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Five Tips To Increase Productivity

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.


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.

What's This, Another Meeting?

Most meetings are a waste of time


Besides reading and replying to nonsense e-mails, meetings are probably the single, largest waste of time in the workplace. (In order for a meeting to take place, everybody involved must collectively stop being productive). Between the scheduling, small talk, and preparation, it’s a wonder that anything ever gets done. I mean really, what is the point of having a meeting just to decide to meet again in order to “discuss this further” so we can meet again to “discuss this further?” We shouldn’t set our agenda around meetings, but other, more important milestones.

Use social media when you can be more productive


I argue that about 90 percent of meetings never need to be held. Most could be alleviated with a quick e-mail, or better yet, an internal social network. Rather than spend 45 minutes to an hour (and rearranging my schedule) for a simple status update, I’d much rather spend 5 minutes reading a bulletin or blog post at my leisure. Then, when an idea comes to us, we can make note of them, conduct polls and research, and come to better conclusions than we can in a 45 minute session. Maybe one day, all managers will realize this. People who call several meetings are normally trying to cover up a lack of work or are looking for reasons to avoid doing it in the first place.

How to run a meeting


I know that some meetings are necessary. When they are unavoidable, they should be conducted correctly. No meeting should last longer than 30 minutes. Every meeting should have an actionable agenda with a defined purpose, set of goals, and actionable steps. One person should lead the meeting. Attendees should not be allowed to deviate too much from the topic. If you want to get together to talk, call it a break and make it pleasurable. If it’s really a meeting, conduct it as one.


Taking Control of E-mail

Last week I had an experiment. Rather than subject myself to the constant bombardment of work e-mails I decided to check my it only twice per day. I never realized just how much distress receiving and replying to-e-mail caused and how much of a distraction it is during the workday until I practically removed it altogether.

Lately I have found that the constant e-mail alerts on my computer and phone were beginning to drive me crazy. Every time I felt my phone vibrate, saw desktop preview, or heard the e-mail alert I would sigh in frustration. Getting something done was nearly impossible. I couldn’t start a task without being interrupted with one request or another. I couldn’t have a peaceful night at home or out with friends unless I left my phone at home, but then would be concerned that I might miss an actual emergency. Between the constant notifications form AIM, Twitter, Facebook, personal e-mail, work e-mail, text messages, phone calls, Skype, etc., it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to be productive and/or focus on any one particular task for an extended period of time.

To remedy this situation, I removed my work e-mail from my cell phone. “Are you sure you wish to delete this account?” Yes! I then turned off my e-mail clients (I use Entourage for work) and only checked it twice: at 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

Almost immediately I felt like a new person. I was much more productive and my stress level dropped tremendously. What happened when I opened my inbox? Other than receiving my unread e-mails, nothing. Nothing had fallen apart. I hadn’t missed anything crucial. I was able to increase both my effectiveness in the workplace and reduce stress by simply closing my e-mail.