My New Productivity Tweaks for 2013

I took the last few days to contemplate what worked for me, in terms of productivity, over the past year – and what did not work. The result: a new plan for improved productivity in 2013.

business concept on wall

While you may not wish to duplicate my plan point-for-point, I thought you might find it useful to see my “working blueprint”. Maybe it will serve as a springboard for your own fresh new productivity tweaks.

Productivity Philisophy. I looked at a number of productivity programs and approaches, many of which I have used in the past. After careful consideration, I still can’t find another system that works as well as Getting Things Done. While I find great ideas in the Franklin Covey approach, among others, GTD makes the most sense for me. If you are not familiar with the GTD philosophy, I encourage you to read David Allen’s seminal work on stress-free productivity. A great augmentation to the GTD material is one of my favorite new podcasts and websites, Erik Fisher’s “Beyond the To-Do List”.

Planning. In keeping with my adherence to GTD, my planning is fairly simple. I have a weekly review session on Fridays, during which I collect all the inputs that have accumulated over the past week, and one by one clear them from my inbox. For each item I decide whether to do it, delegate it, or delete it. Simple, but not always easy. In 2012, I reached the mythical “inbox zero” only about 50% of the time. My goal for the new year is to reach inbox zero 80% of the weeks in the year.

Disciplined Tracking. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I have never been great at tracking my activities. I am resolved to change that in 2013. In the realm of fitness, I have hired a personal trainer, and invested in a FitBit (this little device tracks my physical activity throughout the day). For business activities, I am developing a dashboard for my company in Excel to keep track of key metrics. For productivity purposes, I have reinstalled RescueTime, to help me evaluate how I’m spending my time on the computer. I am resolved to reduce my computer time in the new year significantly.

Productivity Tools. In the past, I have been a “tool junkie”. One of my favorite time-wasters is collecting new productivity tools. Think about the irony of that. The only productivity tools I actually use on a consistent basis are… OmniFocus and Notes (the iOS app). A relative newcomer to my productivity protocol, but something I use increasingly more often, is the dictation feature on my MacBook Pro, my iPhone, and my iPad.

Boundaries. I admit it. I have a hard time saying “no” to people. In the past year, I agreed to far too many meetings, phone calls, and seminars that required travel. I was far too accessible. In 2013, I am intentionally limiting my accessibility, and enforcing my personal and professional boundaries more diligently. My biggest weaknesses in this area: email and telephone. This year, I am resolved to stick to my regimen of only answering email once a day, and the same for phone calls. I also intends to be “off the grid” three days a week for both email and phone calls. The point of limiting my accessibility is not to stroke my ego, but rather to protect my time so that I can render the best possible service to my God, myself, my family, my friends, and my clients (yes, in that order).

Guarding My Heart and Mind. Toxic thoughts and emotions destroy us. Toxic thinking limits our potential for accomplishment. Toxic emotions limit our potential for happiness and fulfillment. In the new year, I will not allow negative thinking, language, images, or emotions to pierce the boundary of my sight or hearing. If you have bad news that you want to share, don’t be surprised when I tell you, “I’m sorry, I can’t afford to listen to that. Let’s talk about something else.” This includes not only conversations, but communication through social media, email, podcasts, television shows, movies, or any other media. Bottom line: if it’s negative, it ain’t going into my brain. You may think of this as a form of denial. I agree. When the architect of evil wants to try to slip something nasty into my heart or into my mind, my response is: request denied. Best form of denial I know.

Task Batching. I perform best when I batch similar tasks together and do them all at once. For instance, my plan for the new year is to read incoming email, deal with decisions about what to do with it, and respond to the emails all in one sitting each day. When combined with the “focus block” technique, which I outline below, this makes me remarkably efficient. Give it just a little thought; coming up with tasks you can “batch” is fairly easy. Some ideas for batch tasking: writing blog posts, responding to email, voice mail, customer service, etc.

Focus Blocks. “Focus blocks” are clearly defined blocks of time that I use to focus on one single task. For instance, I have “focus blocks” set aside for writing. These appear in my calendar. If I have an appointment in my calendar for one hour of writing, I do nothing else for that hour; no instant messenger, no phone calls, no checking email, no talking with my wife, nothing except writing. My most reliable productivity tool is actually a simple digital timer, which I use to monitor my “focus blocks”. I have tried lots of timers, both physical and virtual (apps),  and I always come back to the same solution… the timer feature on my iPhone. I plan to use this tool a lot more often in 2013.

Digital Fasting. I am a digital junkie. I love Facebook, Twitter, Google+, email, RSS feeds… you get the idea. That’s why it’s important to me to completely unplug frequently. Otherwise my mind is continually racing, and I begin to feel a low-level stress building up. Frankly, in the past I have been fairly disciplined about this, but over the last six months or so I have completely fallen off the wagon. Time to climb back up there. My goal is to be completely free of email, voice mail, and Internet consumption… 100% free… at least one day a week. You may have noticed, earlier I stated that I plan to be disconnected from telephone calls and email three days a week; that practice refers only to business-related communications. I still plan to be available to talk to my family on those days. But on “digital fast” days, I intend to be completely unplugged from the matrix.

Sabbath. One day each week, my intention is to be at complete rest. No work-related reading, listening, talking, or… welll, working. I believe God instituted the Sabbath because he knew that we human beings love to work, and given the option, he knew we would work seven days a week. That’s why the Bible says the “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In 2013, I am graciously accepting my Creator’s gift. One day a week, I will be at rest.

The Positive No. I mentioned earlier that it is difficult for me to say “no” to people. This year, my default response to every request made of me will be, at least initially, “no”. It’s important for me, a person who so quickly says yes, to be certain I don’t overload myself with commitments I cannot keep. Few things cause me more anxiety than to realize I have made a commitment that is difficult (or impossible) for me to live up to. This new policy does not mean that I will never say “yes” to any new request, it simply means that the answer is “no” until I have carefully considered whether the request serves God, me, and the other people in my life who are affected by my decisions.

Income Producing Activity Hours. I have identified the activities which are most likely to result in producing revenue for my company: speaking, writing, marketing and advertising, and creating new material or trainings. There are a few other income-producing activities, such as networking, sales calls, and developing JV relationships. I am creating carefully protected and intricately planned “focus blocks” for these activities. These are among the first activities to be scheduled in my calendar.

Writing Time. This is in my top tier of income producing activities. It is also in my top tier of spiritually fulfilling activities. Therefore, this is one of my very highest priorities, and will be one of my most protected assets in the new year.

30 Day Challenges. I love new ideas, and I love trying them out. So much so, that I have tended, in the past, to try out many different ideas in a single week. These may include new activities, new habits, new books, new podcasts, etc. While each seems like a small commitment at the time, collectively they end up consuming massive amounts of time that could be used more productively. Therefore, in the new year, each month I plan to adopt one “30 Day Challenge”. A single new habit, activity, or discipline. I will post each month’s 30 day challenge publicly, and at the end of the 30 days report on my experience. I want to try new things, things I have never tried before. Suggestions are welcome. Tip of the hat to Matt Cutts, who gave me this idea.

That’s my plan for tweaking my productivity protocol in the new year.

What about you? Are you making adjustments to make the coming year more productive than last year? I would love to hear your ideas-please post them below in the comments.

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at RayEdwards.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://www.DavidLDeutsch.com David Deutsch

    Thanks, Ray.

    Enlightening and inspiring.

    Best,

    David

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Thank you David, I appreciate the encouragement.

  • http://www.roadturn.com Don Sturgill

    Good stuff, Ray. All good points. For myself, one more comes to mind: diet.

    For some reason, my body is hyper-sensitive to foods. My plan is to get much more particular about what and how much I ingest–especially to cut way back on processed items and added sugar (including corn sweetners), opting for fresh fruits and vegetables, other natural foods and plenty of water.

    Wishing you an excellent 2013.

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Don, you make a very good point. I could benefit from your suggestions. I’m now planning to incorporate diet as another category in need of “tweaking” for 2013.

  • http://barakstrickland.com Barak

    Ray
    Thanks so much for sharing how you are improving your productivity.
    Just subscribed to Erik Fisher’s “Beyond the To-Do List” based on your recommendation.
    Maybe I’ll see you in Franklin TN in February.
    Barak

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Are you attending the Platform Conference? If so, let’s connect for sure!

  • Chris Dittemore

    Thanks for sharing your plan Ray. :)

    Looking at your plan, I would also incorporate a vision statement. That’s what I have done. Basically it starts as: “It’s January 2014, I have…” Envisioning myself in January 2014 and what the year has created. With this vision statement, I have clarity on what to say no to and what to say yes to (in that order). I’ve also broke it down into annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals. I’ve discovered an hour of clear progress is worth 8 hours of unclear work. With that idea, I’ve decided to continually breathe in my vision for the year and I’ve noticed my actions have becoming more precise, results oriented, and less taxing on my energy.

    Christopher

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Great distinction, Chris! I actually have a document I am working on called “Mission and Vision” that does just what you describe. I agree with you that “an hour of clear progress is worth 8 hours of unclear work”.

  • http://www.aceconcierge.net Suzie

    This is an excellent and inspiring read as many of your productivity tweaks are exactly what I suggest to my virtual assistant clients or institute for myself. I will definitely be sharing this post with others.

    Best of success and happiness in the New Year!

    Suzie

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Thank you Suzie!

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    Love this list Ray and plan to join you on many of these same ideas. Wishing you a phenomenal 2013 and looking forward to the opportunities it brings!

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Thanks Daniel – and I wish you the same!

  • http://www.jasonjnicholas.com Jason Nicholas

    Great list of productivity tweaks. I am quite partial to the “Boundaries” and “The Positive No”. It’s my nature to be always want to help and please others before taking care of myself first. In 2012, I spread myself way too thin. The ‘boundaries’ and “positive no” will help me from not multi-tasking on other people’s lives, and allow me to put my full energy into my strengths, which, in the end, will allow me to ultimately help others the most.

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Yes, Jason, those are two very powerful insights. I believe they will have the most profound effect on my life this year, out of that entire list. Thank you for your comments.

  • Ed Hill

    I appreciate these guidelines that you’ve shared. Thank you for always being so generous with your ideas, your advice and your faith. It’s a blessing for all of us.

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Thank you, Ed.

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  • http://www.topsecretswebsite.com David Blaise

    Wonderful insights, Ray. Thank you. Your reminder about income-producing activities is particularly timely for me.

    FYI, Thanksgiving weekend I began a self-imposed, 4 day Facebook Sabbatical. I “just said no” to Facebook for 4 days. I loved that break so much, I continued it through the end of 2012. Now the New Year has arrived and I really hesitate to get back on, as there is SO much noise, negativity and distraction there. I’d much rather fill my brain (and my days) with positive, helpful input like you have provided above.

    Here’s to a fantastic 2013!

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Thanks so much for sharing the results of your “Facebook experiment”. That is inspiring. And remember, take it in moderate doses!

  • http://www.themakegoodchoicesproject.org Michael Hawkins

    Wow! A post full of fantastic, practical ideas. I love it!

    I’m a big fan/follower of the GTD process too. It works well for me.

    Thanks for sharing all these great thoughts.

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Thank you very much, Michael. Good to meet a fellow GTD practitioner.

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  • http://maxkazen.com Max Kazen

    As can be noted by the number of comments, this is an insightful post. Most of the ideas have been around for a long time, but many of us (and I most particularly include myself) have a hard time sticking to them. By nature, we want to help others, but often forget to help ourselves first. It’s not just knowing what to do — it’s doing it!

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      I absolutely cannot argue with that, Max!

  • Ray Eickhoff

    Great article and enjoyed reading the comments. I would add cross checking each of the noted points against your (my) core values/convictions to keep on track.

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  • http://www.minfrasTructure.net Steve Perky

    Ray, thanks for a great post. These are all great. Task batching and focused time blocks are huge for me, but all of these have been helpful. I like the idea of the 30 Day Challenge. I will have to consider adding that to my personal list.

  • http://losinaartcenter@gmail.com Bill Beatty

    All very sound and worthy goals. I am making my own list of how to lower my stress and increase my high value output. If you want a suggestion then here is one: take up painting. When properly done it will result in 3-4 hours of distraction free focus that will result in a tangible memory that can be enjoyed and shared for generations. A bonus is it boosts your overall creativity.