1) Know your work style and use the tools and systems that match. If you work well with technology, use your computer, phone, and apps for your scheduling and organization. If you are a visual person, consider using a paper calendar and a written to-do list. If you are a people person, develop a team around you to complement your strengths. If you work alone, find time to focus and remain distraction-free. If you are a morning person, attack the most important tasks early in the day.
2) Use ONE calendar. Sometimes people will have several calendars: one for family, one for work, one for personal appointments. Keep ONE calendar for everything. Use different colors or type styles to differentiate categories. Personally, I am very visual and remember things better when I write them down, therefore I have a paper calendar for my appointments, but due to the need for dynamic communication I have a Google calendar to support my scheduling, which might appear like two calendars, however, this calendar is a mirror of the paper one and has everything on it. While it is extra work to have both, it is one calendar (paper or digital) with all the information.
3) Make a to-do list at the end of each day. Your mind naturally begins to work on the list as you sleep. When you awake, you are ready to work, are very productive and organized. Estimate how much time each task will take you and only put on your next day to-do list what is reasonable to get done.
4) “Eat your frog first.” A Brian Tracy concept*: Do the hardest thing you have to do all day first before you do anything else. Doing this will provide you with the feeling of success in having a “burden” off your back and the momentum to accomplish the remaining tasks.
5) Have a clear goal; write it down and read it daily. When you have a goal you know what to focus on and work toward. If you do not have this at the front of your mind, it is easy to get caught up with the urgent things of the day or trapped in reacting to e-mail, phone calls, interruptions, and other people’s emergencies.
6) Have a “power hour.” Designate one hour each day to close the door, shut down e-mail, turn off the ringer on the phone and guard yourself from interruptions. Have a pre-picked project that you will work on during this time only. Make sure to go to the bathroom, get a drink, and do whatever else you need to in order to ensure you do not leave once this hour starts. Give yourself 30 minutes after this hour to return calls, e-mails, and care for people with whom you need to follow up that you missed during the POWER HOUR.
7) Touch it once. This means e-mail, mail, papers, etc. Touch it and make a decision. File it, toss it, or put it in a place for action. Sorting bins are helpful for this. Sorting bins often have labels like: read, file, do this week, urgent, bills, etc. Also, if your subject lines in e-mails are accurate, it is easy for both you and the recipient to find the e-mail. Paper, soft copy (computer), and e-mail folders should have matching labels.
8) Have daily habits. After you develop a routine of things that are simple but important, your body will naturally do them. This is important because we can get distracted by our regular routines and use them as vices to interrupt, procrastinate, and prolong important things that really need to get done. If you start your day right, you will be ready to do those urgent and important tasks, increasing your everyday productivity.
9) Pre-prep. Have you ever been amazed on cooking shows how they make a complicated dish in 10 minutes? OK, part is edited TV time, but they also have everything pre-prepped for quick assembly. Why not do the same? Prepare your information packets and new client folders, turn common documents into a template, set up e-mail group/ distribution lists for teams, etc.
10) Maximize car systems. Listen to a book on audio to maximize your windshield time and learn. Have a bin to put important things in, rather than having them all over the car. Have a trash bag to catch the liter. Always have a bottle of water in the car with you; dehydration causes fatigue, memory loss, and low concentration. Make sure your contacts are portable (e.g, phone, planner, business card file book) so you can keep people and numbers at your fingertips (so that you can call if you’re running late, caught in traffic, etc.). Enjoy relaxing, breathing, and taking in the day while driving (rather than cleaning, talking on the phone, etc.)
When you implement a few simple productivity strategies and develop them as time-saving habits, you will quickly enjoy the benefit of more time and energy and overall increased productivity.
*Tracy, Brian. Eat that Frog! 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2001