I’m a fan of action and put a value on getting things done.
I also value that in other people, particularly team members and others I work with. In a time when it’s easy to waste away reading Facebook updates, following the lives of famous people or filling the time with busy work, people who know how to get the right things done on time are valuable.
I think productivity is not about personality or whether or not you’re a morning person. I think it’s about priority.
If what you’re doing is important, you should be effective. If that task at hand matters, it should be done well. If a project really matters, it should be properly planned and executed.
That’s not personality, that’s priority.
With that said, here are a few things I have learned (and continue to learn) about productivity.
#1 – It’s best to master a few tools and not worry about other shiny objects.
There are more productivity apps and techniques than ever before. And most of them won’t matter. Don’t be distracted by new stuff…just pick something and master it.
I’ve used Evernote for years to capture and store ideas. It works for me. I’ve customized it and use it every day.
I use Things to capture tasks. There are probably cooler or more modern apps that integrate with more things, but I don’t care.
We use Basecamp to run our business and I’m all in. I’m ignoring Slack and other tools because I’m committed to the thing we use. We invested in learning how to use it.
It doesn’t matter if your system is built on post-it notes, if you’re a master of the system, stick with it. Don’t worry too much about tools…choose a few of them and master them.
#2 – Review and plan your week.
George McKeown, the author of Essentialism says: “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
That’s also true of your schedule for the next seven days, too. If you don’t plan your week, someone else will.
Most people spend their time accomplishing other people’s priorities: their meetings, their projects, their results. But what about you?
It’s important to carve out time to work on your priorities and your projects.
At the beginning of every week, I take about 20 minutes and use this tool to plan my week. I think through the results I want to achieve, the projects I want to work on and the people I want to connect with.
This short video explains how it works.
Here is a PDF of that one-page document. It’s a pretty powerful exercise and it only takes a few minutes.
#3 – Put first things first.
If you’ve read about the 80/20 principle, you know the power of focus.
20% of the things you do produce 80% of your results. So prioritization is about figuring out where those 20% activities are and reversing the numbers.
If you can figure out the things that matter most and spend MORE of your time there, you’ll see better results. If you spend 80% of your time doing things that only matter a little bit, you’ll get to the end of the week tired from working on things that didn’t really matter.
- What’s the most important thing you need to do today? Do that first.
- What’s the most important result you want from the week? Do that early.
Simply refuse to do other things until the main thing is done.
In the context of business, putting first things first needs to show up in your meetings. If all of your staff meetings are filled with stupid stuff and you never actually spend time working on the things that are most important, you’re doing it wrong.
Read The Four Disciplines of Execution and orient your meetings around your priorities.
The stupid stuff will take care of itself. The big stuff needs your attention.
#4 – Write stuff down.
One of the biggest productivity tips I’ve learned is to just write things down and keep them visible.
That’s why my weekly planning exercise works. It’s a simple weekly plan written on a real sheet of paper and sitting on my desk throughout the week.
If you have goals, write them down. Write them everywhere.
If you make plans, put it on paper. Create a flowchart or a way to publicly track results.
Writing things down, keeping them visible, and sharing them with others is a powerful way to get things done.
#5 – Go home.
I heard Jerry Seinfeld talk about the five-hour energy drink.
He joked that if you get to the afternoon and find yourself in need of five more hours of energy, it’s just time to go home.
One of the keys to productivity is to pick a time when you can stop being productive.
Go home. Close the computer. Stop working.
Stopping and stepping away will give you better perspective anyway.
Taking a day off every week is good for you.
Taking a week off a couple of times a year is good for you.
And the people around you.