I write a lot about career ideas. It’s been the major focus of my life since I found out at the ripe age of 20 that I was about to be a father. I’m not claiming that I had my priorities where they needed to be, in fact, my daughter would probably tell you that she wished that I wasn’t so career focused most of the time. Unfortunately, it took about 15 years to realize that my career was a bit too high on the list.
After reading “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss, I went on a productivity rampage. I read books, attended seminars, hired a coach, and tried hundreds of different strategies. Below are 10 or so of the most frequent ideas that I hand out when asked about workplace productivity.
1. Limit Distractions – It’s painfully obvious but distractions are more costly than just the time of the distraction. Factor in 20 minutes of “switching time” which is the time that it will take your brain to refocus on the task at hand. The absolute beyond all doubt go to resource in this is Darren Hardy’s High Performance Summit. HPS is perhaps the best productivity seminar out there.
2. Block Time – I think it was Brendon Burchard that first introduced me to block time. Basically create 2-3 90 minute blogs of time in your calendar that have a specific outcome. Have a blog post to write, block out 90 minutes on your calendar and that 90 minutes is dedicated to writing your post. Turn off your phones, use something like rescuetime.com to limit other distractions. Close your office door. I like to set a 40 minute timer. When it goes off I have 10 minutes for a bio break, coffee, quick walk or stretch, etc. Then another 40 minutes. For my fellow “office workers” I would wager that if you did this 3 times per day, just 4.5 hours worth, you would get a typical weeks worth of results by close of business on Tuesday. That is what my initial result was.
3. Only Necessary Meetings – Ugh.. meetings. There is a wonderful book out there titled “Death By Meetings” by Patrick Lencioni. Get it, learn it, love it, live it… Meetings are typically the biggest time waster and productivity killer in the business world. Everyone strives for a full calendar so that they can appear in demand and busy. I strive for an empty one. Only take meetings that you have a real stake in attending and that have a clearly defined agenda and end time. I used to run meetings in while in the CTO office of USCENTCOM. A weekly update meeting with the staff would take about 20 minutes total. The agenda was: Current project status, next actions with deadlines, and any roadblocks. We’d end with an open discussion for improvements then adjourn. It was efficient and we dramatically cut the time it took for project completion… by months… lots of them…
4. Speak Up! – Have an idea to make something more efficient or effective? Speak up! Think something is a waste of time and effort? Don’t bitch at the water cooler about it, speak up!
5. Call Bullshit – This one will save you hundreds of hours. If you think something is bullshit then say so. Just make sure you can articulate your position. Clearly someone higher up didn’t see it was bullshit so if you can prove to that person that you have something better they will most likely be receptive to it.
6. Do Now, Worry Later (or not at all) – When you have a great idea, go for it. Take action, get a result and share it with your manager. If you believe it’s a good idea, you’re most likely able to explain why. The modern workplace is short on execution. Become known as the person who just gets the job done. Be a doer.
7. Work 6 Hours/Day – Why is it that we get so much work done in the days leading up to vacation or a long weekend? Simple. It’s known as Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fill the amount of time available to it” So if you only have 6 hours to do 8 hours, how much more productive would you need to be? What bullshit could you cut out?
8. Work 4 Hours/Day – If you’re extremely competent in your profession AND you work in block time, this isn’t just a pipe dream. If you limit your incoming requests, manage time wisely, and practically eliminate distractions, you can really get a full day’s worth of work in half a day. At first I thought that this was pretty unethical. Many of you may still. Some time ago, my ex-father-in-law was a grease monkey. Honestly, he was a hell of a mechanic. Now he prepares students to be pit crew for NHRA and NASCAR. I digress, years ago he used to service school busses. It would take the average mechanic 8 hours to get though one of these busses do if you landed a bus, it was an assumed and paid 8 hour gig. After many many iterations of doing this Jim could do this in 6 hours. Work 6 bill for 8. Then he got even more efficient without sacrificing quality. Work 4 bill 8. If I told you something would cost $250, would you really give a shit if I gave it to you in 4 hours instead of 8? In fact, how many of us would pay MORE to have it in less time. I just did this very thing to have the screen on my Iphone 6 replaced. $109 at the Apple store but a 5 hour wait. $159 at the kiosk right outside the Apple store but I’d have my phone back in 20 minutes. The idea of time for money is just not serving you. Stop getting hung up on it!
9. Figure Out Automation – This one can be tough. How can you automate some of your labor? It’s not an easy task. Some of the tools that I like to use are saved reports in SalesForce. Exports and scripts (think of things like find&replace). I automate my tickler file (my name for followups that I need to make if I haven’t made progress in a predefined time) followup.cc I get to email 2pmFriday@ and end up with an email reminder to do something at 2pm Friday. It’s super cool. I bcc a followup time with almost every email I send. Another automation technique is to create or purchase templates. I’ve done both. Or even outsourcing. I’ve outsourced whitepapers. I’ll write it up then outsource the formatting and editing. The great thing is I can rough draft the white paper and save it into a shared dropbox folder in a single time block and have it proofed and formatted while I’m moving on the next block timed tasker. I also use Dropvox to record something which instructs Virtual Assistants what to do next. It automatically saves into a shared dropbox folder.
10. Remove Decisions – In yet another great text “Willpower” it’s shown that we as humans can only make so many decisions per day. And that number changes based on the amount of sugar in your blood. Crazy right?! But maybe that’s why Mark Z and Steve J always dressed the same. One less decision. What other decisions can you remove. For 150/week I have all of my meals delivered to me from a athletics focused nutritionalist. One less decision. I just show up at Crossfit without putting any thought into what I should do at the gym today. One less decision. The fewer decisions you make on a daily basis (personal or professional) will result in better focus and mental clarity. Well maybe not for you, but it did for me. I’m not a doctor, results not typical, blah blah blah…
11. Process – The more you can have a defined process for (like the school bus example above in #8) the more time you can save and the more efficient you can become over time. Spend some time and flow chart out some of your work scenarios. Can you create a process? Can parts of that process be performed by someone other than yourself? If you can answer yes, that’s one more tool to get you down to 4 hours per day. Once you’re there why not shoot for 4-hours workweeks?
There isn’t really anything new here. I like to think of it as a consolidated list of what I’ve tried and what has worked well for me. Give a couple of the things on this list a short for a couple weeks. I’d love to know how they’ve worked for you.
What are your favorite productivity tips? Post them below in the comments.