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?