Leadership

9 Ways to Be More Productive Today

Are consumers getting a good deal or a bad deal?

That was the question posed in an article I read earlier today. I found the article interesting until the very last point, where the author said that a “lack of time and mental bandwidth” basically excused the personal responsibility of these busy consumers — who don’t realize they are getting a bad deal. Thereby placing the fault on the industry for making things unfair.

Unfortunately, buying into the belief that you are disadvantaged because of a ‘lack of time’ only feeds a victim-like mentality.

And winners do not participate in this type of thinking.

When I read that quote, I immediately thought of nine ways to increase productivity today. So we can let go of the excuse that we don’t have enough time. Instead, decide that you do have the same resources as everyone else, you will just use them more efficiently.

I want to share with you what I came up with.

9 Things You Can Do Today to Be More Productive:

1. Make a List

At the start of each day, I make a list of what needs to be done. It helps me mentally prepare for the tasks that I will tackle. I have noticed that on days I don’t have a list in front of me, my time gets filled with menial activities. At the end of the day, I know I did stuff — but I have a hard time articulating what I completed.

My most productive days are notably more efficient when I take a few moments and list out what needs to be accomplished. This ranges from personal (pick up milk, call the plumber, etc) to professional (follow up with X client, review timesheets, etc). I try to list out everything as soon as it comes to my mind; I’ll handle it at the appropriate time. Nothing kills productivity like jumping from one thing to another.

My father and I refer to this as “mental gymnastics.” Rather than doing a series of complicated routines one after another, focus on the single task at hand.

[Tweet “Let go of the excuse that you don’t have enough time. Instead, accept you have the same resources, but use them more efficiently.”]

If you need a good list-making app, I recommend:

2. Prioritize

I have 4 lists going at all times (some may think that is excessive, but I combine Step 1: Make a List with Step 2: Prioritize).

My lists are:

  1. Urgent & Important
  2. Urgent, Not Important
  3. Not Urgent, Important
  4. Not Urgent, Not Important

Eisenhower's Time Management Quadrant MatrixThis method, famously used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is referred to as the “Urgent/Important Principle“. The nation’s 34th President was obsessed with using time effectively, not just efficiently.

Using this triage mentality, one can prioritize tasks as they come to your mind, rather than adding to a never-ending list of odds and ends stacked up in your To Do list.

That is just overwhelming.

Each day, my main priority is to complete the ‘Urgent & Important’ list. The next list to look at is ‘Important, Not Urgent’. Nearly everything else is delegated to my assistant or to the last part of the day when I am less motivated to do anything else.

3. Turn Off Distractions

If you are like the rest of us, you probably have opened yourself up to incoming distractions — even unintentionally.

Is your smart phone near your desk? Can you see the screen? Does it notify you every time someone does something on Facebook, Twitter, or share the latest daily deal?

If so, your brain stops your primary task and computes the incoming notification.

Be proactive in turning off distractions. Some folks have excellent self control and can choose when to avoid time sucks like Facebook, YouTube, and funny cat photos. Others need a little help.

Use browser plugins like:

Or the Do Not Disturb feature on your smart phone to limit distractions while you’re focused on work.

As much as I love Sidekick from HubSpot, even this is sometimes muted to avoid disturbing me while I’m ‘in the zone’.

4. Avoid Distractions

More than simply turning off distractions, learn to avoid them altogether.

For example, when I am writing blog posts like this, I use the full-screen mode of LightPaper for distraction-free writing. This blocks out all of the “stuff” on my computer and shows me only the document I am working on.

LightPaper for distraction-free writing

Also, pay attention to your environment. If you are lucky enough to work from home, are you set up in an area of your home that is free from distraction? If you work in an office, try using headphones to tune out the ambient noise and conversation around you.

If you are being honest, what causes you distraction throughout the day? How can you avoid that?

5. Delegate

For me, 2015 is the year of delegation! In fact, I have an entire section of my email series, 5 Diseases Plaguing Agencies that talks about delegating.

As I mentioned above, if it is not Urgent and Important for me to do, it gets handed off to someone else.

For example, I have someone helping me with daily chores like going to the post office, grocery shopping, and even laundry service. Why? Because my skills are best used helping agencies grow. I am not utilizing my skills to the fullest by driving around and looking down each aisle to find the right box of cereal. Besides, I hate shopping.

Not only do I delegate personal chores, but I look for ways to hand off professional tasks. I do not need to be the one personally booking flights, finding photos for my blog posts, or even accepting LinkedIn requests.

(I am happy to connect with you on LinkedIn, and I do look at every profile, but I do not need to manage the “Click Here To Accept” button.)

What are things you do each day that could be handed off?

6. Block Your Time

Grouping similar tasks into chunks of time is a very efficient way of completing a task. For example, I schedule times to check my email. Why? Because constantly checking email gives me plenty of excuses to not to something else.

Additionally, each Monday and Tuesday, I have a schedule for writing blog posts. This helps me get into the right mindset for research, writing, and teaching. I know what to expect to when get to the office at the start of each week.

I usually reserve Fridays for meetings. I am a natural introvert, and meeting with people usually takes a toll on me mentally and emotionally. I tend to handle it better when those types of meetings to not interrupt my creative flow on other days. I can double-down on Fridays and get through those in-person meetings without having to reset and get back into the creative or strategic mode I am usually in.

I have also found success when I block time for “Miscellaneous” because I know not every task fits neatly into a category. I mean, how do you prioritize watching your neighbor demolish his house? ha ha

Demolitions create distractions

7. Learn to Say No

Successful entrepreneurs and leaders know when to say no. It is a powerful word that can help you stay on course and on target.

There will always be interesting opportunities, new experiences, new connections, and new things to do — but you cannot do them all. Attempting to do so will only cause you to burn out and lose sight of your original mission.

At each of these decision points, compare the opportunity with your objective. Does this get you closer to your goal of closing more sales? Does this get you closer to hiring your first staff member? Does this get you closer to ________________?

If not, then say no.

8. Take Breaks

Taking breaks certainly sounds counterintuitive to being more productive, but it really works. I try to take a break for lunch and follow it up with about 20 minutes of rest.

Why? Because it helps me reset.

The first half of the day has its own issues. Why drag those emotions into the second half? Having a clear break (no smart devices at lunch or during the rest) helps me recharge and approach the second half of the day renewed.

Siesta, anyone?

9. Plan Tomorrow

At the end of today, set yourself up for a strong tomorrow. What did not get completed today that needs to be wrapped up? Make a list and prioritize it for tomorrow. That way, when you get to work, you have an idea of what you will do.

Plus, our brains are powerful problem solvers. If you were stumped today on a project, you will likely view it with new eyes tomorrow as your brain spent all night toiling to find a solution.

Next Steps

This is certainly not an all-inclusive list of how to be more productive, but they are tricks I use (almost) everyday to get more done.

Have you used any of these tips to improve your daily productivity? I would love to hear more. Leave comment below and share your thoughts.

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