no bullsh*t productivity
In Australian culture it is actually taboo to work beyond 6pm. They see it as being inefficient. Culturally in Denmark it is also frowned upon. When people ask you “What do you do?”, they are asking what is it that you love to do, and not really your professional self. This is the part of me I am constantly striving to improve on.
In Asia, the later you work the better, because you’re seen as dedicated and hardworking. Hard work isn’t always the best work, however. Your best work comes when you’re effective and inspired, and that means being as productive as you can in whatever timeframe you've set for yourself. An article I came across recently shows just that, about how people should be looking at managing their energy versus their time. So true, because you do your best work when you're focused, and you're easily distracted when you're not, leading you to work even longer hours just to make up for it. They found that for every 52 minutes of hard work, the highest performing people took 17 minutes of rest time.
When I started managing a young team in the workplace, I saw so many people lose time writing out notes, trying to cram as many meetings as they could in 8 hours, rewriting their notes into emails for clients, and so on. All these are productivity killers. They were distracted by all the tasks we had to do, all the time. It was frustrating for them, and frustrating for me to watch. They got bogged down by the tiresome "grunt" work and this negativity seeped into every part of their personal lives. They complained more, and this is one of the reasons why people see travelling as an escape. That's one cornerstone of why on this site I'd like to stamp out that sort of thinking. Without needing a huge overhaul with my team we streamlined the way we worked where we had enough time to meet the people we needed to chat with and still have time to sit at our desks to work on actual stuff.
I'm a fan of less is more. You don't have to change a whole lot to start seeing small changes, so if you need the “just throw 100 tips at me and see which sticks” article, then this isn’t the post you’re looking for.
1. Use a notebook ONLY for things you WANT to REMEMBER FOR LONG. type FAST notes directly as emails for things you need to share
When it comes to note taking I tried two methods: one notebook for everything or use loose sheets of paper to take notes after which I can just toss them away. For awhile the latter one seemed to work for me more, but I found myself scribbling MORE notes. More space, more paper, I felt like I could take liberties and write more down. But the more I wrote, the less focused I was, less aware of what I needed to do next. I was writing things down so I could refer to them later, deferring the thinking rather than making decisions on the spot. So I tossed this method aside and stuck to having one notebook in the workplace. It kept my notes as well as my to-dos, and I use a bastardised version of the bullet journal for note-taking. The whole process is tediously demotivating, however it's got some gems I favour, such as the legend of bullets and migration of daily tasks using the '>' symbol. Eventually I stopped using the notebook for to-dos except for noting down valuable thoughts I would eventually want to refer to. For work tasks that I need to keep track off over a few days or weeks I keep these digitised using Evernote. Everything else - action immediately for the day, clear your tasks and move on.
When it comes to meetings, the industry is rife with contact reports that nobody ever reads and is valuable only when disputes arise. Since that happens quite often most clients and agencies spend a lot of time and effort writing up reports in templates that get circulated but honestly NO ONE ever reads. I absolutely hate this practice. If you're running a meeting, end your meeting with a recap that everybody aligns with on the spot. And while you're in the meeting, type out that recap exactly. When you're done with the meeting, hit send to everyone present and you're done in 5 minutes. Why waste HOURS recapping every detail of the meeting in a word template after? I unfortunately have known organisations that are notoriously forgetful and vicious when they are, so take this with a pinch of salt if yours falls in this category.
2. Set yourself limited blocks of time to complete tasks
I have colleagues who sit at their desk for hours and at the end of 3 hours they turn to me and exclaim, "omg it's been 3 hours and I still haven't typed out this email!" It happens all the time. Interruptions at your desk are one of the most dominant productivity killers. And most people can't say no - when someone walks up to you, it's easy for you to engage and finish that task, but all that does is finish someone else's task. If you're in a leadership position, don't say no but put in a time for someone to come back to you unless it's absolutely urgent. Teach others to respect your time as much as you should respect theirs.
And so if I've set myself 30 minutes to be completing a particular task, I do that and move on, working to finish it. If a task needs more than 2 or 3 hours, I block that off on my calendar and sit away from my desk to avoid interruptions. What also really helps is being honest about how much time you need to complete something; what irks me to death is when I ask a colleague about how much time they need and it's always 30 or 60 minutes and 60 minutes later it's always "give it to you tomorrow".
Even if you don't manage to finish your task, sometimes you'll find that coming back to it with a fresh pair of eyes is better than pushing through with it. At the end of the day you’ll find that you finished more pieces of work than slaving away at one and creating an unnecessary back log for yourself.
3. Save it for later
Productivity isn’t about reading every single thing you come across immediately and being able to digest every piece of info in an instant. I used to try and carve out 1 hour a day (I read this tip somewhere) in the morning just trying to read things, and when that didn’t work, an hour at night. Reality is, you will naturally make decisions to do certain things over others. I couldn’t sit still and read something in the morning because I was itching to go out and exercise, and I could only do one or the other before work. Some mornings I wanted to to catch up on correspondence on social media instead.
Bookmark things you want to come back to later on when you’re ready to properly read a piece of content. Use the arsenal of tools available out there - Pinterest, Flipboard, Instapaper, even the clipboard tool in Evernote. Giving in to distractions and trying to multi-task by doing and digesting info simultaneously doesn’t get you very far.
4. Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise
Prioritisation is my 2017 buzz word. I say it to clients who want impossible deliverables in tight timelines on no budget. I say it to myself when I want to do every thing for the blog in one night. I say it when I’m looking at material things I want to buy over travel tickets. Unless you’re throwing money and plenty of resources at the problem, prioritisation is the key to getting things done well and done fast, one at a time, instead of allowing yourself to become overwhelmed and stuck. And when you're done prioritising and completing one task move on to the next, shuffle and repeat. It's a quick and slippery slide into being overwhelmed if you start trying to pack on more than you can handle.
As I said, these are tips but they won't help you until you make them a habit. Prioritisation is the single biggest productivity driver I know. It helps you break up what's important for you to focus on first before moving on to other tasks. It helps you realise if responding to your emails are more important than doing your piece of work (and honestly you can solve a thousand things faster with a phone call over email); it makes you ask yourself and your colleagues, is another meeting "just to discuss things" really necessary? And the best thing about prioritising is that it instinctively teaches you to say no. My team had a huge problem saying no to senior colleagues or to clients on everything, from last minute meetings right down to the little things like pulling links. That created a lot of unnecessary extra work, ran everybody ragged, and for very little value at the end of the day.
And quit with the multi-tasking unless you're some sort of cross-thinking genius. I once had to work on three proposals in a day, and I had all three open in front of me. I did a bit of one for an hour and then jumped onto another one for another hour. This was great for half a day as I was getting juiced up on inspiration but when it actually came to really building the proposal I could only work on one at a time to avoid thinking all over the place and putting down ideas that didn't make any sense.
5. Encourage empowerment and accountability
My team rarely came to me to ask, "what should I do now?" For any problem they had, they were tasked to think of a solution for discussion and not a blanket expectation of "what now?" A high level of empowerment gave people the feeling that they were able to contribute their thoughts, and better yet, it trained them to work out scenarios on their own and not expect to be spoon fed solutions. A lot of juniors, and I'm guilty of this when I was younger, too, incorrectly assume that managers are there to solve all their problems. Hell no. A team that works together solves problems together, each with their own POV. I saw many of my juniors rise into leadership roles through learning this first hand on the job. As to why this matters for productivity, it trained people to create action instead of passing problems around. For every team member who couldn't say no to a client, I kept driving this point home - don't say yes if it means you're going to have to pull more people down with you to dig into an unnecessary task. Think about what you're asking people to invest in and if it makes sense, do it. If it doesn't, find a solution around it. Getting team members to own this part of the thinking process meant that more people benefitted from this and productivity rose.