To achieve more, one must utilise time well. Distributing and structuring tasks and preparing beforehand will go a long way in enhancing productivity.
We are all given the same 24 hours in a day, and yet, some individuals seem to be able to achieve a lot more in that time frame unlike others. The issue is not a lack of time, as we all have the same measure. The issue is how well we use that time to achieve the objectives that will bring us the biggest result.
Here are some tips that I use that have helped in increasing my productivity three to four times more:
Stephen Covey in his seminal book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” uses the analogy of a woodcutter continually cutting trees and eventually seeing his blade becoming blunt. Instead of continuing to cut the tree with a blunt blade, he recommends that we should take time out to sharpen the saw so that the cutting is with a sharp blade to maximise the effectiveness of every swing at the tree. Whilst the time spent in sharpening the saw may seem to be ineffective, the benefit of swinging with a sharp saw outweighs the energy used for swinging at a tree with a blunt blade. The same applies to our work-life. We need to prepare for success by being disciplined in our preparations, so here are some preparation tips to ramp up your productivity:
Do a brain-dump of everything you can think of that needs to be done. Break them up into as many header categories as you think the task fits into. Headers such as work, family, personal, etc. Do this quickly in no more than 10 minutes, and do it preferably as the last thing that you do in a day so that your list is ready the following day to get cracking on.
Now prioritise these into High, Medium and Low priority tasks according to their importance. You can mark them with an A, B and C for ease of use.
Cluster tasks together so that you get into a rhythm of doing similar tasks together. For example, if you have a lot of calls to make, then package them into one cluster of tasks.
Dissect these tasks into categories that will take no longer than 50 minutes at a time so if you have a big task to achieve, then break it down into 50-minute projects.
Assess which 50 minute cluster you will do first, second, etc. and jot these down in a clear sheet that will see you start the day with a defined purpose and clarity.
Setting the Scene for Success
I get tired of all the time management advice that tells me I just need to have more will power to be able to overcome distractions. The truth is, that many times will power just doesn’t cut it as emergencies arise that demand that I pay attention to certain distractions. They are what I call legitimate distractions.
So how do I deal with these legitimate distractions? The secret that I have found is that we need to manage our environment. What I mean by this is that we need to set ourselves up for success in the first place by managing the environment that will see us be most effective. If that means closing the office door, going to a coffee house, or finding that secluded spot that will allow you to get on with your work, then that is what you need to manage. I am not talking about locking yourself off from the world for the entire day, but I am suggesting that you need to control your most productive time and protect it religiously. For some, the most productive time is the first thing in the morning, and for others, it is late at night. Whatever it is for you, I urge you to carve out this time and manage your environment so that you get on with producing great content during this time with no distractions.
A great way to ensure these legitimate distractions do not affect your productivity is to get into the discipline of doing the following:
Turn off your mobile phone and have all calls go through to message bank. Then once you have finished your most productive time, set up a session where you do nothing but return calls. If you are in an office and have an executive assistant, tell them to hold all your calls and return these at an appointed time.
Your e-mail is one of the biggest distractions. That bell alarm that notifies you of a new e-mail is one of the biggest distractions. My recommendation is to “work offline” during these times where you are most productive. In MS Outlook, you can do this with one click. Then set up specific sessions during the day where you will respond to these e-mails.
So if you have prepared well, and have managed your environment, you are now ready to rapidly accelerate your productivity through actually getting on and doing the work.
Thomas Edison well said that success is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. Many people go to the trouble of preparing long lists of things to be done, but fail to execute. If you have prepared well the night before, and have a disciplined approach to getting the work done, and have managed your environment for maximum effectiveness with no distractions, then you will see your productivity go off the charts.
Here is the system that I use to accomplish more than many other people in the same 24-hour period:
The 50-Minute Focus – Break your tasks into clusters of 50 minutes then set your stopwatch timer on your mobile to count down from 50 minutes. You can also get some timers to download onto your computer if this suits you better. Go hard at getting all that needs to be done in this 50-minute block. When the alarm goes off at the end of the 50 minutes, take a 10-minute break by doing something completely different – take a walk, make a coffee, talk to an associate. Whatever it is, make sure you give your brain a 10-minute break as it will bring closure to the last task and will prepare you for starting the next 50-minute focus block.
Set deadlines – If you are like the rest of us, you will note that perhaps the most productive time you ever have is the day before leaving on vacation. The fact that you will not be there forces you to prioritise and get things done. I want you to have this same mind-set for 365 days a year, and not just once a year. Set clear not negotiable deadlines to get the work done, and then get on with completing it within the designated time. Cut yourself some slack in the early days as you will get better at estimating how long certain tasks will take to get done.
Celebrate your productivity by doing something you enjoy doing. Most people gravitate towards the tasks they enjoy and not the tasks they have to do. Part of a disciplined approach is to achieve the most important tasks (many times they are not the most attractive tasks) first, and then reward yourself by doing some things you enjoy after these important tasks are completed.
There is a sort of power in preparing lists, organising the work to be done, then executing each one of those tasks systematically throughout the day. When you start applying the above principles, you will seize control of your day and find that you will achieve at least three to four times more work in the same 24-hour period.
This is where discipline and focus do come into the equation. You must start off every day with a determination to complete everything on your list - t is a not negotiable. If you start off with anything less, then you will be at the mercy of everybody else, who haphazardly work through their day without a plan.
It’s about personal leadership, so get into the driver’s seat and start steering down a path that will see you getting more done in less time.