“It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?” ~ Henry David Thoreau
One - Make To-Do Lists
This might seem obvious, but you’d be amazed how this simple tool just gets thrown out the window. Without a to-do list you are apt to feel like you are standing in a flurry of paper, sticky notes and digital messages.
Oftentimes, we save vital tasks in multiple places: e-mail, sticky notes, a physical planner, digital calendar, text messages to self, Siri reminders, etc. Without a central, organized location for all of our tasks to land it's inevitable that some vital tasks are going to fall through the cracks.
The cure is a single to-do list. Just one list. It can be a daily list or a weekly list, but you need to have a central location where tasks and actions are stored so your actions can be systematic and controlled.
Here’s a list of some top to-do list apps you start using right away.
Two - Declutter Email
On your phone, you likely have an e-mail app. There is usually a number floating inside a red dot on the corner of the email envelope indicating how many pending messages there are. How big is that number? Just yesterday, I saw a small business owner who had over 10,000 pending emails.
When email gets this cluttered, it becomes clogged and it becomes harder to use as a productivity tool and communication method.
This is a real problem. McKinsey Global Institute found that workers are spending an estimated 28% of their time managing email messages. This is largely due to the sheer volume of emails and there are no systems in place to sort through messages.
As a first step, it’s smart to get everything out of your inbox that has the word “unsubscribe” in it. These emails are usually newsletters, marketing pieces and not work related. You can create a filter for the word “unsubscribe” which redirects and email containing it to a special folder. This immediately takes all those unproductive emails and parks them elsewhere. Go through them on a rainy day.
Three - Establish a production focus area every day
“Once you have mastered time, you will understand how true it is that most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year – and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade!” ~ Tony Robbins
You have a lot to do. Your tasks likely span beyond today, next month and even the next year. Likely you have production goals and dreams that are far out in the future. We all want it now, but trying to make it all happen now often results in nothing happening and ending the day feeling like it was a waste.
The way to get things done and build for the future is to lay one brick at a time - eventually you’ll have a skyscraper. For example, if you are running a company and want to see it expand you have to focus on many actions: marketing, product, HR, personal learning, etc. If you sit down and try to do all of these things at once, you’ll end up starting a bunch of things, not finishing them and creating confusion.
You need to focus on one area of production at a time. For example, as a small business owner you could make a list of all the problems you need to solve: hiring a receptionist, writing a new marketing program, inspecting products for bugs, team building, etc. Compartment your time. Use your to-do list and dedicate a day of the week to each of these problems.
Four - Sleep
“It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.” ~ John Steinbeck
Harvard University conducted a survey of 7,400 workers and discovered that sleep deprivation is costing companies $2,280 per employee, or an average of 11.3 days of productivity per year.
It’s common knowledge and there are truckloads of academic books stating that sleep increases productivity. We might think that with enough grit and coffee we can work all day and well into the night with minimal sleep without ever having to stop, but the truth is your body needs sleep everyday.
We’ve all pushed through exhaustion to work more, to meet that deadline and in today’s competitive world it is nearly impossible to get a decent night's rest everyday. Sometimes a deadline just forces us to stay up until 2am; but our minds work faster and smarter when rested.
The speed upon which the rested mind works and problem solves usually outweighs the extra hours one logs when strained past the point of exhaustion. So make sure to sleep.
Five - Always Keep The End in Mind
Work can be boring. Even if you have your dream job or your building the company you always wanted, there are times when you have to do something incredibly boring. Files need to be alphabetized, desks need to be cleaned out and sometimes we just have to sift through 2000 emails of mundane information.
When you hit a rut, when you have to shovel some dirt for a while make sure you have the end goal in mind and know that what you are doing (thought arduous and possibly unbearable) is getting you closer to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Emotions play a big part in productivity and while I’m no psychologist or expert on the human mind - I can tell you that a happy person gets way more done than a depressed one.
How do you stay happy when the task at hand will take 5 hours and is mindless work? Figure out how the task fits into the broad scheme of achieving the big goal, then buckle down and do it.
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