How to Improve Personal Productivity
The Right Start
Start your day in the right way. Reading the biographies of successful people they often mention following specific routines in the morning. They vary tremendously, some may take exercise, yoga, swimming or running, others may meditate. Breakfast is a key feature for some as is reading the morning paper. The important thing is not what you do but the mind set. If you fall out of bed, whenever, grab whatever cereal is in the cupboard and generally drift into the day you are also likely to drift through it. The start of the day is important so plan that well and you can be sure that the rest of the day is much more likely to fall into place.
The start of the day is a good time to remind yourself where you are heading - seeing the big picture as well as the detail. That way it will be easier to set priorities and not get bogged down in the minutiae.
Start the Day in the Right Way
Know What You Want to Achieve
Productive people nearly always have a long term goal, a vision, a purpose, an aim. Successful people rarely drift, as soon as one project is safely underway and moving along they are onto the next.
So ask yourself if you are clear about what you are trying to achieve in the longer term. When you are clear and specific about that then decide what the important goals are for the day. Set priorities, always some things will have to wait but it is important to make a conscious and informed decision about what the best focus for the day should be. It may be not every day will see a task completed but having something that you can 'get done' will make it easier to measure you progress and that will help to keep you motivated.
Have a Clear Direction
Be Proactive NOT Reactive
It's easy when you start work to begin by responding to things, emails, messages, problems etc. But what we have probably all experienced is the way that responding can mean we never actually get to do the things we intended to get done! There is no law that says we have to begin by responding to others. We can actually choose when we respond to things. By doing that we can set our own agenda and prioritise the things that are important. Obviously it is important to respond to messages and emails but by starting the day doing that we often start on the wrong foot. Begin on the focussed work the task or project you have prioritised and then simply schedule in time to react to things. Once you have started on the main task it is a lot easier to get back to it when you have a had a break to 'deal with' the other matters needing your attention.
Many of us have heard the saying about eating our frogs. It's based on the assumption that if you eat a live frog at the beginning of the day that is probably the worst thing you will have to do so the rest of the day will seem lie a breeze! Clearly I am not suggesting that you start eating live frogs - but if there is something that looms large in your mind then don't put it off. You will definitely find all sorts of other things to occupy your mind and keep you busy but start with the task that makes your shoulders sag a bit. Often it doesn't turn out to be as bad as you thought it may be and it is very satisfying to know it is out of the way. The biggest gain however is that you don't have to spend the day ding other things simply t o avoid getting round to eating the frog!
Start with Big Tasks
Achievement not just Activity
It is important to make a distinction between activity and achievement. Many people will spend the entire day being active but if you ask what they have achieved they may find it hard to identify anything at all. Some of that may depend on the particular things they are trying to achieve but often people are most productive when faced with an achievable, though challenging task, which they can then complete.
Think carefully about what you plan to do each day and check that your activity is actually useful, effective and will get closer to achieving your goals.
In today's world we all have to get used to working with distractions BUT we need to be aware that distractions can sometimes rob us of achievement. Multi tasking can be important but so can clear focussed attention. So it can be a good idea to schedule some distraction free time to work on key projects. Sometimes it is even worth putting in your diary a session with yourself. That is, creating time without distractions from anywhere when you are free to sole task. If something is important then it deserves your very best and that's hard to give without your undivided attention. In fact it is worth scheduling times that are distraction free regularly and simply 1- 2 hours of focussed work a day can increase your productivity massively.
Dangers of Distractions
A Balanced Life
In terms of performance it is important to look after yourself. If you have a poor diet, not enough sleep, are stressed or worried and don't get any exercise then you are unlikely to sustain the effort required to be consistently productive in any field. Obviously everyone deserves time off but burning the candle at both ends won't make for productive days. Don't make the mistake of working too much either, we all need time off to relax and rejuvenate ourselves a bit.
Use Minutes not just Hours
It's easy to think of time in big blocks, like hours or sessions, but in fact time is all about the minutes. How many times have you put off doing something because you think you will only have a few minutes and then find that actually you've had much more and could probably have finished whatever it was you didn't start. Its amazing how much time you can waste simply because you think you haven't enough time. So with smaller jobs leave them for those odd minutes when you are between other tasks. While the kettle boils you can send a text, or check emails while waiting for someone to arrive. Grabbing ten extra minutes (not necessarily all at once) to be productive each day will mean almost an hour in the week.
If you find there isn't really anything you can do to be productive as such then use those times to enjoy something, read a few pages of a book, listen to a song, or learn a mindfulness exercise.
Minutes can be important as well as hours
It's easy to marvel at what some people can fit into a day but with a little thought and a few adjustments we can all improve in terms of our productivity. It's also important to be prepared to change, if you find something isn't working then don't continue with it, try a new approach instead
- Start the day right
- Know what you want to achieve
- Be proactive NOT reactive
- Work from big to small
- Activity is not the same as achievement
- Minimise distractions
- Have a balanced life
- Use minutes not just hours