A Productive Environment

A Productive Environment

In the final part of this series on productivity, I’m looking at the impact of people and the environment on your productivity.  I touched on this in the first part of the series in January.  If you missed it, just go here to catch up.

Whilst discussing personality and its impact on how productive we are, I touched on the issue of noise and silence as well as busy versus quiet environments.  If you are naturally more comfortable or creative in one environment than in the other then you will be more productive.

For some people, of course, you may find that for creative tasks you need a busy environment and for routine tasks a quiet location is best.  Or vice versa.  This is one reason why it can be helpful for employers to provide collaboration areas as well as quiet areas where space allows since this can give employees a choice and thus increase productivity both across the team and individually.

Together or alone?

Problem-solving can also be affected by the environment with some people more likely to come up with innovative solutions within a brainstorming situation whilst for other a bit of silence works best, at least until you have some options to discuss.  Similarly, for some people a meeting stimulates their thoughts and they go back to the desk re-energised and ready to work.  For others, meetings can feel draining and pointless. Of course, this is also affected by the quality of the meeting.

Unfortunately, in many cases, meetings are run badly, the agenda is not adhered to and decisions aren’t made.  At their worst, they become a stadium for the loudest to grandstand whilst those who are quieter feel they cannot contribute.  If your meetings fall into the latter category, check out my blog on this subject for some tips on how to run a really effective meeting that will contribute to productivity rather than stifling it.

The Radio Debate

The amount of noise in the background can be a huge distraction or provide the necessary stimulation to increase your productivity.  As mentioned earlier in the series, often this will be affected by your location on the Extraversion/Introversion scale of the MBTI with introverts tending toward a love of quiet and extroverts tending to be uncomfortable with silence.

You will be most productive in an environment in which you are comfortable and which you don’t find overly distracting.  In many cases, a low background noise is easier to tune out than sudden, unexpected noises and for some people, the frequency of the noise makes a difference to productivity.  The debate about radio on/radio off, as well as arguments over the channel it is tuned to, is an old argument and one that ends up being refereed by the HR department in any number of organisations across the world with depressing frequency.

Space

How much space do you require?  Even this makes a difference to productivity.  Trying to work in a tiny space with everything squished up on a tiny desk when you naturally prefer a more spread out, spacious environment, can affect productivity.  I do think everyone has a need to be able to find the stuff they need, when they need it, in order to be properly productive.  That will look different in each case.

I’ve worked with someone who put every single thing away and worked on one thing at a time.  Not a Post-It note out of place, just one pen, one piece of paper and an entirely clear desk.  I’ve worked with someone whose office furniture, the floor of the office, corridor and kitchen area were all entirely obscured by towering piles of documents, from which, amazingly, he could always produce the exact thing required.  More common is the slightly untidy desk upon which the phone is always in its place, the keyboard and screen are placed correctly and at the right height for comfort and health, and you can reach your coffee mug but aren’t in danger of knocking it over.

Something as simple as having a left-hand curve on your desk when you naturally work better on a right-hand curve can negatively affect productivity.  You need to be able to move easily and have your reference documents on the side you are comfortable with.  Having a desk too close to a wall so your chair can’t move easily backwards, or setting up in a room so small that you feel claustrophobic can also reduce your productivity.

Also, and this is another one that gets refereed by HR quite frequently; room temperature.  Some people are sent off to sleep in a warm room.  Others can’t work when it’s cold.  Your productivity can certainly be affected by temperature and in a shared office, sometimes the only way around this is a bit of compromise and wearing layered clothing that can be adjusted to suit your particular needs.

Enthusiasm

This is a key one for productivity.  We all prefer to do things we like don’t we?  It’s so much easier to be productive when completing tasks we enjoy and are good at.  You will be awesomely productive when doing tasks you love.

Also, it’s not that difficult to be productive when doing a task you like.  Even if you aren’t that great at it yet, you’ll want to learn to do it more efficiently and eventually become proficient, and productive, in that area.

If you aren’t that good at the task AND you don’t like doing it, you will procrastinate, put the task off, and when you do get around to doing it, the task will feel as though it is taking forever to complete, you’ll grumble and moan to yourself, take lots of tea breaks and feel unproductive, bored and frustrated.  Those tasks are the ones that you outsource as soon as you are able to afford to do so.  Because for every task you really, really hate, there will be someone out there that cannot wait to get stuck into it.

Hopefully, this series has given you some ideas for areas where you can increase your productivity by making small changes.  However, if you are still struggling with your workload or productivity, remember:

Doing what you are best at  + Outsourcing tasks that don’t bring in money = Peak Productivity.

That’s the secret formula that allows my clients to sleep at night, spend time with family and earn more money.  If you’d like some of that, give me a call.

12 Questions That will Increase your Productivity

12 Questions that will improve your productivity

Personality is an important part of your productivity style.  I touched on this last month when discussing the DISC profiling (check that out here if you missed it).  Another key part of your productivity style is the way in which you manage goals and time.  Unsurprisingly, both goal and time management are critical to your productivity.

If you want to be really productive, you need to ask yourself some questions and be honest with yourself when answering them.

Goals and Deadlines

1.  Do you find you are motivated by goals?  Most people are, but as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry famously said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish”  so you do need to have a plan in place to achieve the goal and that plan needs to be in a format that motivates and enthuses you.  So now we have to consider deadlines.  And more importantly, do deadlines motivate you or are you more like Douglas Adams who famously stated “I love deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

2.  If you are more like me (I work at my absolute best to deadlines) then setting yourself deadlines and breaking down plans into smaller chunks, each with its own deadline, will work well.  Non-urgent work tends to get put off if you are a deadline-oriented person, so it can help to set an artificial deadline.  Putting the deadline in the diary can help you to stick to it.

An accountability partner can really help with deadline management as well.  Particularly if you tend toward the Douglas Adam’s view of deadlines since you have to report back on your success (or otherwise) in completing the task.  In general, most people don’t like to report a failure so this tends to get you moving and increase your productivity.   Your VA can also keep you on track too, by reminding you of looming deadlines, or taking some of the routine work off your hands so that you can concentrate on the aspects that you love and are best at.

3.  Does a distant, or large goal motivate you and make you want to be more productive?  Or does it seem far off and something you can tackle later… Do you tackle that task eventually or really struggle to find it relevant when the deadline gets closer because you have now moved on to some new idea?

4.  Do you tend to get caught up in new ideas which take you away from the goal you were working on?  In other words, are you a fourteen ideas before breakfast kind of a person and struggle to complete them all (usually because another fourteen occur to you the next day) or do you tend to doggedly work on a few key ideas that you’ve thought through and feel will move the business forward toward a set goal in the most effective way?

5.  Finally, what motivates you?  Do you work fast to get finished so you can spend time with family?  Do you work methodically because you really want the thing to be completely perfect?  Are you motivated by what others think of you?  Do you need external validation in order to believe you have done a great job?

Time Management

Such a huge subject but you can boil this one down to a few key questions.

  1. Do you deal with things in priority order, or do you tend to deal with things on the basis of who is yelling the loudest about the deadline or task?
  2. Do you plan out your day, or tackle tasks as they come in?
  3. Do you like keeping a diary and marking out times to carry out certain tasks, or does this stifle your creativity and make you anxious?
  4. Do you find it easy to keep track of your activities and appointments and hate being late? Or do you tend to forget appointments unless prompted and need someone to deal with this aspect for you and ensure you are reminded of where you should be?
  5. Do you have good awareness of time? By this I mean, do you tend to get lost in tasks and not notice how long you’ve been engaged in them?  Or do you find it easy to keep track of time, always aware of how much time has elapsed?
  6. Are you more often than not slightly late for things? Or are you a stickler for being on time and tend to arrive a little early, or leave extra time for travel in case a UFO lands on the M1 and causes a tailback?
  7. Finally, do you thrive on being busy, or does it make you feel super stressed and upset if you have a lot of different tasks to do in one day?

Armed with the answers to these questions you have a much better idea about how best to track your day, divide it up (if that’s your preferred approach), motivate yourself to complete tasks and ensure you complete the right tasks at the right time.

Some of these time management challenges can be solved easily alone, others may require a bit more help.

For example, if you prefer to tackle tasks as they come in but are finding key tasks are getting left which is stressing you out, you might try to tackle certain key tasks regularly, perhaps daily.  Perhaps adding these to the diary.  You could then tackle other tasks, as they come in, fitting them around the key tasks.

If you are a person who tends to get caught up in routine tasks such as ensuring your emails and letters are perfect, or taking seven hours to write a blog, but you can whip through more specialist or client-facing tasks very quickly, then outsourcing the routine tasks and content creation might be a good solution for you.

Remember, you don’t have to do everything yourself.  An important element of time management is knowing what you should do yourself and what would be more quickly or effectively completed by someone else.

If you’d like to find out more about increasing YOUR productivity, keep checking back to read the rest of the series.  In the meantime, if you are struggling with your workload or productivity, remember:

Doing what you are best at  + Outsourcing tasks that don’t bring in money = Peak Productivity.

That’s the secret formula that allows my clients to sleep at night, spend time with family and earn more money.  If you’d like some of that, give me a call.

Is Your Workplace affecting your Productivity?

Productive Productivity Workplace Productivity

Does your workspace make you feel stressed or distracted?  Do you suspect that you could be more productive than you actually are?

If the answer to these two questions is a resounding “Yes”, then let me ask just one more question:    Is your workspace cluttered?

This may seem irrelevant, after all, plenty of people work in chaos.  However, researchers have found that physical clutter can negatively affect your mood, resilience and ability to work productively and efficiently.  It can become difficult to focus on just one thing when there are many things lying around competing for your attention.  You may even start to feel that things are spiralling out of your control.  There is always something else needing your attention in any business but if most of the attention-seeking things are spread around your office in plain sight, you will possibly begin to feel overwhelmed.  You might be tempted to multi-task although doing so will negatively impact on your productivity.

I guess I paint a bleak picture but never fear, it is relatively straightforward to break the cycle.

Control

First of all, dedicate a small amount of time each day to getting your work area under control.  Put away things you don’t need to work on today, or this week.  Go through everything and ruthlessly chuck out things you don’t need, file things you need to keep but don’t need on your desk.  Organise the things you do need in a way that makes sense for you and your business.   Once you have got things under control, keep them that way by having a daily or weekly tidy up to ensure things don’t get out of hand again.

De-Clutter

Don’t forget your electronic clutter. Set up files that make sense for your business and use them.  Keep your inbox under control.  Unsubscribe if you don’t read that email newsletter.  Delete things that don’t need retention (newsletters, Amazon offer emails, items you’ve answered but don’t need to keep).  File the things you do need to keep.  I have more advice about Inboxes in this blog if this is the area you are struggling with the most.

Lists and Notes

Use a To-Do List and don’t overload it.  I’ve written on this subject here and here and I do tend to bang on about this.  However, a long To-Do list is almost as distracting as a cluttered workspace.  A To-Do List,  marked up with the priorities for each task on the list,  can keep you organised, your work on track and help you to feel in control of your workload. You will be more productive as a result.

If you are a person who tends to write things on bits of paper as you go about your day, try using one notebook for this purpose and always have it with you.  This ensures that you don’t add to the clutter in your workspace by having Post-it notes, and scrappy bits of paper all over the place, competing for your attention.

Capturing routine information throughout the day without reacting to it straight away can also help you to feel more in control of your work.  If you allocate time at the end of the day to go through the things you have captured and put them into your diary or To-Do list as appropriate, you will feel much more in control of your workload.

Once your workspace is more organised your productivity should begin to increase and you should start to feel more in control of your workload too.

If you would like more help to organise your workspace to help you become more productive, get in touch for a chat.

Simple Steps to Increase Productivity

increase productivity; simple steps to increase productivity

Filing. 

There, I’ve said it.  In this fourth part of the Getting Things Done series, I’ll be looking at filing.  If you have missed the other three parts of the series, you can read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.

I love filing, something I have been told is more than a bit weird.  Apparently, No One likes filing.  That being the case, I’d rather like to meet this mysterious No One.  I think we’d get on fine.  But I digress.

The Getting Things Done method won’t work as effectively if you don’t have a decent filing system.  Before your eyes glaze over and you run away screaming in horror, can I just say that a filing system really is only a system that works for you, in which stuff that you need to refer to is kept.

Your filing system doesn’t need to be complicated, it just needs to make sense to you and hold the things you want to find quickly and easily.  Your system will reflect what you do, what you need to keep, and how you like to work.  And that’s fine.  It’s your system.  Design it to work for you.

Designing your file system can sometimes take a little time to get right, but is worth spending that time because a well-designed system that is kept up to date will allow you to lay hands on things when you need them.  The less time spent digging around in the files, the more time you have available for revenue-producing activity.

Key Considerations

key to success; key to admin success

Key things to consider when designing your filing system:

Ease of access.  You shouldn’t have to trek across the office to add something to a commonly used file.  Keep the reference files you use most often closest to you.

Label things in a way that makes sense to you, so you can locate information quickly.

If you are using hard copy files then keep a stock of new file covers close at hand so that if you need to create a new file for something you can do so quickly and easily.  When you finish with the file (or anything else) put it back where it belongs so that it’s always easy to find.  Put the correct documentation into the correct file.

Filing System

filing, file folders, filing processes, filing tips

Don’t make your filing system really complicated.  Follow a naming process, ideally a really simple one.  Always follow the same file naming protocol whether that is client surname, project name, or whatever works for you.  When you are busy you don’t want to be searching around wondering if you filed the Garside Project under G for Garside, P for Project, I for IT, or C because your client’s name is Charles.

File things away regularly.  Ideally, put things away when you’ve finished with them.  As a minimum, tidy stuff up and file things at the end of the day.

If the item you need is in your filing pile rather than the file it will get overlooked, or you will have to spend ten minutes taking the filing pile apart to look for it.

Of course, much of your information will be held in electronic form and the same ideas apply here as for physical paper in terms of labelling and organising things logically for fast retrieval.

Ideally, your electronic filing systems should follow the same labelling plan across all devices and mirror any paper files as well.  That way you can find things, quickly and easily, in every system you own.

Don’t forget your Email System

email, email organisation

Email In-Boxes need to be kept tidy.  It is so much easier to find things if you have a filing system within your Email system and you actually use it.  Again, the labels should echo the labels in the rest of your system so that you have a limited number of places to look for the item you need.

It is very tempting to keep lots of stuff “just in case I need it”.  Sometimes this is exactly the right approach.  Sometimes it is not.  One area where people seem to accumulate far more items than necessary is the Email System.  It can be helpful to look critically at what you are keeping hold of and be realistic about whether you really do need to keep the information.

Sometimes, you can get so overwhelmed with all the things you need to organise that it can be helpful for an outsider to come in and help you to sift through the information and support you in creating a filing and information management system that works well for you.  So, if you want to start the process of increasing your productivity using this method, but are struggling to set up your filing system, get to Inbox Zero, or find time to sort out all the information that needs to be captured and organised, then give me a call.  I’d be happy to support you.  You can contact me here.

Three Steps Will Increase Your Productivity

increase productivity, three steps to increase productivity

This is the third in the series of posts about the organisational methods outlined in David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”.  This post examines the importance that review, update and reflection play in the system.  If you missed the previous two posts, you can read them here and here.

When I first started with the Getting Things Done system I had to really force myself to review my lists regularly and to stick to what was in my diary.  You do need to regularly review both in order to make the system work.  No matter how good your system is, if you don’t visit it and reflect on its contents, it won’t be functional.  No diary can ensure you are where you are supposed to be if you don’t actually look at it after all.

Review

review tasks, review lists, listing and reviewing tasksSome people like to review and update the lists daily, having a mini-brain dump/mind sweep session as their last task before finishing work.  Others do it once a week, often on a Friday night, or on a Sunday.

If you find you are adding the same thing to your To Do list each week, or regularly moving a task to a fresh list without dealing with it, then ask yourself why that is.

Is it outside your skill set?  Is it not as urgent as you first thought?  Is it too large a task? Does it need to be broken down a bit to make it manageable?  Do you hate doing the task?  Do you need to outsource it to ensure it gets done?  Do you really need to do it at all, or can it be removed from the list?

By keeping on top of the list, adding to it, reviewing it and reflecting on it, your mind is aware that you have the tasks under control and isn’t wasting energy racing around in circles trying to remind you about things and making you feel stressed.

Once a week, review your list of tasks completed and still to do, and the brain dump list, and make your plan for the week.  Sunday evening is a great time to do this part.  You will hopefully be fresh, rested, have a clear head and be starting to consider the week ahead.  Preparing on Sunday allows you to start on Monday with purpose and know what your goals for the day and week will be.

Keeping the systems up to date and reviewing the tasks regularly takes practice but it can produce some great rewards.

“Do it, Defer it, Delegate it”

delegate, delegate tasks, delegate workDavid Allen suggests using the “Do it, Defer It, Delegate it” approach.

If a task will take less than two minutes to complete you should just do it right away rather than adding it to a list.

If it will take more than two minutes then you should defer it, that is, document it on a list, and, if appropriate, add it to the diary or planner, so that it can be done at the most suitable time.

Finally, for those tasks which are very time-consuming, are not your area of expertise, or you absolutely hate doing, you should delegate the task to someone who has the time and expertise to do it well on your behalf.  If you hate the task then you will either put it off, do it badly, or it will take you much longer than it should.  All of which will have a negative effect on your productivity and impact on your work-life balance.

If the thought of cross-checking and updating that spreadsheet sends you to sleep.  If your paperwork backlog makes you want to poke out your own eyes with frustration.  If you’d rather handle a live snake than fill in those forms, then the answer is simple.  Delegate those tasks.  If you have a task or two that you aren’t that keen on doing, why not get in touch with me here.

Plan to Succeed: Using Lists to Save Time

Brain Dump Lists; Save Time; Succeed

Our lives are so busy now.  Just keeping up with technological change, new ideas, apps and methods can be a full-time job.  We have so many things to juggle on a daily basis and so many calls on our time.  It can be difficult to track it all. Many of us turn to lists to help us to manage everything, but a Brain Dump type list alone is not enough.  You need a system in order to succeed.

A system is exactly what David Allen’s brilliant book, Getting Things Done; The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (ISBN 978-0-349-40894-1) provides.  It’s a great resource for learning how to list, organise and get a grip on all the various tasks that you have to manage in your life.  This is part two of the series and focuses on the day to day use of the system to achieve better productivity. If you have missed the first part of the series, you can read that here.

For this part of the method, you will need a planner, diary, Filofax or similar.  Paper-based or electronic, it doesn’t matter.  It’s your system and should be designed to fit your needs.

One of the first things to do is to examine your brain dump list and put any time critical tasks into the diary or planner.  Appointments, deadlines, meetings, project goals, insurance due dates, social events and so forth.

Another category that you need to note in the diary is dates by which others must deliver their part of a shared project upon which your own tasks are dependent.  If you can’t start until they have finished, then you need to know when to check the delivery date with them or ask about any changed priorities that might impact on your diary planning.

David Allen suggests that you should use the diary only for the time-critical framework and not place your To Do lists into the diary.  I take this to mean that a time-critical task from my To Do list can go into the diary but the entire list should not.

The diary forms a framework that will be central to keeping you on track and feeling organised. By checking your diary regularly to identify upcoming events and deadlines, you can ensure that you allow enough time to prepare for them.  Working backwards you can place tasks on a list for each day that will move you nearer to the target in your diary.

Next look at the remaining items on your long brain dump list.  Add the most critical tasks to a To Do List for the week.  These will be things you need to do to meet the commitments you put in your diary as well as things which you have decided to complete that week.   The latter will be driven by the larger business goals you’ve set yourself.  If one of your goals is to re-write the copy on your website by 20th March you can break the goal into separate tasks, for example, tackling a page a week, and allocate the tasks to different weeks in your planner between now and the deadline.

By breaking large tasks down into smaller ones with measurable outcomes they feel more manageable. You can feel a sense of satisfaction that you have completed a step on the journey to completing the whole task.  If a task is too large and you don’t break it down then it will feel too difficult and you will put off doing it.

Having a long list of tasks with no real feeling of urgency (beyond that awful feeling of having too much to do and not knowing where to start) can lead to things being missed.   Creating a set of daily To Do Lists works much better as you have a much shorter list to get through, and this feels more manageable, and you are therefore much more likely to actually succeed in completing the items.

Choosing too many tasks for your weekly list leads to feelings of overwhelm which will negatively impact your productivity.  Having only one piece of paper for the list is one way to keep the list manageable.   Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day or week.  Three to four main tasks per day is a good number to choose.  You can always go back to your list for more if you finish quicker than expected.

Small related tasks can be chunked together.  Dealing with related tasks in one go can save time as your brain doesn’t need to switch tracks too sharply.  The brain isn’t great at switching rapidly between disparate tasks and takes a while to get back into the concentration zone.   If you plan your week so that similar tasks are done back to back, you will often get more done.  You could write more than one blog post in a particular session for example.

If, whilst doing a task, you think of something else you need to do, just make a note, and then return to your original task.   This will be less disruptive to your concentration than thinking you will remember the new task and write it down later.   At the end of the day or week, you can then add the various notes to your main brain dump list.

By concentrating on only a short list of things and having all the time critical elements noted in a diary, you have a plan for the week which allows you to calmly progress through your week, regularly referring to your list and planner to ensure that you are always engaged in the task that you should be doing and moving to the next task in a timely manner.

If you find that you still have too many tasks that fall into the critical category and you are not able to fit them all into your day, one option is to delegate some of the tasks.  I will be examining delegation in more detail in a future post and it is often the answer for those time consuming but essential tasks such as data input, research, sourcing images for social media, proof checking and filing.  If your lists include time-consuming admin tasks that you just don’t have the time to do, then just get in touch.  I’d be happy to help you to get it all under control.

Lists: The Key to Productivity

Getting things Done; Lists: Productivity

Keeping track of everything you need or want to do in a reliable and effective system is utterly critical to successfully negotiating a world in which you are bombarded by information from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep.  Getting Things Done, both quickly and effectively, has never been more important.

This is the argument which David Allen puts forward in his book Getting Things Done:  The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (ISBN 978-0-349-40894-1).   Getting Things Done is a whole system and I will only be covering some small areas of it.  However, in the book, David himself suggests that if you take only some of the ideas from the book and apply them, then you will improve your productivity.

This is the first of a series of blog posts on the method and if you find them useful then I really do recommend you purchase the book.  There is so much more to the book than the tips I will be sharing with you.

Like all methods, Getting Things Done does have a learning curve and this can make it feel a bit of a challenge to start out with.  Just like the latest productivity app, it does add some time to your day before it takes it away again, but when you have made it your own, it really does work.

The idea is to capture all of the things that you need to act upon or remember, all the things you want to do in future, and any half thought out ideas, in a trusted capture device.  The recommendation is to use a loose-leaf folder or notebook for the capture device.  You could use an electronic tool rather than paper and a pencil, but writing the lists longhand is the recommended method.   Alternatively, you can write each thing on a separate piece of paper.  This has the advantage of allowing you to deal with each item separately, shuffle the paper into themed piles and easily add items to themed lists.

This initial Brain Dump, which I won’t lie to you, does take time to do properly, captures every single thing that is swirling around in your head.  All you have to do is sit down with a notepad and a pen and write down anything that comes into your head, both professional and personal, that either needs doing, or you would like to do.  Even those big goals that you hope to achieve at some point, such as climbing Everest or buying a sports car.    Big ideas and small ones. Even really small things like get a lightbulb for the bathroom or brush the dog.  It doesn’t matter what it is, just dump it all out.  If you find it easier, you can put it onto separate sheets of paper headed things like work, family, goals, house, garden.  Whatever works for you.  It’s your list after all.

Once you have everything captured initially it needs to be organised into sections so that you can find things easily on your lists.  Loose leaf files work well for this reason.

I can hear people grumbling as they read.  “So, you want me to create an immense list of stuff to do?  A list that will mainly remind me of all the stuff I haven’t done?  Have you been sniffing the highlighters again and lost your mind entirely?”

But wait.  I promise it will all make sense in a moment.  Firstly, you won’t need to look at that immense list every day.  Secondly, there is a scientific reason why this process works.

A Russian psychologist, Zeigarnik, discovered that the brain can more easily recall incomplete tasks.  Knowing you will want to finish the task at some point, your brain works hard to keep that information available to you.  Once the task has been done it will breathe a sigh of relief and instantly forget that particular thing.  So, if you have lots of unfinished stuff swirling around your head, then your brain is always cursing and swearing at you, having to hold on to much more information than it was designed to hold.  It will drop some of it because there isn’t room in there for the sheer quantity of stuff that we are exposed to in the digital era.  It will also make you feel stressed, upset and on edge all the time as it constantly tries to remind you of all the things you have left undone.

Later research by Baumeister and Masicampo showed that tasks we have not completed will actively distract us from other activities.  This is why we become less productive if we have a lot of things that we are trying to juggle.  However, they also showed that distraction evaporates once we have noted down a plan for completing the distracting task at a later date.

In short, dumping stuff out of your head brings calm.  Calm allows focus.  And focus enables productivity.

The lists work because they become an external hard drive for your brain. Once your brain realises that it is all written down it can let go of all that stuff that is swirling around in your head making you feel stressed.

For those of you who are already terrified about just how long your list will be, I’ll cover the organisation step in the next post because that part is critical.

Productivity Starts with You

Productivity; Productive; Tips for productivity

Yes. You.  There are all sorts of productivity tools and methods out there but they share a key feature at their heart.  You.  When it comes down to it, the only way you can become more productive is by changing the way you think about and act toward, the things you want to achieve.  So, at the start of a new year, here are ten tips that should help to start you on your way to greater productivity.  

Review your activity regularly.

Can you streamline the task you are doing?  Can you do the task differently, or put the steps in a different order so that you can be more efficient with your time?   Can you automate any steps?   Can any of the routine tasks, or parts of tasks, be outsourced to save you time?

By regularly evaluating what you are doing, and how you are doing it, and making small changes, you can improve productivity a little bit at a time.

Baby steps are better than no steps at all

A little bit at a time is a great way to tackle anything.  Baby steps can build into quite a journey if you just keep going.  This is particularly valuable if the task is large or one that you are not looking forward to.  Breaking a larger task down into smaller chunks and taking steps to complete each small chunk, one by one, gives a sense of achievement.  Also, if you have lots of small things on your list and you get through several of them, you do feel productive.  Feeling productive will encourage you to be productive.

Just get started on something.  If you are really stuck, just start on the thing that you know you can do well that day.  Even if that thing is tidying up the office.    Oddly, I have been known to have my best ideas when I’ve stopped trying to force them and just had a tidy up.  Some new idea will be triggered, you will get your motivation back, and you will be off again.

“If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.” – Henry Ford

Motivation and having a positive mindset are key parts of productivity.  Believing that what you are about to tackle is not only possible but that you will smash it, is critical.  It is hugely helpful to surround yourself with positive people who motivate, challenge and support you.  When you are struggling (and no one can be super positive all the time) having people there who are supportive and positive can be hugely beneficial in getting you back on track and allowing you to believe that you can do the task you have set out to achieve.

If you find yourself feeling negative toward your task then it’s time to put that task away and work on something that you do feel positive about.  Go back to the difficult task on another day when you are feeling more positive about the work and you will probably find that it moves forward more quickly.

Say No more often.

That might seem odd, but it works.  There are only so many hours in the day and you can’t do everything.  If the task must be done but you don’t have time, then delegate it.  If the task is not important enough to actually delegate, consider whether you should just say No.   If you concentrate only on the tasks that will move you toward your goal, and say no to the things that will not contribute to the goal or will move you further from it, you can become more productive.

Consider tasks in the light of your goals each time and take on those that you really feel have value.  Reject or delegate tasks that will affect your work life balance because getting that right is also a key part of productivity.

Get some sleep, have some downtime

You can’t be productive if you are exhausted, stressed by all the calls on your time, starting to hate your job or business because you are spending too much time in it, and have lost sight of why you are doing what you do.  Motivation will hit rock bottom if you are tired and if you do nothing all day and all night other than work.

You will be more productive if you switch off for a while each day.  Whether you exercise, veg out in front of the television, pursue a hobby, read or meditate, whatever works for you.  But do something different.  You will get a perspective on your tasks and be more productive as a result.

Deadlines

If you don’t have an externally provided deadline, then create one.  Whether you are the sort of person who leaves the work to just before the deadline, or one who takes pride in submitting work well in advance of the deadline, it doesn’t matter.  The important thing is to set deadlines so that you have to complete work by a particular time or date.  If you don’t, the work just expands to fill the available time and you end up doing busy work that doesn’t contribute to the outcome.

Organise your day into chunks, fit tasks into time slots, and stick to those.  It really does help to make you more productive.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Don’t multi-task.  Please.  Just don’t.  Most people don’t benefit from it and there is scientific evidence to suggest that it actually reduces productivity.  It is much more productive to really focus on one thing at a time.

One way to do this is the Pomodoro Technique, which has you completely focus on a task for a set time, usually 25 minutes, and then take a five minute break.  Do four of these task focus sessions, with the 5 minute break between, and then have a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes.  Rinse and repeat.

Keep your To Do List short

There are few things more stressful than a massive To Do list.  You will spend much of the day panicking about how much you still have left to do on the list.  This panic will affect your productivity because in the back of your mind you are always thinking of the next task and this affects your focus.

It is better to be realistic, have only three or four main tasks on your list and get those done.  You can also add a few small tasks that need very little focus and can slot those in between the larger tasks.  This can be helpful in giving your mind a bit of a rest before you tackle the next larger task.   Things like answering Emails, making routine calls and setting up appointments would all count as smaller tasks.

By keeping your list realistic you can focus fully on each task on your list and you will complete them successfully because of this.

Notice what wastes your time

And take steps to corral those things into a set timescale so that they cannot take over your day.  For me, it is Social Media.  I have three set times each day when I look at it.  I’ve banned myself from looking at it at any other time because otherwise I’d be reading interesting articles and adding new and exciting ideas to my “Investigate This Further” list for rather longer than planned.

Disorganisation and mess are the enemies of productivity

I’m not advocating a sterile, clear desk that contains only a beautiful mug, a flower and one, beautifully clean, laptop.  I am not sure I’ve ever owned a desk that had a flower on it, and most of my mugs are well loved and not a candidate for one of those fancy flat lay photos that seem to suggest we all work on clear desks, in really large, light rooms, and make fancy patterns on our coffee every time we go to the kitchen for a brew.

If you saw my desk you would know it was a place of work.  However, I know where everything is.   The things I need to lay my hands on quickly are right where I need them.  My filing system yields up its information quickly and effectively.  I seldom need to spend much time looking for things.

You can be so much more productive in an organised environment.  If you are surrounded by an environment which you feel is not organised then you will feel less organised.  You will be distracted by the need to put something away, move something out of the way, or search for something that you were sure you had last week.

It can be useful to set aside time to tidy the desk or workspace on a Friday before you leave work.  When you get to your desk on Monday you have a tidy and organised environment which will set the tone for a productive and effective week.

Next Steps

Task delegation was mentioned earlier in the article and it really can make a difference to productivity as it is the best way to free up more time for you, more time for you to concentrate on your business and more time to achieve your goals.  If you are struggling with your productivity and your admin is taking over your life, then let’s have a chat.

I can take your admin tasks and make them run smoothly, so you don’t feel you want to run away from them.  Leaving you free to be really productive in the areas that will most benefit your business.  Still not sure?  Why not see the difference my support has made to other businesses here.

Organisation is at the heart of Productivity

I've been thinking a lot about productivity and organisation lately.  Specifically, the way in which different techniques work for different people.  As a Virtual Assistant I help improve business productivity.  By utilising my organisation skills to complete tasks and projects quickly and efficiently, my client's can concentrate on revenue producing activities.  Naturally, I am always on the look-out for new tips to either share with clients or use in my own practice.  After all, the more efficiently I work, the more cost-effective my service to the client will be.

Whilst researching productivity, I found that many tips shared one key element.  From grouping similar tasks and tackling them together to putting items back where they belong so you can find them again.  All shared an emphasis on being organised in order to increase productivity.

There were also a lot of tips available and since interrogating the internet takes time and can lead to distractions (cute dog video's anyone?) I've bravely gone down that rabbit hole for you, come up with seven key tips, and put them all in one place for you.  These tips were common to many of the sites I visited and can all be implemented reasonably easily.

It is probably easier to pick just one tip and concentrate on that.  Trying to implement multiple new tips in one go is likely to make you feel less productive as you struggle to recall all the things you are supposed to be changing.  But one tip, with a reminder, posted up on your computer, the wall in the office, or the fridge, is manageable.  Maybe pick the tip that resonates most with you or the one that you feel would fit most effectively with the way you work.  And although one small change may not seem like much, you could be surprised by how much difference it makes to your productivity.

If you still find you are not getting through that work as fast as you would like then click here to choose you preferred method of contacting me.  Maybe I can add a touch of extra organisation to your day which will help you achieve that goal you are working towards.

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Productivity starts with the Environment

Productivity starts with the Environment

Productivity desk organised organisation safe

It is easier to be more productive if your environment is organised in a way that makes sense to you.  Time is money.  If you can find things easily and quickly when you need them, rather than scrabbling through boxes of dis-organised paperwork you will be able to make best use of your time.  Of course, organising the office takes time, you are busy and perhaps feel you have more pressing tasks to deal with.  However, tackling it a bit at a time makes the task more manageable.

You could start with the desk, removing clutter and finding ways to organise the items you require so they are to hand.  If you can find things more easily then you will be able to work more quickly.  Organising the desk need not be expensive either.  I love IKEA for low cost organisation solutions. For example, I use a plastic IKEA cutlery tray for pens, paperclips and staples etc.  The tray slides up the drawer easily so items stored under the tray can be retrieved quickly.  If you don’t have time to trek off to IKEA, there are other options.  Empty jars, Syrup and Treacle tins are great for storing elastic bands, paper clips, and other small items.  Tins are also great for pens, pencils and rulers.  Perfect if you prefer your stationery out on the desk, right where you can grab it.

Are you comfortable?  Is everything where you can reach it easily and safely? If you have a land line phone, do you need to stretch to answer it? Is your computer screen, keyboard and mouse located at the right height and at a comfortable distance from where you are sitting?  Can you adjust your chair to ensure adequate back support?  If you are uncomfortable you will cause health problems.  In addition, it is difficult to work productively if you are uncomfortable.  There are a number of websites which provide advice on how to set up your workstation effectively.  One very useful source of information is this NHS site:  How to sit correctly

Are the wires of your computer and devices snaking all over the place and creating a mess or a trip hazard?  Try taming them with wire tamer tubes.  These are available at IKEA and at DIY stores.  Alternatively, lower cost solutions include Ty-Raps or string.  In my house, wires get tied up with knitting wool because I always have some lying around.

Pinterest is full of really great ideas for keeping office items under control, including the Lego Figure approach.  Stick a flat Lego brick to your desk then stand your Lego figure on the brick, put your cables into the figure’s hands, and you have an instant wire tamer.  This will only work with fine wires such as Iphone cables and phone chargers.  There are also numerous Pinterest boards showing varied Lego-related organisation ideas for both home and office.

There are many ideas available to increase the efficiency of your work area and help with productivity including a number of blogs and Pinterest boards.  But if you don’t want to spend time trawling the internet for ideas (after all, the point is to increase productivity, not spend hours on Pinterest), then you could approach a Virtual Assistant.  Many Virtual Assistants, myself included, are able to organise offices to ensure they are healthy, productive places to work.  If you would like some help getting your office organised, please click here and choose you preferred method to get in touch with me.