There are lots of productivity strategies out there.
In fact, some people spend so much time collecting productivity tips that they have very little time to actually be productive. It lessens the guilt of procrastination – If I’m reading about curbing procrastination, I’m not procrastinating!
I try not to spend too much time collecting these tips. I also try to distinguish between pretty useless tips, as well as those that are pretty self-evident, and those that are actually insightful.
The following are insights I have learned over the years and successfully applied to my life, helping me work much faster than the average person (when I stop procrastinating enough to actually do so).
Learn to type. This should be a no-brainer. You can learn to type with multiple online programs, and the great thing is that over time your typing will naturally get faster – while hunting and pecking will always be more cumbersome for multiple reasons.
Learn keyboard shortcuts. Closely related to typing, the principle here is that your fingers can work a lot faster than your mouse curser can. It’s worth taking a couple minutes to learn the key shortcuts for the programs you use a lot. You gain not only the time saved between actions; you also retain a consistent streak when you batch items together (see below).
The 80/20 Principle. This is a game changer. I wrote an entire article on this topic, but in a nutshell, this principle suggests that only 20 percent of what you are doing is resulting in 80 percent of your successes. Find out what those are, and stop doing everything else. Don’t be busy for business sake, and don’t assume other people are being efficient – figure out what works and focus solely on that. You’ll find yourself with a ton of spare time.
Parkinson’s law. This principle was hammered into me by Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Work Week, where he cites Parkinson’s law – the perceived importance of a task grows in relation to how much time is allotted to it. Just because something is important, doesn’t mean it needs to take a long time – you can still write a critical report in 20 minutes, or get a project done in one day if you have no other choice. Instead, we spread it out over hours and days – which is wasteful.
Deadlines. Closely related to Parkinson’s law, this principle is based on the natural human tendency to work best under pressure. Put your deadline three weeks from now, and you’ll still find yourself doing the bulk of the work the day before. I embrace this principle, and either take on large tasks with unusually short deadlines, trusting that the deadline will ensure completion of the project; and when the deadline is not mine to control, I intentionally leave the task until right before the deadline and do other things beforehand.
Batching. An important principle taught by David Allen of Getting Things Done fame, batching is the opposite of multi-tasking. Instead of switching from one thing to the next, which requires your brain to recalibrate itself, you group similar tasks together and perform them all at once – like making phone calls, writing, or sending emails. Multi-tasking is terrible for your productivity, while batching can even allow you to enter a state of flow – an ideal state of focused creativity.
Wunderlist’s to do list app has a cool feature where you can add a #hashtag to a task. This allows you group your tasks by project, while still quickly accessing all the #calls or #emails you need to do - across all projects - with just one click.
Pick up the phone. We all know emails are much easier. But they lead to delays, miscommunication, and lots of wasted time. Need something done? Pick up of the phone and explain yourself. It will take a fraction of the time and will be a lot more effective.
No meetings. Meetings are a personal peeve of mind. Ridiculously unproductive, there is little value in having a live conversation with more than two other people. An unnecessary, one hour long meeting with eight people in it effectively wasted one human work day- and this is often an hourly occurrence. Want lots of people to get an update? Write them all a mass email. Want specific people to know what to do? Talk to them only, and spare the rest. This is the exact opposite of what is done in practice – we meet en masse, and write emails to individuals.
The only exception is if you actually want to tap into the insights or creativity of all the people in the room. Be honest with yourself though, the larger the group, the less interaction you will get from most people; many meetings don’t even pretend to seek the insights of others. Remember: the success of a project usually correlates to the smallness of its creative team.
Quick wins, and the two minute rule. When looking at your to do list (which should only have actually important things on it, see the 80/20 principle), pick out the tasks that you can quickly complete. These will give you a sense of satisfaction, and get the ball rolling quickly. David Allen speaks about setting time to get through your to do list – quickly finishing each task that takes less than two minutes.
Empower others first. I learned this one from Amy Holtz, Jerusalem U’s president. When going through your tasks, make it a priority to get people the information, instructions, or content they need to start their own work, to maximize their efficiency (although you should try to have them be as autonomous and independent as possible).
Clear to empty. Not as life changing as the other principles mentioned here, I still find this principle useful, since a cluttered workspace or desktop makes it very hard for me to stay focused. Clear to empty implies that you should make sure to make sure your work environment is clean and tidy when you finish your workday, allowing you to start fresh the next day. This means, for example, that you should shut down, not just hibernate your computer (and your IT technician will thank you as well).
Write action steps in your to do list. This final tip is small but helpful. The creative folks behind Behance have created the action method, which recommends always writing out the actual action step in your to do list. Instead of writing “email Jessica”, write “get Jessica the instructions for the website changes”. Although it takes a few extra words, this will allow you to perform the actions much more quickly, without having to sit and ponder what it is you actually meant by “Write JMG Prop.” (this approach is recommended in Getting Things Done as well).
I hope you found these insights helpful and productivity boosting. Let me know which you found most helpful, or if you have any strategies of your own, in the comments below.
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