I am a very disorganized person. There. I said it. Whenever I make this point, though, people I work with smirk and say, “Yeah, right, sure you are.” I’d say we’re all slightly disorganized and some of us — like me — were once disorganized to a fault.
Throughout my early adulthood, I worked hard to structure much of my life around making sure I delivered on my commitments, and these days I spend time maximizing my productivity. Both are vitally important to being a “productive member of society.”
Productivity is a journey, and through it I’ve also come to understand that it’s not just about increasing impact. Meeting my commitments made me a happier person, and being impactful turned into an opportunity for creative whitespaces and chance happenings.
First, a warning: You can’t do it all. Changing habits takes time and effort and the bigger the effort, the less likely it is that the immediate value will offset the cost associated with the change. This list has thirty independent suggestions. Choose just four and stick to them for at least two weeks. Then try four more. Rinse, repeat.
Educate Yourself About Yourself and About Productivity
1.Be extra mindful — and honest — about how you spend your time. Identify at least three daily time wasters and eliminate them. For me, the biggest drains were recurring meetings. I religiously questioned every recurring meeting and have cancelled over 66% of them by suggesting a shared agenda file. If there are no pressing issues, the meeting is cancelled.
2. Understand your productive times and assess your energy levels throughout the day. It changes with age. Use the low-energy times for mindless tasks, like clearing your inbox or calling service providers.
3. Read Getting Things Done,
the productivity bible, by David Allen.
Take Control Of Your Day
4. Every morning spend ten minutes planning your day and write down what you’re going to accomplish. Print it out or write it in your notebook the old-fashioned way but make sure it’s on paper. Why? Others can’t just email you and cause distractions, plus you get the pleasure of crossing things off when you’re done.
5. Organize your calendar to reduce context switches and best utilize high/low energy periods. Group meetings together to allow for long stretches of meeting-free time.
6. Fight the notification addiction. Install Digital Wellbeing on your iOS or Android device. Monitor the notifications you receive and think hard about whether these are worth the interruption. Turn off all notifications from news sites, Twitter, Facebook, and that game you installed six months ago. Honestly, do you really need to know about that LinkedIn connection that just went live?
7. Use Pomodoro Timers as a way to maintain focus on a single task for 25 minutes. It’s easier to take a time-capped commitment to focus and it allows you to get up, stretch, and enjoy five guilt-free minutes of procrastination time between tasks.
Create Healthier Contracts With the People Around You
8. Initially, the hardest part of turning off notifications is giving up on that dopamine rush and that false feeling of importance that someone or something is seeking your attention. The bigger issue, however, is the disappointment that occurs when people expect you to respond. Negotiate social contracts with your counterparts as to how they can reach you urgently. Create ways for important messages to always get through so you won’t disappoint your peers.
9. Communicate your productive times to others so they understand how best to work with you. Explain that you aren’t being a jerk, but instead tell them when you’re most productive so they can avoid interrupting your flow time.
10. Create a “Don’t Do” list and share it. It contains all the things you won’t do. This serves a dual purpose. First, it lets others know what you decided not to do in order to meet your commitments, and second, it reinforces your commitment to not doing the items on the list.
11. Part of my job includes taking informal meetings. Living thirty minutes away from work means that dinner or drinks requires dedicating at least two hours for a sporadic meeting. In order to spend more time with my three boys while they still want to talk to me, I set Sundays as a day I’ll do as many meetings as necessary in one central place, and work from home on Tuesdays to spend quality time with the fam. Change this as you see fit.
12. Mark Zuckerberg is famous for wearing the same shirt every day. Decision-making is a finite resource, with some experts likening it to a muscle that can get fatigued from overuse. Reduce the fatigue by reducing your wardrobe. One idea I received after the Time Management talk at JoyTunes was that you can one-up Zuck by buying the same exact socks. This way you never have non-matching socks, even if one goes missing.
Communications: Email and Feed
13. Turn off email notifications. Use filters to notify you about emails from key people in your life and work. Use a rule to move emails where you are CC’ed to a side folder that you look at only once a day. If you use Slack, turn off all alerts other than direct messages and @ mentions.
14. Take responsibility for wasting other people’s time. No more “honorary CC.” It has the benefit of less replies, so less time wasted on your part as well. If someone doesn’t need to be part of an email thread or meeting, leave them out.
15. No more BCC.
It was evil in 2011 and it still is now.
16. Read emails only three to four times a day (or less!). Most emails aren’t time sensitive. We make ourselves believe they are. To reduce guilt, update others about your email reading times.
17. Put in the extra work to make every email the last by adding context and anticipating unanswered questions. Measure yourself by looking at the number of back-and-forth emails in any chain.
18. If the email requires action, either do it immediately or create a task summarizing what is required of you. Don’t read an email twice. You can use “Email-to-Task” features, like Asana’s firstname.lastname@example.org to directly import a task by forwarding an email. Archive it after you’ve read it. If you are uncomfortable doing that, figure out what is missing in the task you created.
19. Move to one task list, inclusive of all commitments and tasks you want to achieve. It will set your mind free from reminding itself of unwritten tasks and allow you to prioritize across all your different roles and responsibilities.
20. Don’t set “Due Dates.” One commonly used technique is “driving” oneself to do certain tasks on a given day by setting the task due date. There are always spillover tasks you don’t get to and you disappoint yourself when needing to change the due date to the following day and then the one after that. Set due dates only when that day is indeed the date when the task is due, and your view of self will improve.
21. Prioritize tasks not as high/medium/low, but rather focus on what you want to do “Today,” ideally “This Week,” and then filter out the “Later” ones until you re-evaluate next week. “Today” should be ordered according to priority and your schedule. The first items on “This Week” should be the ones you’d quickly get to if you finished your daily tasks. Remember, the less tasks you see on the list, the more likely you are to do them.
22. For the same reason, do every task that is supposed to take less than two minutes immediately.
23. Filter tasks by the context (location, resource availability, energy levels, person you need to be with) in which the task can be performed. If you can’t do a task, you shouldn’t see it. Use the tags functionality of your favorite task manager for this or simply color code your task list.
24. Track the tasks others have committed to by creating a task, setting their due date for when you want to remind yourself and them if they haven’t delivered yet.
25. In the meeting invite itself, you should set an agenda and goal. When a meeting doesn’t have an agenda, it will stretch out to whatever time was allocated for it, and if there are no goals, there is no way of knowing whether it was successful.
26. Send background material in advance and suggested solutions for every topic-based meeting.
27. It’s a good idea to leave a meeting when you feel you’re not needed. Make sure this is part of your company’s social contract and just get up and go when it doesn’t make sense for you to be there.
28. A good meeting is one that didn’t happen. Synchronous time is the most expensive thing in a company, as it not only takes the time of all the people in the room, but scheduling constraints mean latency is likely to slow down the entire team. If at all possible, find a way to get to a decision without waiting for face-to-face time.
Leverage Your Time
29. Delegate specific tasks to others who have more time/skill than you. By the same token, if you are the best person for a job, surprise others by clearing their plate and doing it yourself. Delight your team members.
30. Automate repeat tasks. No, you don’t need to be an engineer to automate — check out:
Printing & signing PDF files: Adobe Acrobat “Fill & Sign” function.
Scheduling external meetings: ScheduleOnce / Calendly, Clara Labs
Spam: too many emails? Try out sanebox.com
Integrating business processes: Cloudpipes, Zapier (Use zapier to connect
your water heater to weather.com’s API for weather-based activation!)
Small expert jobs? Codersclan, Upwork
Small human tasks? HeatIntelligence.com
Remember, just choose four!
Thanks to JoyTunes CEO Yuval Kaminka for the awesome idea to create a “cheat sheet” of my lengthy talk.