Ever meet those guys and gals who are always on top of everything and never seem to break a sweat getting things done? It’s as if their work just does itself for them. Of course, we know that isn’t actually true. Those folks don’t have it any easier than the rest of us. They have just developed a few superior habits for greater productivity in the workplace. And that is definitely some good news, because it means that the rest of us aren’t really as far behind as we think. We just need to incorporate some of these simple productivity tips and we’re on our way to working like the pros.
5 Key Habits:
- Sprint: Don’t worry, I’m not talking about running laps. You won’t even have to leave your desk … not yet at least.
- Walk: This one is easy. Get up and walk around every now and then.
- Focus: If you think I’m telling you to stop multi-tasking, you’d be right.
- Ignore: Sorry Facebook, you’re a soul sucking time waster.
- Put Off: Put off procrastinating, that is. Some helpful tips to show you how.
Sprinting: Efficiency expert Tim Ferriss of 4-Hour Workweek fame has one of the best productivity tools that I’ve come across yet. He calls it sprinting. Set a small timeframe, say twenty-five minutes, and work furiously during that window. Then take a five-minute break. This is absolutely the best way I have found to begin a new project. And the funny thing is, I was already sort of doing this anyway. I just needed an efficiency expert to tell me it was okay, and that it didn’t mean that I was being lazy.
Nowadays, whenever I’m confronted with the dreaded blank page, I sprint. I literally set a timer and then charge forward. When the timer goes off, I stop … even if I feel like continuing. After a couple of sprints, I’m not only completely locked in, but I’m really enjoying what I’m doing. Then I stretch it out to a 50-on/10-off schedule. You may do a 90-minute, or a 45-minute, or even stay with sprinting – whatever works for you to keep the ball rolling.
Walking: Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic proclaims, “Sitting is the new smoking.” The research tends to back him up. Humans just weren’t designed to sit and push buttons all day. But even putting health concerns aside for a moment, let’s consider productivity. You need to take your eyes away from the monitor every now and then. Get your blood circulating and let your brain recharge. Not only will you return ready to give it another go, but you’ll also find that solutions to difficult problems often pop up while walking. Stephen King, Mark Twain and many other great writers have all been proponents of a walk when they reached a sticking point in their writing.
Focus: Stop Multi-tasking! This tip for productivity shows up in any worthwhile article on being efficient and effective, because it’s so true. Multi-tasking is the surest way to do a bunch of things poorly. Some studies suggest that women are better multi-taskers than men. While this may be true, saying that you’re a better multi-tasker is like saying you’re better at texting and driving. It’s a bad habit and one that leads to bad outcomes. Give your full attention to one thing. Do it well. Also, don’t waste time pursuing unattainable perfection (I know I said 5 tips, but that one is a bonus).
Ignore Your (De)Vices: The Pavlovian response to our little notification chimes are difficult to overcome, I get it. But I’ve found that when I immediately acknowledge every message, eventually one of them is going to pull me away from the important work that I’m focusing on. There’s a danger of completely losing the flow state that I have worked so hard to attain. Social media is even worse. It’s the great thief, sucking the productivity out of your life. When I’m sprinting, or in the middle of my 50-minute zone, the phone, inbox, and any other such distractions are SILENCED!!! Even spouses and children should be encouraged to please call only if it’s urgent (Good luck with that!).
“But, but if I don’t answer my boss’s email…” I know. Dealing with Type-A personalities is just a fact of life in the business world. Some of my clients have multiple executives involved in the project that I’m working on, and they all want continuous status updates. My solution: Daily bulk emails to every hand wringer in the office. The messages are pithy, but contain all the information they need. In time, I can generally send out two quick updates per day and no one ever bothers me with meaningless, “How are things going?” emails again. The point is, find solutions. If you’ve got a micromanager in your life, try beating him or her to the punch. Ironically, sometimes you have to politely train your bosses on how to let you get things done.
Put off Procrastinating: Entrepreneur Steve Olenski’s “Two Minute Rule,” is a great anti-procrastination tool. If there is something that you can knock out quickly and easily, do it right now! It gets little tasks out of the way, for one thing. But more importantly, you will find that if you begin implementing this little productivity tip, your overall level of procrastination will drop as well. You will get into a habit of knocking things out.
Also, do the “hard” stuff first. We tend to think of certain aspects of our work as stuff that we “hate.” Most of the time, these are new responsibilities or new technologies that we have yet to bring into our comfort zone. So we put them off. We do the things that we are already familiar with, and let them consume our day. But when you begin your workday with the hard stuff, your mind is fresh. You are at your most energized. Use the sprint method to get started.
Here’s an example. The company just implemented new software for entering purchase orders. You’re going to have to forget everything you ever knew about entering purchase orders and start over. The typical response is, “I hate this. I have real work to do. I’ll learn it later.” That never works. It’s just procrastinating. Do this instead: Set one tiny, manageable goal and accomplish it. I’m going to learn how to login to the new system. I’m going to take some basic steps to set up my profile. I am going to spend 10 minutes exploring how the client database works, etc. Before you know it, you’ll bring it into your realm of competence and defeat procrastination at the same time.
So there they are, your 5 productivity tips to help you accomplish more online. Now let’s go get some things done!