I have always had peaks and troughs in my productivity. Some days I will do very little or nothing that I was supposed to get done. Some days I will do all that was required and more.
It’s important to understand the difference between being active and being productive. Activity includes such things as catching up with the backlog of tweets on Twitter, making sure you aren’t missing out on what your friends are doing on Facebook and installing updates of software to your computer to see what has changed since the last version. Sadly none of these things are what you probably should be doing during work hours.
At Modlia we implement many of the methods that David Allen talks about in his book The Art of Getting Things done. These include steps to emptying your email inbox, emptying your head into a system you trust and choosing the right thing to be doing right now.
I am no great example of constant and perfect productivity, but I have learnt a fair few things that may help you get the edge and stop yourself wasting most of your day doing the wrong things.
The biggest and best change for me was email.
The first step was turn my inbox upside down. New email now appears at the bottom of the list, forcing me to see the oldest email I haven’t dealt with again and again until I do something with it.
Doing something with an email could be one of delegating it, deleting it, adding an event or meeting to a calendar or creating a project or action from it. I’m sure there will be more about all these in a future post so I won’t go on about them too much, other than to say that you should read your inbox from top to bottom, old to new, and before you move to the next email you should have done something with the last one which allows you to remove it from your inbox.
Being interrupted is a killer for productivity and one that used to really damage my periods of being in the zone.
To stop interruptions I did three things:
I started working from home two days a week. I still have three days in the office to interact with people and discuss ideas and problems, but I have two full quiet days where nobody can tap me on the shoulder, wave at me or shout my name because they think their problem is more important than your work at the point in time. It may not be an option for you, but maybe starting early and finishing early could get you time in an empty office in the morning?
I started to use the headphone rule. If I have my headphones on, I am busy. No exceptions. It goes for anyone else in the office too so that I don’t interrupt them. Some offices use closed doors as a sign instead. Same idea.
I stopped communicating for periods of time, usually 30 minutes. Sounds silly but not answering the phone and closing your email, twitter and putting your mobile on silent won’t kill anyone. If it’s important they will leave a message and if it’s really important they will ring continuously until you answer the phone. Often what is really important to someone else isn’t important at all.
Split your tasks down
Take a task that you have to do and break into smaller pieces, then do the same thing again and then once more. The smaller the task, the more likely you are to want to do it. The more small tasks you get done and tick off, the more productive you are being, the more productive you feel and the more productive you will continue to be.
You all know the feeling of starting a large project? Well don’t start a large project, complete one small part of one small part of the project.
Next actions and finding who is responsible
Although it’s not really talked about openly at Modlia, we have a simple rule. When you send or reply to an email or other communication you must always do one of these things:
Confirm that you will take the next action. The task or project is now your responsibility and everyone else can forget about it until they hear otherwise. They don’t need to worry because they know you are taking the next action.
Ask if someone else is ok to take the next action. If you feel that someone else is more suited to taking the task or project forward then why not suggest it. They should reply with one of the options here, and hopefully they will just confirm that it’s now their responsibility.
Confirm that something is no longer important and can be binned. If you realise you don’t need to continue doing a task or project then let the other people involved know. They all have a copy of the email so let them all know they can bin it. Dead ends are fine as long as everyone knows they are a dead end.
Ask for more information. If you can’t do any of the above then this is the other option. Find out more so that you can then do one of the above.
It may seem like it’s less related to productivity, but actually the time taken to decipher emails which contain none of the above are a waste. There is nothing worse than having to send yet another email just to clarify where the project or task lies.
It’s that simple. You think you are getting it done. You probably could be getting it done faster or better if you walked away from your desk every 45 minutes and did something unrelated like read a book or sketched a picture or walked around the block on the phone to a friend.
Find what works for you
I have talked about what works for me above. Some of the methods may work for you and some may not, but the best thing to do is keep trying new things. If they work keep them and if they don’t then bin them.
There are plenty more ideas I implement, and I am sure there will be a follow on post at some point in the future.