’re thinking. When you’re blocked and unable to see what you have to do to get round a problem, Murray Newlands suggests: “Think on paper. If you feel stuck, jot the issue down. Defining the issue on paper is going to assist you in sorting it out. Create a list of as many solutions as possible. Odds are, you have just solved your issue”. It’s like this article from www.lifehack.org recommends: “Every task, every commitment should be written down. This frees your mind from the energy- and attention-sucking job of trying to remember”. The Take Away It can be easy to overlook the simple utility of paper and pen. As these experts can testify, there are many benefits to be gained from picking up your pen. Next time you are struggling to clarify your objectives, develop a plan for your big project, or problem solve, why not clear you desk, close your laptop and start writing?