There is no magic in productivity.
Most of us spend only a tiny sliver of our workday devoted to the tasks that actually “move the needle” in our business. The rest of our day is taken up with interruptions, other people's priorities, and trivia. As you can imagine, this kills productivity.
Many studies have been conducted that show as much as 80% of our work time is wasted. What if you could reclaim even a fraction of that time?
I believe it is relatively easy for anyone to recover 2 hours a day of productivity time simply by eliminating the most egregious time-wasters. That means you would recover more than a full workday each week. Here's how to do it…
Meet your priorities first. Regardless of whether or not you are a “morning person”, you stand the best chance of getting your top priorities accomplished on any given day by taking care of them before anyone else can hijack your time and focus. Start each work day with a list of your top 3 priorities for that day. These are the 3 things that, even if you accomplish nothing else, will allow you to say, “Today was a productive day.”
In order for this to work, you must focus on these priorities before anything else in your workday. This means that, until you do these 3 tasks, you do not check your e-mail, do not check your voicemail, do not review any of your inboxes… in other words, allow no input to penetrate this “sacred time” in your workday. Make your first 2 to 3 hours your “producing hours”.
There is no satisfaction quite like the feeling that, having accomplished your top 3 priorities for the day, everything else you accomplish that day is only a bonus. This gives you tremendous emotional and intellectual freedom.
Become a fanatic about eliminating interruptions. Think with me; interruptions are the act of allowing the priorities of others to trump your own priorities. In the larger context of life, we could have a different discussion about that philosophy. But in the context of your business or workday, you serve no one when you allow yourself to be derailed from your mission that day. This assumes, of course, that you are clear on what your mission for the day is. That you are clear on how it integrates with your larger mission. And that both of these factors are in alignment with your purpose for being on the earth. I will leave those questions for another discussion.
Here are some practical tips for eliminating interruptions:
Jealously guard your “producing hours”. My friend and client Alex Mandossian calls these his “revenue-generating hours” and is militant about making them off-limits for any other priorities. It's okay to be a bit of a dilettante about this. Take your phones off the hook, shut down your e-mail program, close your door, and stick a sign on it that says “Being productive. Please do not interrupt except in case of an actual emergency. Such as a fire, or a flood.”
Work in “focus blocks”. Set discrete amounts of time to work on key tasks or projects. Use a timer, and put walls around these times. For instance, if You are working on a writing project, set your timer for 60 minutes and do nothing but write for that one hour. Allow no other interruptions or activities to creep in. The uninterrupted focus will increase your productivity to levels that may surprise you.
“Batch process” particularly time-consuming non-urgent tasks. These would include tasks that are important, but usually not urgent, and should be scheduled toward the end of your workday (when your brainpower may be at its lowest). This includes responding to e-mail, correspondence (you know, actual letters), and returning phone calls or voicemail messages. Set hard limits for how much time you will spend on these activities, as they are the very ones that can creep up on you without your noticing.
If you put these few simple but powerful techniques to work, you should easily be able to recoup 1 to 2 hours of productive time every single workday. That's the equivalent of gaining a full work day each week.
Question: what productivity “hacks” allow you to recover large amounts of productive time each week? Please share in the comments below.