This essay is the third in a series on maximizing professional and personal productivity.
Okay. So far, we’ve planned our work, put systems in place to keep our people informed and are rowing in the right direction. The next step (Step 3) towards increased productivity is to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
The five components of this step are:
- Remove distractors
- Schedule tasks and block time
- Go all in on tasks
- Knock out the 2-minute tasks
- Maintain high energy levels
In many respects, this step can be the hardest one, largely because of the number of distractors that vie for our attention.
Here are some ways to remove distractors.
- Find quiet time – Whether its early in the morning before everyone shows up at the office, during lunch, or some other time, there are bound to be times when you can work without having to respond to email, messages or knocks on the door or cubicle wall. For me, this time is early in the morning, which is also when I am freshest, most alert and most able to concentrate and be creative.
- Close the door – When we close our door, we send a signal that we’re not to be disturbed. But so often, leaders leave their doors open because they want to be available to others. Doing so may sound noble but we must be able to communicate that they also need to get things done and will be available to people at the right time.
- Power down –
- Shut off your phone (or at least set it to silent.)
- Stay off social media. (According to a cross platform media study, more than 90% of adult Americans spend 15-18 hours per month on Facebook alone. A report from a global outplacement agency showed that over the course of the 17-week league, fantasy football costs employers over $14B in lost productivity.)
- Create an email autoresponder that informs people when you will read and respond to email (11 AM and 4 PM are generally good times) and do the same for your voicemail message. Let people know how they can reach you in the event of emergency, such as through your secretary.
For the above strategies to be effective, it’s imperative that you schedule tasks and block out time to complete them.
In our first productivity post we discussed to-do lists and the need to prioritize them. That said, to-do lists are not nearly as effective as scheduling tasks. The reason for this is simple. When a task gets scheduled, it is much likelier to get done (as opposed to getting pushed further down a to-do list.)
If you’re the type to review your calendar the night before (or even that morning,) you will have seen the different scheduled events and readied for it. When the “event” pops up on your calendar, it grabs your attention. And since nothing else has been scheduled on top of it, you are free to dive in and get stuff done.
I also suggest you consider blocking out time for some of your deferable tasks (tasks that don’t need to be done right now but are important and will weigh on you until they’re completed, such as booking airline tickets for a family vacation). Knowing that you’ve blocked time for that will allow you to work on your prioritized items without worrying that you won’t find time for the deferable tasks. For larger, more involved tasks, block out 90 minutes. A study from Florida State University found that productivity and performance are at their peak during uninterrupted 90-minute intervals.
The next thing to keep in mind is go all in on specific tasks and avoid multitasking like the plague. Multitasking has become popular with those who see it as a way to kill multiple birds simultaneously. For example, we try to return calls or listen to messages while reviewing and editing reports. Research has clearly shown that not only do you get less done than you might think, the divergence of mental focus will often lead to poorer job performance, as well as a feeling from others that you’re not sufficiently focused.
While blocking time will offer the opportunity to deep dive into specific tasks uninterrupted, there are going to be quick items that you can knock out in around 2 minutes. These mini-tasks are governed by the “one touch rule,” which states that if a task can be completed right away in just a few minutes, they should just be done. If it is important for you to do and you have the time to do it, then get it done straight away. Postponing important tasks often leads to procrastination or feelings of anxiety or stress, which will only slow you down.
Of course, you can only do as much as your energy levels permit. Sure, you can trick your system for a bit with caffeine and other stimulants, but that approach is neither healthy nor sustainable. Instead, consider these strategies to maintain high energy levels throughout the day:
- Eat nutritious foods and keep a supply of light, healthy snacks.
- Drink water often and stay hydrated.
- Exercise daily, ideally before work or when your body typically starts lagging.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Drink coffee judiciously (best before 2 PM).
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Stay mentally, emotionally and spiritually connected through such things as yoga, gratitude exercise, and prayer, respectively.
Our next post in this productivity series will offer pointers on how to sustain our work and momentum over time. For more tips on being productive, I invite you to sign up for my blog to get regular content delivered to your inbox.
Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, is an executive coach and President of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. For a free, no obligation consultation, please call 212.470.6139 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his new leadership book, “Becoming the New Boss”, on Amazon and on the book site, BecomingtheNewBoss.com. Download his free eBook for understaffed leaders at ImpactfulCoaching.com/EPIC.