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Your computer has a better memory than you, and it thinks faster than you, and doesn’t need any time off. That must mean it can do productivity better than you, making it the obvious place to go to find tools that will enhance your productivity. Or is it?
Maybe, just maybe, there’s a danger that you could get blinded by tech, and think that all the answers are to be found at the tip of your fingers through the keyboard. Maybe some of them are, and if you’re one of those tech-savvy people you’ve probably already identified the ones you need.
We hope you have, because the landscape is as variable as jelly at a children’s birthday party. New kids arrive on the tech block all the time, all of them offering faster, cleaner, interfaces with the web and the apps that can make your life faster and cleaner too, so what was appropriate last week or last month might may not be so last week or last month…
But just hang on for a moment. If you can do something faster with the aid of an app of a piece of cleverly written software, is that necessarily the way to get the job done? Is there a danger that you’ve succumbed to the insidious “I can, therefore I must” mantra which pervades much of modern business?
And here’s the difference between you and your computer. You have the power to think; the power to step away from the tech and re-evaluate how you fill your working life (and the bit of your non-working life that somehow seems to fill with work anyway. That’ll be the tech that’s taking over… ) In short, scrolling through the contents of a screen might get more done, but isn’t there a better way than, well, sitting in a chair and scrolling through the contents of a screen… ?
There is. Pause, breathe in and relax, then read though our list of ways to improve your productivity, helping you to get more done for the benefit of whatever organisation you work in. Sure, there are some computer-based tips in what follows, but it’s not all about keyboard and screen…
- Realise you’re cleverer than the computer. Because computers can do so much for us nowadays, there’s a danger that we think they can do everything. That’s not necessarily the case. Use the tech if it’s the best answer, but don’t discard others just because they’re not tech-based
- Don’t do so much. OK, let’s put it another way: don’t do what doesn’t need doing. For example, how much time do you spend looking at random nonsense posted on Facebook? How often do you break off to check email, and then spend time getting back up to speed on what you’re supposed to be doing?
- Say ‘no’ more often. A client has a notice on his wall. It says: ‘Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part’. Firefighting issues caused by someone else’s shortcomings doesn’t help you get your job done, but once you start doing it, colleagues will start to expect it from you. Never stop being helpful, but be helpful on your terms, when it suits your diary. They might plan better next time.
- Be firm. Turn people away politely if you don’t have time to help them on the spot. There’s nothing wrong in saying: “I’d love to help, but I’m a bit busy now. Can we put something in the diary for this afternoon/tomorrow/next Tuesday?”
- Delegate. Just because your job title says Facilities Manager, why must you wash the windows or change the flag on the Head Office roof? Sure, they’re tasks that need doing, but if you get someone else to do it (who would probably make a better job of it anyway) then you can do stuff others can’t, and that would be a better use of your time. Entrepreneurs do this all the time, and it seems to work for them. If you’re in business alone, don’t do your own accountancy, or fix your own IT. Get experts in. They’ll do it faster, and probably better than you can, freeing up your time to look after clients and make money.
- Prioritise. The tasks you have to accomplish aren’t all of equal importance. It takes only a moment to work on which you need to do first. Accomplish those and move on to less important things later.
- Multi-person multi-tasking. We don’t advocate trying to do two things at once. It takes more time and the results aren’t so good, so it’s better to learn to focus on one thing at once. However, if you’re involved in some team project where others can’t get on until you’ve done your part, do what you need to do to set things up for them to take over the baton. That way they’re not idling their time away waiting for you, things are getting done faster, and you’ve moved on to the next task.
- Change the commute. Leaving home just five minutes late can add 20 minutes of half an hour to the drive to work. Get your act together and leave five minutes earlier, and you’ll free up that time for something productive, rather than sitting in a traffic queue and shouting at the bus in front. If you use the train, fill the time by completing tasks so you’ve done a raft of work before you even get to work.
- Boost your morale. Take a look at that ‘to do’ list. Pick off two or three quick and easy hits to start the working day, and get the satisfaction of crossing them off as complete.
- Hit the ball back at the boss. Do you feel you’re being put under too heavy a workload? Bat the ball back and say: “I can do all of this, but not all at once. Which would you like me to do first?” You may get a half-baked answer like: “All of them”; it’s less than helpful, but it allows you to prioritise what comes first, and he can have no comeback if the job he (or she) really wanted done first gets pushed to the back of the queue.
- Work in batches. Set aside time at specified points in the day to deal with banking, or emails, or phone calls. Putting similar tasks together will allow you to be more organised, and get the jobs done in less time. You’ll feel less stressed too, and you won’t have so much to remember as the day goes on.
- Dodge meetings. We’ve yet to see a meeting in which everyone got something done. More often than not, the person in charge gets to pass work on to others, who go back to work afterwards with more to do, and less time to do it in. Head off a meeting by asking what’s wanted of you, and you may find you can cut to the chase far faster than by sitting in a room for a wasted hour or two. (We even knew of one manager who’d say: “We haven’t had a meeting for a while. Set one up, and think of something to put on the agenda.”
- Keep it quiet. Don’t get caught in long and pointless conversations that slow you down. Last night’s TV/football game/news headlines might be interesting, but are they the most important thing in your life when you’re at work? Almost certainly not. Bin the chat to give yourself time in which to be productive.
- Hide. Sounds a bit radical, but this is about keeping your head below the parapet for the duration of something that’s important to you. Set up an office rule that if the door’s closed, you’re not to be disturbed. Don’t have your own office? Go to an empty room and work there. Disconnect yourself from the network by turning off the WiFi connection or pulling the network cable. You can always re-connect later, when you’ve accomplished something else.
- Run multiple errands. Need to go to half a dozen places? Work out the journey before you leave, so as to minimise mileage and the time spent on these chores. Pick a time of day when the traffic will be at its lightest.
- Drink. Pecking away at a keyboard for hours on end makes time slip through your fingers like dry sand, and it’s easy to forget that you’ve had nothing to eat or drink throughout that time. Not eating isn’t so much of a worry, so long as you do it in a balanced way, but not drinking is a big mistake. If you don’t drink, lack of hydration will slow your thought processes, and make it harder for you to accomplish tasks – without you realising it. Have some water to hand, and take it on board regularly, in tandem with tip 17.
- Step away from the screen. Sure, you have to do the computer thing a lot, but getting up and moving around for a few minutes every hour will help you to maintain focus when you get back, and your productivity will increase – but don’t knock it back again with pointless conversation, as we mentioned in tip 13.
- A place for everything. Keep things where they’re supposed to be. If you can’t remember where you left the car keys, and have to hunt for them every time you want to leave the house, how much time are you wasting? Hunting for stuff you’ve been careless in placing is even more of a waste of time than looking at Facebook pictures of cats.
- Get rid of clutter. If there’s too much random stuff on your desk, your eye will continuously be drawn to it, taking your mind away from the task in hand. A tidy workplace will streamline the mind into getting on with what’s important.
- Handle paper only once. Don’t read something through and put it down for action later, because when its turn comes, you’ll have to read it again. If you have made time to read it, then deal with the action it requires. Better to put it with the other things you’ve planned to do later. See tip 11.
- Master, not slave. Having spent some time showing you how to enhance productivity through non-computer tips, it’s time to turn to the computer and think about how to make the most of it, remembering that you’re in charge, not it. Start with shortcuts or hotkeys, which make it so simple to skip from one task or application to the next. PC users will probably need Autohotkey, Mac users Quicksilver. ActiveWords does much the same thing. The goal is the same with them all; to get you to a document, folder, or piece of software you regularly use. Assigning a single keystroke to each of them gets you onto them faster. Setting each one up will take a couple of minutes, but the time payback will be huge over the course of a year or even a month. Find out how to use them best with on-line tutorials.
- Set up an email signature. Creating a bespoke email signature takes no time at all, and will be there every time you want to write a new mail. It can hold far more than just your name, but also contact details, pictures, disclaimers – you name it. The route to creating a signature is different depending on which email package you use, but it’ll be there somewhere. Once done, all your emails will be properly signed, and it will take you no time whatsoever to sign your message. Looks more professional too!
- Junk the junk. Set up robust junk filters, preferably with whoever hosts your service, so that your inbox isn’t bombarded with phishing emails or offers of dodgy meds. Some messages you don’t want to receive will still slip through, but you should set up your system to divert them into your junk or spam folder. (But remember to check the folder at least once a day to make sure your system isn’t being over-zealous in what it’s holding from you.
- Interrogate yourself. You’re busy, but are you being productive, or are you like a cartoon character running on the spot before you get any traction? The only way to find out is to ask yourself the question when you start any task. If the answer’s no, then why would you do it? In a wider context, you might ask if what you’re doing is adding value to your organisation. If it isn’t, then you’re costing the organisation money, and it’s time to re-think priorities.
- To file or not to file. Here’s where computer power really scores. Putting files into the right folders when they’re created eliminates the need for time-consuming paper filing, and means that crisp and clean documents are always to hand. However, you shouldn’t abandon old school paper filing if your computer isn’t regularly backed up in a robust way, either to a stand-alone hard drive or to the cloud. Letting the computer ‘file as you go’ can save hours or non-productive time, and your productivity levels will go through the roof.
- Plan meals ahead. Think how much time (and probably money) you waste by wondering what’s for dinner whilst on the way home, and sorting it out once you get there. Think about menu choices for week ahead, do the shopping in one hit (supermarkets deliver these days!), and that’s something else you don’t have to think about when you’re tired. That delivers the same result as tip 26.
- Buy time, ditch stress. Whilst there are only so many hours in the day, they’re not all the same in terms of the pressure they bring. Mornings are always busier than evenings, so shift some moveable tasks from one to the other. Making a packed lunch? Do it the night before and pop it in the fridge. Making a presentation? Print the notes the night before. Need a shirt ironing? Night before. Getting into the discipline of ‘day before’ preparation will eliminate stress, and help you to hit the ground running.
- Get your financial management in order. We go to work because we have to earn money to pay bills and put food on the table. Given that it’s so hard to earn, how much of it are you wasting? Not knowing leads to waste, which means that in productivity terms you’re the cartoon character from tip 25 again, running hard but not moving forward. Getting yourself a money management app that is free-to-download which is easy and intuitive to use, allows you to track spending with ease, and work out how you can spend cash more wisely, leaving more at the end of the month with no noticeable reduction in standard of living – in fact, if you use it correctly, you’ll probably find you can save for aspirational big ticket items.
- Find the TV’s ‘off’ switch. How productive are you being when you’re sitting (or slouching or lying) in front of the television, watching something you’ve already seen screened by companies with no new content to fill the plethora of TV channels? Even if that’s mildly entertaining, what are you getting done by staring at the advertising? You’d be more productive, and your time would be spent doing something worthwhile that will make your life easier. Have a look at tips 26 and 27.
- Make it work for you. Nothing in this list is going to help you if you see it as a chore. Far better to pick of things that come high up your list based of ‘that’s achievable’, ‘I can do that’, or ‘great idea!’ When you’ve increased your productivity by changing the way you work with just some of these ideas, and seen the benefits for yourself, you may change your views on other items on the list.
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