I set a lot of goals for myself coming into 2010. One big one was that I wanted to stretch my day further. I was tired of working long hours only to feel like I wasn’t getting enough from them. Because so much of my work is creative based, opening up blocks of uninterrupted time was essential. Content takes three times as long to write when I only get to write in short spurts. To write faster, I needed to find a way to remove things that interrupted my work flow. By doing that, I was confident that I’d be able to stretch to get more down in fewer hours and then use those hours to do something else. Like, have a life.
Here’s how I streamlined things.
Respecting My Own Time
I create prioritized lists and schedules to remain productive. I know coming into Monday what has to get done and when I’m going to accomplish it. However, my plan would go to hell when other people would fail to show up. I’d schedule a meeting for 9am and then wait an hour for people to show up. Or I’d set a deadline for Tuesday morning and it would be pushed back at the last minute. This not only frustrated the hell out of me, but it also pushed my day back by hours, every day. And it continued because I allowed it to. I don’t allow it anymore.
Today, if we have a meeting at 9am, especiallyeven if it’s a partner meeting, if you don’t show up by 9:15am the meeting is canceled. If I want you to respect my time, I have to respect it first. If you choose not to, you’ll hear from me at MY earliest convenience. No more pushing my day back to accommodate you (unless there’s a really good reason). Respecting my time means that I have more of it.
Scheduling Time For Email
Email’s a jerk and I’ve tried a bunch of different things to try and make it work. What’s working for me right now is to check email twice a day. I open it about an hour before I’m about to head off to lunch and then dinner. Opening it first thing in the morning would sidetrack me from my To Do list and keeping it open throughout the day gives it license to hold me hostage. Instead, I read it around meals after I’ve already established a rhythm. Why? Because it gives me incentive to get in and get out – I’m starving and I want to eat. Not spending unnecessary hours in emails means I get to spend those hours doing other things. Sometimes even sleeping, but not usually.
No Calls/Meetings Without A Purpose
If you can’t tell me (in words that I like) what we’re going to talk about on our call or in our meeting, please do not expect me to show up. Because I know that if you can’t articulate it, then you’re not ready for this meeting or call. And because you’re not ready, we’re going to waste a lot of time while you try to figure it out. I’d rather you do this without me present. When you’re ready for me, let me know. Otherwise, I’m going to stick to my day and all the work that I’ve already articulated for myself.
Forcing People To Find Their Point
Okay, so the person was able to articulate the reason they needed to talk to me. They even did it convincingly enough that I agreed to the meeting. However, now they’re rambling. They’re talking about all the work on their plate, venting about a work relationship or starting in on seven other projects they wanted my input on. HOLD UP! I have my meeting agenda and I’m sticking to it. This is where I start tactfully reminded you of the purpose of the meeting.
“So that X you wanted to talk about? What’s the status with that?”
“Wow, that sucks. Did you want to dig into Y now?
“I was thinking about Z last night…”
Keep people on task. Otherwise, you’re going to lose three hours hearing about a non-client’s brilliant marketing idea that they just wanted to run past you because they follow you on Twitter. Yeah, send it an email. It’s easier to ignore that way.
Leaving My Blackberry Face Down While Working
My BlackBerry used to sit face up, right next to my laptop. That meant each time I got an email, each time someone followed me on Twitter, each time someone texted me about their lunch, each time I got a BBM, I would stop what I was doing to make the red flashing light go away. That became my mission in life – make the red flashing go away. Before I knew it I was checking my phone every ten minutes, not exactly conducive to the uninterrupted writing time I mentioned needing earlier. Now, the phone is kept face down and out of sight. Sometimes that means Rae tweets at me to check my BBM, but mostly it means I get to check my phone when I’m ready for it and not when BlueFlowers09238 has followed me on Twitter or my Mom sends me texts that aren’t based in English anyway.
Respecting My Internal Clock
We all have times where we’re naturally more productive. There are certain times of the day when you have an easier time getting and staying “in the zone”. Respecting your internal clock allows you to get more done in fewer hours because you’re not sitting there trying to force something that simply won’t come. For example, I know that I am most productive between 7am and 11am and then 6pm on. That means these are the hours when I try to plan my uninterrupted writing time. The early afternoon is when I plan meetings, errands or leave my office to go for a run or grab some groceries. I optimize my day around the hours I know I’m naturally more productive, thereby using less of them.
Stop. Agreeing. To everything. You can’t do everything and there are some tasks that do nothing but suck time, energy, and money from you. Either learn to outsource or just say no. Again, it goes back to respecting your own time.
The Egg Timer
I realize I’m going to start sounding crazy if I keep professing my love for my egg timer, but this aids productivity by keeping me on task. It allows me to create hour-long blocks in my day where I do nothing but focus on a single task – usually writing. And because the egg timer is tangible, it makes the deadline tangible. This is pretty important when you’re working out of a home office with a cat sleeping your lap. Tangible deadlines are ones that are kept.
Cutting Off Low Value Conversation During Work Hours
So, this is where I start to sound like a bitch, but keep with me. We joke in business that it’s always the customers with the smallest budgets who require the most hand-holding. However, you probably have a lot of other relationships like that in your life. The friend with never-ending relationship drama, the girlfriend who has to text you every 20 minutes, the people who want ‘just five minutes’ of your time to ask you something irrelevant. For me, being productive means finding ways to silence non-productive conversations during working hours. This probably sounds like a no-brainer, but how many times do you take yourself out of your rhythm to respond to something of little importance? How many times do you allow people to become time sucks simply because THEY’RE not doing anything? Sometimes being a good friend means listening to someone whine for an hour. However, you can do that after you get your stuff done.
Only Do What’s Important
I grabbed a pen and paper some time ago and made note of how I was spending my time during the day. And it somewhat horrified me. It’s amazing how many tasks you acquire over time that simply don’t bring value to your business or help you with your end goals. In 2010, I’ve made a conscious effort to remove them. That means being more selective with where I guestblog, more selective with the services we provide clients (and sometimes the clients we take on), and really weighing the business value before I agree to something. Taking away unnecessary tasks gives you more time to focus on the real stuff.
Having An Actual Life
One of the reasons I spent so much time working in 2009 was because I didn’t know anyone in Troy. I hadn’t found my network yet so it was easy to put stuff off til the weekend or work til 11pm without batting an eyelash. However, all that did was make me extremely unproductive since I could continually put stuff off and it gave me an excuse to not form a social life in the new city I was leaving. Now that I do have a life here, it means I can’t work til 11pm every night. That means I need to be more productive during the day, it means I have to wake up earlier and that I have to fight off distractions. Having a life is a really great motivator for getting things done.
Those are 11 ways I increased my productivity this year. What are some life hacks you use to get more out of fewer hours? .