Last night, I was talking with a friend of mine and they asked, “how do you fit so much stuff into your day?” I jokingly told her that I just don’t sleep, so that gives me eight more hours than most people. But in all seriousness, I shared with her a few techniques I use to increase productivity—and that’s the basis for this blog post.

SXC

1. Focus and turn off outside distractions

This is the most important thing I do. When I’m working on something, I do my best to completely immerse myself into what I’m doing. For example, when I get ready to work, I turn off my cell phone and place it in another room so I won’t be tempted to turn it on. If I am using the computer, I close anything that doesn’t related to what I’m working on. This includes email, all web browsers, iTunes, etc. If I have to use a web browser for research, I only allow myself one window and one tab. This keeps me from falling down the slippery slope of online distractions (here’s looking at you Facebook, Pinterest, CNET, and Engadget.) If I don’t absolutely need the computer, than I turn it completely off.

2. Go analog

It may seem like a waste of time, but I actually find it saves me a lot of time by starting on paper to flesh out my thoughts. For things I’m writing, I either mind map, outline, or storyboard my ideas first on paper. For longer pieces, research, and case studies, I write topics on notecards so I can easily rearrange them visually. Then I often handwrite much of the content before transferring it to a text editor. I don’t know what it is, but something about the flow of energy from the brain through the hand works for me. There may be more steps involved in this way, but I find my workflow is much more efficient and effective, and I use much less time than I do when staring at a flashing cursor or blank digital canvas trying to formulate my thoughts.

Sketching out a title slide for an upcoming presentation

3. Unplug the computer from power

Screenshot showing time remaining after unplugging my laptop.

Obviously this won’t work if you use a desktop computer. But for those of you who use a laptop, here’s one thing I do. I fully charge the machine overnight. When I get ready to work, I unplug it from power. Depending on what I’m doing and how bright I need the display to be, I know I have between 3-5 hours of uninterrupted work time. Once I get the message that it’s running low on power, I close the lid, plug it back into power, and take a break. I enjoy taking a nice long walk, reading a book, cooking a meal, or working out. I also try to schedule meetings that fall within those time frames.

My running/walking route

4. Check Email two-three times a day

Unless there is an urgent project at hand, I check and reply to email only two-three times per day. And it’s not the first thing I do in the morning. I wait until around 11:00 a.m. to check email. I do my best to reply to everything outstanding at that time. Then I do it again at 3:00 p.m. and yet again before I get ready to go to sleep.

5. Jot down notes and block out time for writing

I find inspiration for things like blog posts and resource material when I’m showering, running, or doing something completely unrelated to work. I used to stop focusing on what I was doing at the time and rushed back to start writing. Now I simply add a few notes to my phone, write it on a sticky, or leave myself a voice memo. When I have a some time when and where I can focus, I block out a couple of hours and let the writing flow. When I sit down to write in this way, it’s not uncommon for me to author 4-5 pieces at a time. Then I revisit them a few days later and check for spelling, grammar, flow, etc., making sure the original intended message clearly comes through.

Bonus: Categorize similar tasks

This is one little thing that has helped me tremendously. There are so many seemingly little tasks to accomplish each day that, when added up, take a huge chunk of time. Much of that time isn’t actually dedicated to the task, but the time it takes to switch to it. This involves stopping what I’m doing, thinking about the new task, gathering the tools I need to accomplish the task, and switching back to something else. For example, checking email doesn’t just involve checking email. It often involves scanning the email, thinking of a reply, researching an answer to a question, accomplishing a task (Can you turn this .pdf into a .jpeg for me? What was that link you sent me again? Could you please take a look at this and tell me what you think? Here’s a survey. If you could fill it out I would greatly appreciate it. Can you check your calendar and give me three dates and times you’re free? etc.) I find that when I follow whatever comes to mind in the moment it comes to mind I become almost completely ineffective. So I started categorizing tasks and lumping them together into blocks of time.

Therefore, to reduce the time taken switching, I find all the images I’m going to use, reply to emails, write blogs posts, outline thoughts, write follow-up messages, read articles, etc. in dedicated time slots. It ties back into my first point, but I’ve found it so important and helpful for me I wanted to share it with you.

What other techniques have you found useful? I’m curious to know. Until next time…peace.