Using my fastidious behaviour to help you:
I've been a gamer since I was six, playing Atari, mastering Pac-Man upside-down and finishing Missile Command thinking there was this amazing new level or celebration to discover, only to find the credits roll by. I'm pretty sure this is where my fastidious nature started.
My fridge is like a Tetris game, my desk is aligned at right angles and I won't even begin to detail how overly-organised my wardrobe is. However, this behaviour has massively aided me in my work life. I've run training sessions on Time & Priority Management and I'm often asked to share my concepts on how to remain productive & efficient, how to multi-task so many clients and also how I keep my email inbox down to a maximum of ten emails.
Productivity is a key attribute for management, leadership and client satisfaction. If you're a professional procrastinator, you need a lot more help than these tactics will offer you. However, if you're looking to make small changes in the way you do things every day, then my 5 golden productivity boosting tactics are going to change your life from the moment you implement them.
Handle-Once Email Transformation:
As humans, we are impacted by our visual surroundings, so when we see a never-ending list of emails in our inbox, we feel extremely busy, like there is no end in sight. That in itself creates a level of stress - we are far from achieving our goals, which creates a lack of motivation. Ultimately, if we can remove that visual stress, we should be happier and be more productive.
Only handle each email ONCE is my general rule. As soon as I open my inbox each day, I start the filter process:
1. Delete the spam
2. Move industry related documents, articles, newsletters and updates to my Read Later Folder
3. Assess if I'm interested in any of the GroupOn, Spreets or Cudo deals. Delete when I've decided that I don't want any laser treatment or dinner for two at a Thai restaurant in the Eastern Suburbs
What should be left are emails from colleagues, clients, LinkedIn messages or new connections / introductions. I receive about fifty emails overnight and about four of them result in my immediate attention. The rule is to only handle the email once – assess it and do something with it. DON'T LEAVE IT IN THE INBOX.
1. Email not for you to really deal with? Forward it on and then file it (or delete it)
2. Email informing you of something important, but not actionable? Read it and file it
3. Calendar request being scheduled? Accept / Decline and delete it
4. Email asking you to send something through / re-send an attachment or report? Reply straight away, then delete
5. Email asking for your review and comment? Schedule your review period (hopefully that day), respond and delete
Prioritisation of emails is really important. If you can respond to emails where you are the next step, the hold up, the bottle neck, etc. then make this a priority to action. Get everyone else moving with what they need and then focus on your Post-It Note Do or Die.
Post-It Note Do or Die:
We all have a to-do list that's as long as our arm and barely gets updated, right? Well, that's the never-get-to-it list. So I created a second list – the Post-It Note Do or Die list. Basically, only three "must do today" items are moved from the never-get-to-it list get added to the Post-It Note Do or Die list and it sits in front of my keyboard all day.I cannot go home until these three things are done. You'll see I've prioritised the three things, as well as brought forward another three I need to do if I find that I've caught up. Once you've completed a goal, cross it off, literally with a big black pen. The sense of achievement and productivity in your day is really rewarding. Sounds silly, but it's true. It looks like this:
Yes, booking my hairdresser and Chiropractor are my priorities! A healthy work-life balance helps me remain productive. In between main priorities, review your email inbox. Go through the same steps as before. You may even choose to take a break with coffee, tea, water or a walk. Another alternative is a combination of break plus your new productivity boost - reading. When you've crossed off all three key items, go back to the never-get-to-it list and bring forward another three things. Continue the cycle and you know what you'll find? You'll actually be proactive rather than reactive. You might not exhaust the never-get-to-it list, but you will have it updated since 2010 and focused more on the last six months to-dos.
20 Minute Speed Read:
Staying up to date in your industry (or in digital alone) can be really time consuming and is often left for another day, which seemingly never comes around. Twenty minutes a day is paramount if you want to stay ahead of the game - twenty minutes of an article, a report, some stats, a blog post, an industry newsletter, a Wiki page or something – anything - from that "Read Later Folder" will help to keep you up to date. Sometimes that's the first thing in the morning for me, sometimes it's in-between priorities and other times it's the last thing before I go home; but it happens EVERY day. Seriously, if you haven't got twenty mins to do some reading, then I'd suggest you're a professional procrastinator.
This is a great productivity boost that kills two birds with one stone (or maybe three):
a) We crave social connectedness
b) Social channels are a great source of information that might make up your twenty minute speed read
c) Your speed read can contribute to your own social presence / social sharing / thought leadership
As I'm doing my twenty minute speed read, I'm taking what I'm reading and sharing it on LinkedIn and Twitter, usually pre-scheduled through Hootsuite. So my own social presence is fulfilled on a daily basis, in conjunction with going through emails and staying up to date with news.
Multi-tasking was perfectly valid before we had 4–5 different technologies all beeping and flashing for our constant attention. I have a basic multi-task hack that I use – and it's part of your email management. Email is our preferred method of professional communication; just think about how many times someone has said to you "I've sent you an email about it". It's such an ass-covering exercise (and rightly so in many cases), however we need to really look at how we communicate:
• Someone needs a short answer quickly? Pick up the phone and give an answer
• Need clarification on something so you can keep working? Pick up the phone and talk to who has the answer
• Return phone calls in one go, make calls for requests for help / support / feedback / review all in one go
• Crack onto the next key task
The biggest multi-tasking hack I can offer is not to multi-task. Focus on one key task at a time, don't break concentration and don't allow non-urgent interruptions. 30 minutes of solid work will be far more productive than 1 hour with constant interruptions. The quality of the work will improve, your efficiency will improve and your productivity will increase. Putting headphones in, even without music, can be a big deterrent for others to interrupt.
The only boost I can't help you with is discipline. All of these productivity boosts require discipline. My engrained fastidious behaviour should help you, but only you can implement your own rules and follow them to see the successful changes. You can't get stuck down a Facebook, Twitter or YouTube rabbit hole when you're doing your social validation or twenty minute speed read. If you constantly allow your time to be interrupted, then prepare for everything to take longer than it actually does. I don't suppose "Trust Me" is going to cut it, but trust me, follow these simple tactics and your productivity will go through the roof.
Over to you...
Do you have a productivity booster that's tried and tested that you're willing to share? Or perhaps you've already implemented one of these ideas and are seeing amazing results? Share them in the comments below.