In prior posts, I discussed my recent struggles balancing the different activities in my life. We all have multiple priorities and staying on top of everything can be a challenge. When I find myself slipping in this area, I revisit how I am prioritizing and whether I’m employing effective productivity techniques.
Like the air inside a balloon, if not managed, any activity can easily expand to consume all available time. Whether it’s work-related activities, personal responsibilities, or just mindless entertainment, the brain has an interesting way of focusing on that one activity to the exclusion of everything else.
Years ago, like many, I read The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. Tim’s book opened my mind to the idea that the conventional work model wasn’t the only way it had to be. How you work is limited only by your own creativity. And many of my ideas about productivity stem from this thinking.
Here are 5 quick productivity improvement tips to get you started:
Be in the moment
This captures the essence of productivity. You think you’re multi-tasking. You’re not. We’re not computers. People don’t process in a parallel fashion. We process one thing at a time. Maybe we are quickly bouncing back and forth between different things, but we only focus on one thing at a time.
This explains why distracted driving is so dangerous. Working on emails while on the phone may not have the same disastrous consequences as distracted driving, but the result is that neither activity gets the attention it deserves.
When you eat, eat. And when you sleep, sleep.”
To improve productivity as well as the quality of your work, stop trying to do so much at the same time. Do one thing until it’s done. And then move to the next item. And this doesn’t just mean only doing one thing at a time, it also means focusing on one thing at a time. You can’t have your mind thinking about one thing while you’re working on another.
Stop checking your phone
Whether it’s email, text messages, tweets, Facebook posts, or any of the other hundreds of channels you use every day, mindlessly checking your phone will waste hours. Nothing looks more ridiculous than two people sitting in a restaurant together staring at their phones. Why bother going out if you’re not interacting with each other?
I’m as guilty of this as anyone. Checking your phone is addictive. But it accomplishes very little.
Instead of checking your phone every 2 minutes or whenever it makes noise, schedule blocks of time to check. Maybe it’s once per hour. Or maybe, it’s once per day. You figure out how often works for you.
Only talk on the phone when necessary
This can be difficult depending on your situation. In my prior job, I worked remotely. And as such, phone and video interaction were the primary methods I used to stay in contact with other members of the company.
But phone discussions can be time-consuming and inefficient. Phone and video calls require both parties to be connected simultaneously. And there’s nothing worse than sitting on hour-after-hour of conference calls listening to other people talk about their schedule for the day.
While there can be a need for phone or video calls, try to minimize the time spent on the phone. And when you do talk on the phone, make sure there there’s an agenda and the call is as efficient as possible.
Schedule activities as you would meetings and phone calls
My calendar is always full. I schedule everything. Whether it’s phone calls, meetings, time set-aside for projects, or just relaxation, I schedule the time on my calendar.
What’s worse than not taking any time for yourself? Taking the time, but spending it feeling guilty that you’re not working on something else. Scheduling your relaxation time helps with this.
When I stop scheduling and just tackle things as they come along, I spend too much time on things that don’t matter. The squeaky wheel gets the grease whether it needs it or not.
Work more efficiently to improve productivity
Stop valuing your contribution based on the effort invested and instead focus on the output achieved. We grew up believing in the traditional work ethic of fair pay for a fair day’s work. Somehow this changed into keep your head down and work hard.
I’m not bashing hard work here. But I am saying that smart work is better than mindlessly doing what you’re told. Use your brain, your skills, and your experiences to solve problems and work efficiently. Companies adopted this premise years ago. There is only so much time in the day and you only have so much energy available. It’s better to get more done with less effort.
The key for me improving my productivity is being deliberate. When I just let things happen rather than being proactive, time slips away. When I keep focused, making sure that I am thinking about what I’m working on, I get much more done at a much higher quality level. And when I struggle with productivity, I start writing things down. Having a written plan and referring to it often really keeps me operating at maximum productivity.
Readers, do you have any other suggestions for improving your productivity?
Dividends Down Under says
These are all really important, it is extremely easy to be distracted when we have so many entertaining distractions at our finger tips. I make sure my phone is on silent at work so it can’t taunt me as a distraction.
It’s quite sad when we go out to dinner and we see a couple just looking at their phones – maybe a bad first date?
I completely agree with you about being deliberate. It’s extremely easy to just let the time go by, looking through news websites, or finance websites, or Reddit, or YouTube etc. etc. Unless I actively do what I want to do, it’s easy for the time to fly by.
I find listening music helps me concentrate on what I’m doing, ever since I was learning at school.
Financial Slacker says
I like listenting to music while working as well. It’s funny, when I was in school, I could have very loud music playing while doing homework. My roommates looked at me like I was carzy, but I think it serves as white noise and keeps me from mentally wandering too much.View Comment
Martin - Get FIRE'd asap says
Hi there FS. I’m very much a ‘lists’ person. if I don’t write things down on lists, they tend not to get done. My list items take priority over non-list items so if it’s not on the list it may not get done. I use to use a lot of sticky notes but now I put all of my to-dos on my phone with reminders. This has made life a bit easier and I’m saving 2 or 3 trees a year from being cut down. That’s my way of staying efficient.View Comment
Financial Slacker says
I’ve been a list person for a long time. Although sometimes, I spend too much time making the lists and not actually crossing things off.
I’ve bounced back and forth between notepads, sticky notes, and online notes. Right now, I’m using Moleskin notebooks for everything. I know they’re expensive, but for some reason, I do well when I chronicle activities and thoughts in them.View Comment
Vicki@Make Smarter Decisions says
The checking of phones is definitely a huge issue and I agree, seeing two people in a restaurant on their phones and not talking to each other is commonplace everywhere now. What makes me sadder is watching little kids trying to get their parents attention and all the parents are doing is looking at their phones. Those days go by SO fast and kids need to hear words to grow their own vocabularies. Is checking Twitter more important than talking to your child (or spouse, or friend)? Great advice to put it down – check once a day and remember what is important.View Comment
Financial Slacker says
Also, your kids copy your behaviors. If they see you constantly checking their phones, why should they do the same? It’s hard enough to keep kids off screens these days.View Comment
Finance Solver says
I love the stop checking your phone and be in the moment advice. It takes a lot of brainpower and effort to switch between tasks and even just the small things like switching between tabs on the internet or clicking on an extra link to check back later can destroy productivity. I think women are better than men at multitasking but that still doesn’t make them phenomenal at it. It’s a hard thing to take in, but we are human after all.View Comment
Financial Slacker says
Not to generalize too much, but you might be on to something. Ms. Financial Slacker is definitely better than me at getting more things done.View Comment
When I really need to focus, I try to have my work area/room as clean as possible so that my mind can’t wander onto those cleaning tasks.View Comment
Financial Slacker says
I have a habit of cleaning my work area as a form of concentration. I can always tell how busy I am by how organized my desk is.View Comment
Gena Fryar says
Stop checking your phone! Probably the most important part of this article for the employees and entrepreneurs of today. Phones have so much information in them these days and when people pick them up, it’s either for 15minutes at a time or it is six times in one minute(serious time/productivity waster). Great post.View Comment