How to boost your productivity

I bet you know the people who seem to be able to get a million things done every single day, and you have no idea what they do different. I am here to tell you some of the things that make some people extraordinarily productive while keeping others reactive and always a few steps behind.

Some things to be aware of upfront:

  • People who are more productive take responsibility. For themselves, people around them, their time and the results they deliver. Own that responsibility every day.
  • Productive people are proactive, not reactive. What does that mean? It means that they do not sit around waiting for a lucky strike in productivity, but pursue it constantly on a daily basis.

Some of the things to be aware of here is that in the typical office community, the most productive people are rarely the most popular colleagues. Therefore, you must make an active choice to be “less social”, take shorter coffee breaks etc. to maximize your results and ultimately be the person in the office that people respect for their work ethic, not their coffee stories. (The two can be combined, but happens rarely.)

A recent study conducted by RescueTime about the use of the typical office worker time shows worrying results as to where time is allocated. In order ranked for most time, the list is:

  • Emails and Instant Messaging (37%)
  • Meetings (21%)
  • Helping colleagues with tasks (17%)
  • Primary work (16%)
  • Lunch, coffee etc. (9%)

So, besides a difference in the attitude you bring to your professional life, let’s look at some of the specifics that great leaders and employees do to maximize output (results) per unit of input (time, resources).

  • Emails: Productive people realize that email and IM is a tool for them to use, not the other way around. It is extremely easy to fill up an entire day of emailing back and forth, asking pointless questions, file information, re-read it etc. People who consistently deliver results will limit their digital communication to a few minor slots throughout the day to make time for what really matters (the primary work).
  • Meetings: Just like emails, people tend to be both annoyed and flatters when invited to many meetings. Common for meetings in most companies is that they are not effective. That means many people are there who does not need to be; meetings do not have an clear agenda and deadline; decisions are not made in meetings; meetings are being “kidnapped” for other purposes than intended (again, no clear agenda). All these factors weigh in to make even modern meetings extremely unproductive for everyone who participates. Therefore, refuse any meeting that does not come with 1) a clear goal (what is the outcome); 2) a tight agenda; 3) where people do not show up on time or leave the meeting when it is done.
  • How to structure your tasks: If you are like most people in the morning, you open your email, get a coffee, write the first few emails back, talk to a colleague, go for lunch, check email, and then, if you’re proactive, deal with your work at this point.
    Disregarding your email from the early morning and having your list of daily tasks ready, it is my belief you can handle your most crucial tasks within the first 3-4 hours of the workday. How? By prioritizing your tasks correctly and not wasting time.
    Prioritizing in this matter will mean to look at which of your tasks will produce the greatest output – the kind of result you can take to your leader and be extremely proud of. How often do you deliver something you have pride in and that you will remember at the end of the year? Focus your time and energy on these matters – opportunities will be there to do so, but coffee breaks and emails tend to get in the way for most people. I will do a follow-up post shortly on how to structure your tasks most effectively.
  • Got a minute?: The answer should be “NO!” unless extreme conditions are in play. Generally speaking, as with emails, instant messaging and meetings, you shouldn’t let external things (including colleagues) take your most productive time. Instead, if you’re being interrupted several times during the day, set up a few times slots throughout the day so you can bundle these “Got-a-minute”-moments, and handle your email at the same time. It is the only time you will be reactive, but at least you will have a proactive approach to it and not let it ruin your general productivity.

Having worked with big and small companies, startups and old conglomerates, I know that the things outlined above are the majority of the productivity (profit) killers in most companies. If your company can create healthy habits for everyone, it will benefit greatly. I have not yet met a company or organisation that couldn’t reach minimum 25-30% improvement in productivity in a matter of just a few hours or days.