Personal Productivity / Techniques & Ideas
Personal productivity is a big topic wherein much has been written on this subject. As with most things in life and in business, our levels of productivity wanes.
Motivation has a half-life. Simply being motivated to improve your efficiency and personal productivity will not get you to the finish line or where you see yourself being.
Do you often have the feeling at the end of the day that you are like a gerbil on a treadmill and did not accomplish the things that were most important for the set out in the morning to get done?
I do agree with the lesson that if you do something consistently for 21 days in a row it becomes a new habit. Forgetting whether 21 days is accurate I do agree that as we implement new things into our life, our daily routine or use of our calendar, it does in fact become habit and the way we roll forward.
The following are various ideas, techniques, and concepts that have worked for many people including myself.
The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Put some of these ideas into play and see how they work out for you. Breaking projects or new habits it into small manageable pieces is a proven method, building and gaining momentum as you progress.
The concept of habit stacking applies here, select a one or just a few of the ideas below and take them out for a test drive.
Self-management versus time management
Time cannot really be managed. It is what you do with your calendar and how you self-manage yourself and your efficiency. Change takes discipline and as well change takes time to settle in. Time is an asset, respect it and use it accordingly. The goal is that your scheduling becomes intentional, more efficient and your overall level of performance much more effective.
Priority dilution is the new procrastination. If our list is too long and the number of priorities to lengthy our work will be diluted never reaching our full potential. The power of the calendar has not changed what has changed is the amount of input messages emails texts and if active in social media that simply exacerbates the problem.
When do we feel at our best? It is typically when we’ve gotten done what we set out to do in an efficient manner with high quality.
Viewing time is an Asset.
To make major moves in your personal productivity and focus, a good starting point is to think about how you view time. If your perspective is that there is plenty of it and that everything will eventually get done, that’s one viewpoint. Or is your thinking that time is an asset, and you want to make the absolute best use of your time.
The most disciplined executives and entrepreneurs see time as an asset and treat it as such. There are times when we should not be that nice and turn people down for meetings or visits or keep them short and again. Telling people that you do not have time right now is simply controlling YOUR time, your calendar. Rude, no, more efficient, yes.
One technique is to ask yourself throughout the day is what I am working on the most important thing that I could be doing right now?
Specific ideas to implement easily:
- Schedule meetings for 15 minutes not open-ended.
- Consider having meetings where you stand versus sitting.
- Control the amount of time you spend on phone calls. If you find a call dragging on, (sorry), fib and say that you have a call coming up or need to deal with something.
- Draft shorter emails.
- Consider dictation vs typing. We can typically speak at 140 or more words per minute typing is typically 1/3 of that or less. There are programs such as Dragon speak that do a genuinely respectable job of learning how you speak where you can dictate emails, proposals, and documents more easily than typing. I find that the accuracy rate is excellent. It’s a time saver.
- Deciding not to respond to all emails, often e mails create threads that can go on for days.
- Implement an EOM approach in your company that once somebody puts these three letters on an email it is end of message no responses required or desired.
- What else have you done in the past that improved your efficiency?
Start Stop Continue
This is an amazingly simple approach where you can look at your personal life, your business life or you can do this as a team in your company. I know of one entrepreneur that runs through this exercise every 90 days with every employee when they do performance evaluations and work on plans for the future. Quite often the answers lie in what to stop doing versus adding more on the start doing list.
- For things that are going well continue doing those, keep them on the list.
- Things you have been procrastinating putting off or need to begin doing add to the start doing list.
- The power is in the stop doing section. Spend ample time here.
Common time wasters include some or all the following:
- Spending too much time on social media
- Checking email constantly throughout the day versus handling e mail in blocks of time.
- Too much idle chitchat during the day
- Meetings that last too long or those that do not need to happen in the first place.
- Not having a list of priorities that need to be completed each day and each week.
- Too much time during the workday spent on personal matters.
- Making your time available to anyone at your door, your inbox or phone to anybody that wants to reach. How often do you turn people down?
- Not treating time as an asset
- Wasting time during the day knowing you can make it up at night or on weekends.
- Wherever possible take care of personal items over lunch in the evening on the weekends.
- Being on social media can be a huge time waste the data of people that are tracked in corporate America presents frightening information as to the number of hours that people are online with social media and on the Internet and nonbusiness related activities.
Stop Doing List
The stop doing list technique that is a simplified version of start stop continue.
It is simply a list of things you need to stop doing be a personal, business or both. One way to approach this listing project is to reflect on the last week or month. Where are the timewasters? Review your calendar from last week, what might that tell you?
Stack rank from the highest impact item as number one to the lowest impact item.
You can then quantify how much time each day, each week, or each month you can recapture by stop doing that individual item.
Time blocking is a tried and true and tested technique which simply leverages the power of your calendar. This ties to intentionality and controlling your time by blocking it out on the calendar instead of things being done on an ad hoc basis.
Example if you need to work on a few proposals and they typically take 30 to 45 minutes each and you have three of them I would block out 2 ½ to 3 hours on the calendar and just call it proposals.
The discipline using time blocking technique is to turn off email phone and all outside distractions while you work on whatever it is that has been defined. When your time block has been completed take a break, a walk, drink a glass of water do some exercise then check email, return a few phone calls then get to work on your to do list you have for each day or begin work on your next time block.
Time blocking can also be used for things such as working out, reading, doing research, taking breaks for meals or snacks and of course meetings.
We all have natural work cycles, times when we have more and less energy. Consider this as you approach your calendaring each day and each week. If you are much sharper and more precise in the morning schedule detail work such as proposals budgets in the morning. If you like catching up on phone calls in the afternoon schedule accordingly.
If you begin each day with clarity on the most important tasks the most important projects in the most important goals that you have in your life you may begin looking your calendar a bit differently respecting time as an asset and calendaring accordingly. As outside distractions begin melting away done right you will find more time to block to stay current on all work.
This technique is a variation on time blocking but differs in that you work in 30-minute sprints. Then taking a break after each one. If you think about a typical eight-hour workday, you could handle in sixteen (16), 30-minute blocks of work in each day. I challenge you to see how many Pomodoro’s you can get done in a single day.
Many have experienced that by focusing on one thing in short blocks, you may find great surprise which how much you can get done in 30 minutes if you focus on just one thing. It could be a proposal, document, email, phone calls or whatever you have on your list. Consider clustering them with the timer on your phone for 30 minutes and get to work. No outside distractions. Do not accept calls respond to emails were welcome any meetings during a given Pomodoro.
This is a simple and highly effective technique to improve personal productivity. Time-blocking just works!
P. S. The topic of using timers specifically on your smart phone, this can also be used to notify when a meeting should be ending. If you set a 30-minute meeting, consider setting the timer at 25 minutes to make sure you have time for wrap up in that it ends on time.
The concept of getting to email zero although a good one is difficult to achieve in that they tend to come in faster than we can get rid of them. I have personally not had success with using folders in program such an outlook, parking emails thinking that I would get to them later.
Similar in concept to the Pomodoro technique when I have time blocked out to check email, I will scan how many I have set a target of how many I want to get through it could be 20 or 30. You can keep a count on a separate piece of scrap paper and once you reach that number then move on to what is next on my list.
Having one hundred or hundreds of emails in your inbox or inboxes will have you scanning email throughout the day which can creates a huge waste of time, focus, and effort. Like the concept of touching paper once, decide what you are going to do with each of email handle it, delete it, delegate it or for the critically important, let only those sit in your inbox until handled.
Another option with email is having your assistant having access to your email giving up some control providing trust to that individual that the unimportant can be managed by somebody else. There is a saying; if you don’t have an assistant, you are the assistant. In addition to this I would block senders for any emails that you do not need to be reading. This includes newsfeeds, newsletters, or things that simply distract you from the most important tasks goals or projects that lead to goal attainment.
The Daily Huddle
A technique that has become popular under the broad heading of meeting rhythm is having a daily huddle with your team. This should be scheduled for the morning and last no more than 10 or 15 minutes. Think bullet points versus paragraphs. You can check online there are many approaches to the agenda, but it is quite simple.
Everyone on your team meets for 10 to 15 minutes touching on the high points of what is going on in business where they are stuck, where they may need help, key updates. Again, the discipline and the daily huddle is not having discussions is just updating everyone on the team as to the high points, priorities for the day then get to work. The data suggests that for every minute spent in a daily huddle can free up 10 to 15 minutes of time that does not need to be spent during the day communicating with your team. This improves efficiency and saves time for everyone.
Whether you are an early morning person or not a best practice is before you open email look at your calendar and make a list of the highest priority items to gain clarity for the day of what must absolutely get done. My experience is that if it is more than five things, you are putting tasks and two-minute items on the list vs. the bigger more impactful items that move you towards reaching your goals.
Starting your day with email or texting in my view is not the way to gain clarity for the day.
Many have made the transition from being late night workers to early morning and found this to being a massive shift in productivity and focus.
One effective technique is to park activities, readings, newsletters, or to do’s that do not need to be accomplished during the week for Saturday or Sunday morning. Many find that in a brief period with no interruptions, phone calls, meetings that come into the work week with a clean desk, low email inbox with priorities set for the week. Consider taking things away from your during the week schedule and parking them for the weekend or deciding to simply delete that item if its unimportant or negligible impact.
Personal Organizational System (POS)
Data on how much time people spend simply looking for things such as papers, phone numbers, email addresses etc. points to disorganization and the lack of a good POS / personal organizational system. On a recent webinar resented by Evernote they said the goal should be you can find anything you need within five seconds. Think about how much time you may be spending searching for things when a software upgrade or change in your system may be a viable solution.
The most basic items that we all have our contacts, to do list, managing our calendar and document storage / retrieval. Think about each of these segments as it relates to time and work efficiency and where you may be able to improve.
One-month forward exercise
If you could wave a magic wand and one month from today you are operating with an outstanding level of efficiency and effectiveness, what does that look like?
- What changed?
- What new tools have you begun using?
- What have you cut out of your schedule?
- What have you stopped doing?
- Has there been a change in your typical daily routine?
- What frustrations have melted away?
- Where were my productivity bottlenecks?
- Where are the opportunities to progress even further?
Progress not perfection
Personal productivity and discipline are not easy things to corral, change, or maintain.
We all wake up with the same 24 hours per day / 168 hours per week. Some people have unbelievably high levels of productivity and others do not.
There is a good saying that applies here improve 2% per week consistently in any year you will be up 104%.
We can improve our efficiency and effectiveness if we focus on it and maintain discipline daily.