The following are 26 productivity tips for busy professionals that would immediately boost and systematize your efforts in increasing your overall productivity effectiveness.
According to wikipedia, productivity is the average measure of the efficiency of production. In the context of the busy executive, it relates to how much can be produced with the resources in hand. These resources are typically time and energy.
- Productivity Tip #1 – Read Getting Things Done
- Productivity Tip #2 – Use Evernote
- Productivity Tip #3 – Build a Productivity System That Becomes a Routine
- Productivity Tip #4 – Automate Your Productivity System
- Productivity Tip #5 – Review and Refine Your Productivity System
- Productivity Tip #6 – Invest in Personal Management Tools and Apps
- Productivity Tip #7 – Estimate Time for Each Tasks
- Productivity Tip #8 – Work in Blocks of 30 minutes
- Productivity Tip #9 – Manage Your Email Effectively
- Productivity Tip #10 – Manage Your Meetings
- Productivity Tip #11 – Optimize Your Reading
- Productivity Tip #12 – Avoid MultiTasking
- Productivity Tip #13 – Impose Deadlines on Tasks
- Productivity Tip #14 – Goal Oriented Approach
- Productivity Tip #15 – Increase Self Awareness by Journaling
- Productivity Tip #16 – Increase Self Awareness by Self Discovery
- Productivity Tip #17 – Complete Most Difficult Tasks In The Morning
- Productivity Tip #18 – Make Bulk of Your Decisions in the Morning
- Productivity Tip #19 – Master the Art of Decisions Making
- Productivity Tip #20 – Monitor Time Wasters
- Productivity Tip #21 – Manage Distractions
- Productivity Tip #22 – Outsource and Delegate
- Productivity Tip #23 – Conduct Regular Planning and Reviews
- Productivity Tip #24 – Focus on Achieving Small Victories
- Productivity Tip #25 – Keep Tools and Resources Handy
- Productivity Tip #26 – Carry Out Regular Housekeeping
Productivity Tip #1 – Read Getting Things Done
This is the first thing that any productivity enthusiast should do. Its one of the best systems out there. Its a productivity system developed by David Allen. Read his book “Getting Things Done” as an immediate first step. You need to be aware that it is a system that you will need to adapt to your prodcutivity needs. Its very unlikely that you will be able to use it as it is.
Productivity Tip #2 – Use Evernote
You should consider using Evernote as a dumpsite for all digital information and scans of physical paper. Digital information includes web bookmarks, web pages to read later and PDFs of documents. Physical paper includes receipts, notes, loose pieces of paper and any paper for which you can’t find a place. You will find more uses for Evernote the more you use it.
Productivity Tip #3 – Build a Productivity System That Becomes a Routine
You should endeavour to build a productivity system that you can convert into a routine. One of the best ways to build a productivity system is to use checklists that you can use as a guidepost to build your routines on a daily, weekly, monthly and even annual basis.
Productivity Tip #4 – Automate Your Productivity System
Automation is key to increasing productivity. Look at your system and identify where activities are repeated on a routine basis. These are prime targets for automation. These include;
- Automatic bill payments
- Structuring email system to move bills and financial statements into a folder that you can review on a monthly basis.
- Force others to follow routine. Build recurring reminders
Productivity Tip #5 – Review and Refine Your Productivity System
Consider the following points when reviewing and refining your productivity system;
- Set regular time windows for system review. You review will identify shortfalls and improvement possibilities. This is when you want to look at possibilities of increasing system efficiency and effectiveness. As a start, set 1 hour every alternate week to review what went worn and where the system can be better.
- Set a longer period of say 2 to 3 hours once every month, for a more in-depth review of newly available tools and mobile apps.
- Do not change your system more than 10% on a monthly basis. This helps ensure that your routine gets built effectively.
- Do not get too caught up with fine-tuning the system. Your system change should be minimal from month to month. Too much change in your system on a monthly basis will cause mental fatigue. You will not be able to keep up with the changes.
Productivity Tip #6 – Invest in Personal Management Tools and Apps
Technology is one of the main reasons for the increase in workload. Email, social media and instant information availability puts tremendous demands on our time and productivity. Using the latest tools and mobile apps is one way to manage this overload. A minimum requirement is to have a personal task and event management system that is ubiquitous on your all of your devices. A lot of people still use a paper or diary based system. While its still better than not having a system, a paper based system in the current age is like driving a Ford Model-T in a Formula One Grand Prix. Its still better than someone who is without a vehicle (i.e. not having a personal management tool) but this is not going to get him far. Examples of personal productivity apps include Omni Focus, Informant, Things, among others.
Productivity Tip #7 – Estimate Time for Each Tasks
Ultimate productivity is achieved when you can effectively estimate the time it will take to finish a task. This is what separates the novices from the professionals. As your productivity effectiveness increases, you will be able to estimate the approximate time required for you to finish a task considering the resources you have and the competences. You should also review when estimations are off-track and take steps to improve future predictions.
Productivity Tip #8 – Work in Blocks of 30 minutes
A 30 minute time block is ideal for planning your tasks. Think in blocks of 30 minutes. This is also in line with the Promodoro Technique. This technique uses a timer to force you to work on your task for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. Each promodoro is a 30 minute chunk of time. Learn to break your tasks down to multiples of 30 minutes or to the number of promodoros.
Productivity Tip #9 – Manage Your Email Effectively
Effective email management is essential if you want to take control of your productivity. It is the single biggest strain on your time and focus. Most people spend their entire working day dealing with emails. You need to setup an effective email management system. Key points to note when managing your email system are;
- Schedule email processing to once or twice a day
- Set up the appropriate email folders for “next actions”, “waiting for”, “reference” and archive folders.
- Processing your inbox essentially means moving your mail to the respective action folders. You need not take action unless it takes 2 minutes or less to do so. This is the 2 minute rule advocated in the GTD system.
- Avoid email management from your phone unless you want to use it to quickly scan for possible urgent actions. Email management on the phone is inefficient if you are just glancing at the emails without taking appropriate action. Unless you are able to effectively move the mail to the respective action folders, avoid reviewing email on the phone.
For a step-by-step process to manage your inbox, please refer to Email Productivity Hacks for Entrepreneurs and Professionals.
Productivity Tip #10 – Manage Your Meetings
Most executive’s schedules are taxed by back to back meetings. Consider the following guidelines before agreeing to attend meetings;
- Ensure that the goal or objective of the meeting is clear to all attendees. As a rule, set 1 to 3 meeting goals and re-emphasize these at the start of each meeting. Ask the organizer to fix this if it is unclear. When there is a clear meeting goal, you can assess if it is met at the end of the meeting.
- Ensure that the agenda is clearly defined
- You maybe required to attend meetings which you know are a waste of time but yet cannot get out of. In this case, look for alternative tasks you could do during the meeting without attracting too much attention towards yourself. One of it could be catching up on your reading or clearing your email.
Productivity Tip #11 – Optimize Your Reading
Most executives sacrifice their reading when under time pressure. Reading material very quickly piles up. Its not long before the executive becomes numb and just gives up on reading. Here are a few tips to get your reading under control;
- Designate your reading time and build a routine around it. This could be a half hour before you sleep. It could also be other periods when it would be easier to read than to do another task.
- Move your reading material onto your mobile devices and read when possible. You could do this when you are in “waiting mode” such as queues. You could use apps such as Scribd or Kindle to read books.
- Transfer all articles to Evernote or Pocket. This has two benefits. Firstly, you can be sure that there is a catchment of all your reading material. Secondly, you could always find free time in your day to go through the material on your mobile device. This only works if you are actively processing the material that is being stored on these apps.
- Read book summaries instead of complete books. Book summaries are able to extract the gist of a book and present it to you in under 5 to 10 pages. Upon reading the book summary, you can decide whether to purchase the full book. Examples of book summary services include Business Book Summaries, Blinkist, Get Abstract, Soundview Executive Business Summaries. Do be mindful that the quality of the summaries vary greatly from one service to another.
For more detailed tips to optimize your reading, read “Effective Reading for Busy Executives“.
Productivity Tip #12 – Avoid MultiTasking
You may have heard by now that multitasking is a myth. Real power is obtained from having focus when carrying out tasks. You should focus on getting tasks done one at a time. They key is to prioritize tasks, be able to assess the time required and correctly decide on the right task at the right time (concept of context from GTD).
Productivity Tip #13 – Impose Deadlines on Tasks
You need to impose deadlines on your tasks. These deadlines have to be sacred. The sanctity of these deadlines become compromised if you start missing them. There is power in meeting your own deadlines. This power can be gained within a week if you are strict in meeting your deadlines. Similarly, you can become numb to its effect if you neglect your deadlines even for 2 to 3 days.
Productivity Tip #14 – Goal Oriented Approach
Have a goal oriented approach to life. As an example, plan your activities along the following principles;
- 3 main goals for the day – Spend 5 minutes to decide on this the night before
- 3 main goals for the weekend – Decide on this during your weekly review
- 3 main goals for the month – Decide on this at the end of the month
- 3 main goals for the quarter – Decide on this at the end of the quarter
- 3 main goals for the year – Decide on this at the end of the year
Having a goal oriented approach to life inevitably increases your productivity by intensifying your focus. You will always have feedback when your efforts are going astray. It’s best to identify your long term goals and work backwards. These goals should be treated as sacred and all efforts must be carried out to achieve these goals. As stated before, the exercise loses its magic when you start missing goals and don’t take proactive action to get back on track.
Productivity Tip #15 – Increase Self Awareness by Journaling
Increased self awareness is the feedback loop required for continuous productivity improvements. Increasing your awareness of your daily activities and habits will boost your productivity results. You need to be aware of your actions and its consequences. You need to be constantly having your eyes on your goals, making a plan, implementing the plan and reviewing the effects of the actions taken. You could either journal the old fashion way or use the many available mobile apps.
An effective journaling app is Grid Diary. You set a number of questions. You then answer these questions on a daily basis. This process would force you to be more aware.
The goal should be to assess your current condition and look for ways to improve. Keep track of what’s working and what’s not. Refine your system with this feedback.
Productivity Tip #16 – Increase Self Awareness by Self Discovery
This essentially means getting to know yourself better. There are many online assessments you can take to know your strengths, character traits, productivity effectiveness and others.
Productivity Tip #17 – Complete Most Difficult Tasks In The Morning
Your willpower is a limited resource. You need to get the most difficult tasks done early in the day. Its always a good choice to finish your exercise early in the morning. Leave the easier tasks for the end of the day and you will find your productivity getting an immediate boost.
Productivity Tip #18 – Make Bulk of Your Decisions in the Morning
Research has shown that your decision making ability is increasingly compromised as you go through the day. This is known as decision fatigue. Your decision making muscle is a limited resource. There is a limited amount of sound decisions you can make in the later part of the day. You should create a system where you make the bulk of your decisions early in the day. Leave any difficult decisions that come up later in the day, for the next morning.
Productivity Tip #19 – Master the Art of Decisions Making
Build a system that allows you to gather enough information before you make a decision. This could be either by you collecting the relevant information or your subordinates doing so. Once you have the relevant information, make decisions and move on. For scenarios where the information available is limited, weigh the pros/cons and make snap decisions. This allows you to manage your decision making resources and not cause decision fatigue.
Productivity Tip #20 – Monitor Time Wasters
Increase your awareness of time wasters in your life. This could be people or distractions such as electronic devices. Most people are not aware how much time they spend on their mobile phones. Iphones can now show you the number of hours being spent on each application. This could be a revelation to many as they discover the amount of time spent on mindless activities such as social media. You should also identify the people who repeatedly snatch time from you and build a defense mechanism around it.
Productivity Tip #21 – Manage Distractions
Learn to manage distractions. The first step in managing distractions is to be aware of them. Once this awareness is there, build a strategy around how you can minimize the effects of these distractions. Knowing temptations allows you to avoid falling into the trap of these temptations. If you get distracted because of a weak focus, use a technique like the Promodoro Method that will force you to strengthen your focus muscle.
Productivity Tip #22 – Outsource and Delegate
Look for means to outsource and delegate mundane work. Anything that can be done by others should be done by others. You need to have the wisdom to discern this. You should continually strive to look for work that is challenging which others will not be able to do.
Productivity Tip #23 – Conduct Regular Planning and Reviews
Reviewing the current status of your productivity system is essential ;
- Plan tasks and review activities for the next day. This should be a 10 to 15 minute overview to asses the 3 main goals for the next day, appointments and key tasks you want to carry out. This will get you mentally prepared for the next day.
- Plan activities for the weekend on Friday. The weekend may be the only time when you can get your own stuff one. With proper planning, you can get all your errands done and have sufficient free-time for your self. Identify and focus on 2 main goals that you want to achieve over the weekend.
- Review of current status and planning for the upcoming week. This activity should take up to 2 hours. You should ensure that you process all your GTD collection baskets and plan activities for the upcoming week.
- Review of current month’s goals and setting goals for the upcoming month. You want to ideally to this on the last Friday of the month. This can be done with your weekly review. This will give you an elevated view of where you are heading and whether it is in-line with your quarterly and annual goals.
Productivity Tip #24 – Focus on Achieving Small Victories
Do not get carried away with building the best system. The main goal is to achieve small victories. The more you achieve, the more belief you will have in your ability to achieve.
Productivity Tip #25 – Keep Tools and Resources Handy
You should have all the necessry tools and resources available when you need them. As an example;
- Ensure that your work bag is optimized with the necessary tools to enhance your productivity. Such tools could include a power bank, necessary cables, stationery, files to capture and process information.
- Ensure that your desk space has the necessary tools handy. Stationery should be readily available. You should not be wasting time searching for it when the need arises.
Productivity Tip #26 – Carry Out Regular Housekeeping
Housekeeping is absolutely necessary to ensure that all your tools and resources are optimized. You need to allocate time for regular housekeeping activities. This should include all your working spaces and tools. Housekeeping should be carried out on physical and digital resources. This includes hard disks, apps, desk space and files. It is probably worthwhile to do this 2 to 3 times a year. It is best to fix the date to do this to ensure it gets done.