Participants in Zoomly’s workshops often ask ‘how do I…?’ questions and they always give me food for thought. One topic that always generates lots of questions is productivity: “How can I get stuff done?” I think there are six essential steps to focus on if we’re to improve.
1.Set and focus on your goals
We all need a sense of direction to help us stay on the right track. Make sure you’ve got clear goals about the progress you want to make – see my 5 essential goal-setting tips. When it comes to specific work goals, these need to be agreed with your manager. Once you’ve set your goals, focus on no more than 3 at a time and keep them in sight.
Many of us can lose loads of precious time by not working on the right priorities. When we feel overwhelmed and unsure where to start, we’re particularly vulnerable to falling down rabbit holes. We dawdle around social media, fiddle with that document we’re unsure how to finish off… and decide it’s time for another coffee. My top tip for identifying priorities is the ‘Eisenhower Matrix’, the brainchild of Dwight D. Eisehnower, 34th President of the United States. You may know it as the ‘urgent/important’ axis popularised by others such as Stephen Covey. There’s a handy video introduction on the website as well as a downloadable matrix, and the 5 tips for making it work include ‘aha’ moments. I particularly like “Remember: it is not about collecting but finishing tasks.”
You’ve no doubt heard of the Pomodoro Technique, so named because its inventor Francesco Cirillo used a tomato-shaped timer to set mini-deadlines and work in focused bursts on priority tasks. It’s a great way to get going on a daunting project – and finish it. There’s an explanatory video on his website.
4.Ditch the distractions
Distractions can bedevil our attempts to be more productive. A few moments to reset your device settings can reclaim a large chunk of precious time. Stop or pause notifications, or use a tool such as RescueTime or Cold Turkey.
5.Track your time
One of the exercises we do in Zoomly’s ‘How to plan and prioritise’ workshop is a good look back at where the time went on a typical work day. Participants always report some eye-openers, even if they’re of the “Oh dear…I’m not entirely sure” kind. Others are shocked to see how long they’re spending in meetings. In her HBR post, ‘Track Your Time for 30 Days. What You Learn Might Surprise You’, Dorie Clark shares the insights she gained from doing just that. One that I was pleased to see is that some forms of multi-tasking can work really well; notably combining listening to podcasts or audio books whilst exercising, commuting or doing chores. You can follow Dorie’s lead and complete a spreadsheet; alternatively try an app such as Toggl. Or how about this radical idea: update your calendar with where the time’s really going as your day progresses.
The only way to learn what’s working for you (and what’s not) is to develop a routine of reviewing and reflecting on your progress. See ‘The benefits of a weekly review’ for coaching questions to guide you.
You may find this post useful: ‘Time management tip: understand 3 kinds of time’