In researching productivity tips for this blog, I had a revelation… I’ve read it all before. I have blogged on this topic in the past, and I confess that I usually take the bait and click on articles with titles like “10 Productivity Hacks that Will Change Your Life” or whatever the catchy title might be. If it wasn’t a new tip, what was the revelation? I realized that I know all the advice, but I don’t necessarily take it. So, I decided to do an experiment. What would happen if, for one day, I followed the expert advice of these Internet lists and implemented the expert tips for increased productivity?
First, I pulled together a solid list of expert tips from a few different sources.
Here’s a summary of all the tips I tried:
Tip 1: Focus on What Matters
Not to brag, but I like to think I was doing pretty well at this one before. Using our Rhythm methodology really forces the issue - I am always focused on what’s important and how it connects to the big picture because I follow our method. All of my priorities in Rhythm connect to my department’s priorities, our company quarterly priorities and our annual initiatives and Winning Moves. My team helps me prioritize projects each quarter, so it makes saying no to competing projects easier for me on a day to day basis.
The part that I tried for the first time for this experiment was outsourcing. Since I don’t have a team under me, I don’t have a lot of practice delegating. But, I can use automation to outsource some of my daily tasks. I’ve been looking into new ways to use apps like Zapier and Process Street to make some of my daily administrative duties take care of themselves. Pretty cool! I can feel the productivity rush already; although, setting up automation is a pretty labor intensive process up front.
Tip 2: Plan Your Day
Here’s an area where I have some serious room for improvement. Yesterday before I left work, I did my best to map out my workday in advance. I usually do a little of this anyway, but not in so much detail. I find that recording my daily huddle notes in Rhythm helps me plan my day by forcing me to identify what my top priorities are. I typically end my workday by putting in my huddle note for the next day. It is a nice way to recap the day by writing out victories and prioritizing for tomorrow so I can hit the ground running when I get to the office. But, in addition to my huddle notes, I took a stab at laying out my whole day on my calendar. Since I know that I am better at creative tasks in the morning than in the afternoon, I blocked out ninety minutes in the morning to work on writing this blog. Then, I got all excited about making an infographic to go along with it, and my ninety minutes turned into a couple of hours. I had some meetings already on my calendar, so I had to stop in the middle of writing. Probably not a productivity expert’s dream scenario, but hey, this is the real world. I do think blocking the time first thing to work on this helped me get more done, though.
As for living by a routine, I have a baby so that one feels like a given. Wake up, bottle, breakfast, play, nap, drop off at daycare, go to work, pick up at daycare, dinner, bath, bottle, bed… and repeat… But, having a baby has also taught me the importance of the “gap” in your carefully planned day. Having an infant means I always have to allow extra time between things for an unexpected diaper change or temper tantrum. Applying this to my work schedule, allowing gaps between meetings or projects means I can stretch my legs, get a glass of water, or finish up a quick email even if my last meeting went fifteen minutes longer than it should have.
Tip 3: Organize Your Information
This is embarrassing… I am ashamed of how messy my desk was when I really looked at it. I had plastic silverware sets (for some reason, we never have enough real forks in the office so I find myself opening sets of silverware only for the fork and leaving the rest in a sad pile on my desk.) I had two notepads with random things scribbled from different meetings - all of which later made their way to my “official” to do list as action items in Rhythm. Of course, I have all the usual suspects - a cup with pens, picture frames, Kleenex, water, keys, sunglasses, etc. In an effort to follow the experts and “declutter,” I moved the silverware into a drawer, packed my sunglasses and keys in my bag to take home, and moved the notepads and pens to the top of my file cabinet behind me. Now I am prepared to experience the zen-like calm of a decluttered desk containing only my computer, monitor, phone (and my two family photos…)
As for being able to get my hands on information quickly, thank goodness I have mastered the “Search” functionality in my email! Putting everything in Rhythm also helps with this. Using comments on priorities instead of sending emails helps me keep the information I need all in one place.
Tip 4: Avoid Time Wasters
One of the articles I read recommended setting a ten-minute-a-day limit on social media. Truly a terrible representative of my generation, I don’t think I spend that long on social media as it is. I won’t start a social media habit that I didn’t previously have but wanted to share the tip in case it helps you. However, I do desperately need help overcoming an email addiction. My previous role depended on quickly answering emails, but now, I mostly get internal emails from coworkers about matters that aren’t urgent. It was deeply uncomfortable, but I actually closed the browser tab with my email for the ninety-minute time slot that I set aside for working on this blog. I felt a little lost without it at first, but I am happy to report that I was much less distracted, and during that time, nobody died from lack of rapid email response from me. Phew!
As for pointless meetings, thankfully, our company doesn’t have this problem. But, it is such a common productivity buster that we made a funny video about it. You can check it out here if you need a good laugh.
Tip 5: Do It Now
I’m always amazed at how many things I can get done when I am busy trying not to do the one thing that most needs to get done. Like many others, I confess to being an expert procrastinator at times. And, like most other procrastinators I know, my top reason for not getting things done right away is that I want them to be perfect. I have a coworker who continually inspires me. She’s always the first to respond to emails or turn in her part of projects. She doesn’t even make to do lists… she just does the darn thing. It is amazing. I’m making an effort to be less of a perfectionist and more like my coworker who never seems to procrastinate… I'm a work in progress.
As for multitasking, I am a firm believer in the research that it just doesn’t work. But, avoiding multitasking is easier said than done. I find that I am always more energized when I do turn off my phone and iChat and email and do just one thing until it is finished. That’s not always possible for me, though. At the very least, I’m trying to avoid multitasking when I should be using listening strategies. That means no checking emails or texts during meetings and actually looking at my husband when he's telling me about his day instead of taking the opportunity to get started on dinner. Again, a work in progress...
Well, I got this blog written! That’s pretty good. But, I was somehow able to get blogs done before I tried these expert tips, too. Granted, I didn’t have a productivity problem before I tried this little experiment, but I do think there’s always room for improvement, and I’m always willing to try something new.
I think what I learned is that we are all wired to work a little differently. What works for someone else might not be your thing. But, getting out of your comfort zone and trying new tips every once in a while is a good way to see if you find something that helps you get more accomplished, focus your energy, or just feel better about how you spent your day. So, try an experiment of your own and see what sticks.
Also, please comment and share your best productivity hacks with the rest of us.
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