11 Ways I Increased Work Productivity in 2010

by on 06/15/2010 • 50 Comments | Online Marketing

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.

Say No

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? .

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

50 thoughts on “11 Ways I Increased Work Productivity in 2010

  1. Some good tips – many of which I’m implementing today. I like to put my blackberry in my backpack so the blinking light doesn’t ping me.

    Something I noticed reading this, though, is that you might benefit from turning off Twitter follower notifications in your e-mail. This will cut down on e-mail clutter and allow you to check whoever your new followers are whenever you deem necessary. For someone as recognized as yourself, this has to be a productivity hack to the stars.

    • I don’t know why I still get email notifications about followers, to be honest. Sometimes it’s a good gauge of when a post took off or someone is yelling at me somewhere on the Internet. I should do a better job of filtering that stuff so it goes somewhere other than my inbox, for sure.

  2. I’m doing nearly everything you’ve mentioned in this list. Without organization, I don’t see how anyone can be productive when there is so much potential for Internet chatter and life distractions.

    In my home office I have two magnetic whiteboards. Board number one is for fitness and personal goals (updated every Sunday) and the second is for business goals/projects. I pretty much run my life off of those, preparing lists, and checking them off throughout the week.

    Since I balance two businesses and a life I stay pretty strict on what I do with my days. I maintain a no personal calls policy during work hours and I don’t watch television (that alone has freed up a lot of time).

  3. From GTD: anything that can be done in 2 minutes, do it immediately and you never have to worry about it again or allow it to distract you from other tasks.

    • I’ve found that to be the case with quick email – if I don’t answer it immediately, I will wait 3 weeks to get back to someone because it will go on some list with everything else I have to do.

  4. Whoa! I thought you were pretty bad-ass before, but this don’t you dare waste my time, no B.S. take no prisoners, time bandit thing you’ve got going on in 2010 is GREAT!

    I agree with Michael, with all the internet chatter and distractions it’s hard for me to be productive. Ok, in all honesty, it’s hard for me to be productive without all the chatter. But that’s why these tips should help. So thank you. STOP WASTING YOUR TIME READING MY RAMBLINGS!!!!

    • haha, your comment totally made me laugh. It’s true, though. As I’ve gotten busier, I’ve really become way more territorial with my time. I can’t spend as long chatting with folks who just want to piss their day away and I can’t tolerate people not respecting my time and showing up 45 minutes late for our 10am meeting. You either respect me enough to keep to our agreed schedule or maybe you should work with someone you have more respect for.

  5. Hi Lisa,

    I especially agree to point three “No Calls/Meetings Without A Purpose”. I worked for quite a lot of “Meeting-Fetishists” as I call them and lost some very productive time sitting arround talking about the weather.

    About the Egg-Timer: I started using the Pomodoro Technique (work 25 mins, 5 mins. break, longer break after 4th circle) a while ago, using FocusBooster. Which is like the Nerd-Version of the Egg-Timer ;-)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.
    Regards,
    Elmar

    • I think A LOT of people waste A LOT of time sitting in meetings that have absolutely no purpose, even if it’s an informal “lets get together” meeting. I have no problem scheduling them into my day, but lets have a purpose. And let’s make sure we’re both ready to talk before we sit down. Otherwise, yeah, you end up talking about the weather or your latest gripe.

      I think I need a flow chart to grasp your nerd egg timer. :)

      • Since a flow chart would delay todays productivity-plan for me for producing it and for you for reading it, let’s just say FocusBooster is a computer-based egg-timer ;)

        …it’s adjustable, it ticks, it indicates the time I have left with turning slowly from green to red, and, after the 25 mins focus time, it automatically starts the 5-mins-break timer. Simple but effective.

        • I’m attempting the pomodoro technique. I use the timer at e.ggtimer.com/pomodoro (which I discovered while looking for an online egg timer after Lisa’s last productivity post).

          Love it so far, but I have a lot of distractions that I’m having a hard time overcoming. Like having 3 bosses ;)

  6. Great tips! I am totally stealing the email checking before meals! My version of the egg timer is to block time on my calendar as a ‘work block’ so no one schedules meetings during those times. Plus I have the reminders pop up so i can transition into the new task.

    When I got my windows mobile i went through flashing light withdrawal, I didn’t properly appreciate the bonus productivity!

    • It makes sense, right? Are you going to get to the point in your email or spend 20 minutes ‘playing with it’ when you’re starving? You’re going to get in and get to the point. It’s worked for me and so far no complaints that I sound angry because I haven’t been fed. ;)

  7. This year for me it’s all about consolidating communication channels. Since just about everything can be done through email, that’s what I use. Of course, that means a bunch more email, but that’s what filters are for. Most email never even makes it into my “inbox” and lots of it gets deleted or filtered AND marked as read. Then I can set a schedule for checking the filtered messages. For some reason, checking the “@Reports” folder/label doesn’t call to me the way something in the inbox does. In case anyone is interested, my labels are:

    _SocialMedia (linkedin, twitter, FB etc)
    _VoiceText (voicemail and text messages)
    @ReadingMaterial (newsletters, ebooks)
    @Reports (duh)

    And then, the most important part is the filters that only send truly important things to my cell.

    • Agreed. The more you can communicate through email, the better. It’s simply easier to stay on task that way and you can fit it into your schedule, instead of playing by someone else’s.

  8. What’s your policy with RSS feeds, both for professional development and for entertainment? In the past I noticed reading feeds was a total productivity killer so I decided to close my reader until lunch. I’d basically just catchup on things while eating at my desk. Not sure if a break would have been more appropriate. As soon as I’d finish my lunch up it was time to close down the reader and move on to more important things.

    • Well, RSS feeds are probably a higher priority for me than they are for most people simply because I do a lot of blogging and RSS is often necessary research. I try to read my feeds first thing in the morning, but not spend more than 45 minutes there, which, for me, is actually pretty difficult. And then I check them again after lunch.

      Where I’ve really saved some hours is admitting to myself when I’m really checking my RSS feeds or when I’m just in there because I’m delaying another task. It’s really easy to sit in Google Reader and click around just for the sake of clicking around. That’s where I have to be careful.

  9. I LOVE the ‘Respecting my own time’ post-15 minute meeting cancellation. Nothing grinds my gears more than people being tardy to a scheduled call OR not showing up at all.

    In fact, yesterday I was stood up for a call and after I sent a ‘was there a miscommunication or did you ditch me?’ reminder email, the response was ‘Sorry we missed each other’

    This is the first time on the blog and my first impression is massively positive. Great stuff, excellent concrete recommendations, and I love the refreshing combination of honesty and hatefulness (there isn’t enough honestly hateful content out there).

    • That was a HUGE issue for me. To me, being “on time” actually means being 15 minutes early, so I have a huge problem with people who take their sweet time making our call or showing up when they said they would. It’s not always easy for me to plan everything in my day, so when I do and you knowingly ignore that and make ME restructure things, yeah I’m going to be annoyed. It was a line in the sand I really had to draw this year because I could feel it eating at me each time I waiting 30 minutes for someone to show up. If you don’t respect me enough to show up on time, we shouldn’t be doing business together. Period.

      And welcome to the blog! Thanks for commenting on your first visit, that’s pretty ballsy. Hope to see you back. :)

      • Agreed on all accounts. I am also perpetually 10 min early so even 5 minutes late is disrespectful. Unfortunately we are the minority.

        A ballsier thing to do is to stop re-commenting and to return to work though.

        I look forward to your next post and look forward even more to the response I get when I cancel a call after some unacceptable tardiness!

  10. Nice Lisa, I hate the mentality that working 12 hours a day is what everyone has to do to be successful. Another thing that I have really come to utilize and maximize is outsourcing – why spend 10 hours doing something that I could pay someone a couple hundred bucks to do and still make a large margin of profit in the end. People are obsessed with capturing all of the revenue, but they lose their lives in the process. Nothing that isn’t in the 4 hour work week, but just applying it to the max for me. It works! See you at the beach, I’ll bring the avocados!

    • The myth that you have to work 14 hours in order to be a serious entrepreneur kind of gets at me. I was part of an interview where 10 women entrepreneurs show how its done and one of the questions asked was how many hours do you work a week. And it’s hilarious to me how long people thing they actually work. There’s a difference between working and sitting at the computer. I’m not sure people understand it. Also, if you’re working for 14 hours, there’s no way that’s 14 hours of real productiveness. No one can maintain that over the long term. Or at least no one interesting.

  11. Lisa, Great points as usual. I find my biggest timehog is emails. I am constantly clearing emails from my inbox at my various business locations that I visit throughout the day. Finding the right solution has avoided me. I have tried the PDA route, but I still like to deal with emails on the old desktop as much as possible. I am going to try and only check emails a couple times a day but I would go crazy without my morning Starbucks and emails.

    • The problem with doing email first thing in the morning (at least for me) is that it prevents you from getting into your To Do list. I like to have a few tasks under my belt before I hop in. I think at that point I’m just more mentally ready to tackle it and to get in and get out of it.

      The other problem with responding to email immediately is then the other person knows you’re there…and they’ll fire something right back. Then you get stuck playing email ping pong. You have to find what works for you, though. :)

  12. Lisa

    There is so much right about this article that I could be here a while however being respective of both our time, I will not have this become a novel.

    I did the ultimate crazy of craziness and shut off the BBM completely. I tried shutting the volume off, moving it across the room, putting it in my purse – and nothing worked so I just it off. Now emails are handled in my outlook and there are not distractions as I had. It was rough the first few days and I would check it frantically but now I do not even think about it. If someone needs an answer right away, they call. It has removed the urgency from many emails as they will not call unless they have to. Emails are answered very timely when I am armed with the laptop. The days of responding at a stop light are gone.

    My time means as much as the time of the clients. The let’s get together and talk about this, I suggest a skype which has saved a lot of time traveling to and from. As a single parent, my time is limited and cutting out the distractions during the day are essential to be functional each day.

    @SuzanneVara

  13. Putting the Blackberry face down on my desk (and silencing the email alerts) has done wonders for my productivity! I was getting to the point where my mind was playing tricks on me, thinking I saw a little red flashing light, when I wasn’t.

    The other thing I do, to make sure that the most important messages are coming to my phone, is that I have my primary email going to my phone, then an info@ email that I use for Twitter notifications, newsletters I sign up for, etc., which doesn’t go to my phone but I can check on my computer at a designated email time. That way, I’m less distracted by email that I don’t really have to answer anyways.

    Thanks for a great post, Lisa!

  14. Hi Lisa, I have been reading your blog for awhile, and this is my first comment! This post describes a continual battle I have been dealing with for years. I really like your approach and have gotten some great perspective here. Thanks for that!

    You asked for life hacks so here is one of mine. One thing that makes a huge difference in my productivity is to always try to do the worst job first. Get the really difficult call out of the way first and everything else gets easier and easier. If I have a difficult situation weighing on my mind, that’s when I want to go to facebook or twitter and distract myself to avoid dealing with the crap. I just jump on it and get it out of the way, and I then feel so good that I can really start getting everything else done.

    • Good piece of advice, Dan. I think I typically put off the worst task til the last. I like feeling like I’m unstoppable with all the the stuff I’ve accomplished before I jump into it. You’re obviously way tougher than I am. :)

      And thanks for speaking up! :)

  15. Great time management advice! The egg timer idea sounds like it would be a big help for me, somehow seeing the time pass on a timer rather than just looking at the clock on your blackberry is much more motivating to get things done.

  16. Hi Lisa,

    I really enjoyed this post. It came at a great time in my life because I needed to find ways to increase my productivity, especially being in the midst of my job search post business school. The part that really struck a nerve with me was the one about putting the blackberry face down. Like most people, I am addicted to my device and it sure does eat up a LOT of my valuable time. Checking FB, Twitter, and BBMs via Blackberry is a major issue for me, so I tried placing it out of site today while updating my blog and surely noticed a difference; it took me less time to work today! Thanks for the advice and looking forward to reading more posts!!!
    Kasie “Madman” Okoro
    http://madmansdigest.com

  17. HI Lisa-

    I really enjoy your posts and honest approach. Two additional things I would add:

    1- Make sure clients give you everything you need to accomplish what they ask of you BEFORE you start on their project. I spend too much time chasing down documents I need from clients which hold up the entire process. Once you give me the entire list I’ve requested- then the clock starts- until then it sits on the side and I work on things I can actually complete.

    2- Remove yourself from email lists you never read. I have so many unopened emails I will never get to because they are lists where one post in one hundred may be somehow useful. I need to unsubscribe and declutter.

    3- (Just thought of a third) Its not as urgent as they think it is- ‘they’ can wait until you’ve finished your task. Having multiple clients means multiple demands on each minute. Whether phone or email- it can wait- otherwise, the 20 minute task becomes a 60 minute task. I am trying to give my clients specific days/time in my schedule- dont know if its going to work…
    Here’s to efficiency
    Have an excellent time on your wifree vaca!

  18. I have a chicken shaped egg timer. I set for an hour and then sometimes another. Breaks inbetween are timed too. I love my chicken timelord. And I find that when I am REALLY working I forget to stop after the hour. This is the best time.
    I also find not answering the phone to be a pretty good one and I never take my phone on walks. I am lucky. I work with my imagination and walking and being out and about is when I do my thinking about writing. Away from teh desk and people and all the noise.
    And I make lists.

  19. Some really great suggestions, Lisa. I think the next thing I purchase/download will be either an egg timer or a chicken timer. I wonder…which came first? ha ha :)

  20. I can’t do the worst job first. I have to do what I want and hope that the worst job will somehow vanish. But then come to think of it I just say NO to all the worst jobs so I don’t have to do them at all.
    Another tip is to leave your mobile on silent. Alternatively I put mine in some water once. That did the trick. No phonecalls all day! Broken phone!
    I do get distracted by blackberries though but they are the kind that grow like jewels on bushes in and around the garden.

  21. I really like your article on work productivity or time management as it could also have been titled. No matter if we work in online marketing or elsewhere we all search for the formula on how to how to use the limited resouce, time, the best we can. I am not a big egg timer fan and I never think I will be, but I can relate to most of the other issues you mention. Your article has many me re-evaluate many routines and choices I made with regards to my website. Thanks for the input.

  22. Lets hope that after reading this post my productivity will go up, I mean ive been totally unproductive reading through your blog for about an hour now! But thats a good thing because theres some great stuff to read here, and at the end of the day I DO appreciate it.

  23. Two things I would add

    First one is the egg timer.
    There are actually many good solutions for you to track where you spent your time. Like the one from my link…:)

    The second one is that you should know your energy level fluctuation better. Choose to do the appropriate task when you have a right energy level is really important.

    Jerry

  24. An excellent read Lisa, as ever. Loved the suggestions, and forwarding this along to my colleagues at work.

    If I may add, one thing I used in 2010 that really saved me a LOT of time was the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software than types as you speak! It’s really accurate, and 3x faster than me (and trust me, I type fast! :) It’s amazing how good this technology has become!

  25. @Jackie .. in some cases yes, it’s not perfect. but 97% of the time is good enough for me. I proofread while speaking, and if there’s a mistake you can always fix it on the fly. It’s definitely a productivity boost, no matter how you want to measure it.

  26. I find that having two phones, one for family and one for work helps me increase seperation from stress and also, turning off my blackberry when on holiday, hard to do i know! But well worth the lack of “doo doo” !

  27. I read a business sales book recently. One interesting bit that caught my attention was something called “touch it once” to help with time management. Basically, the theory is that if you start to do something, either work on it or set it to the side if you cannot devote adequate time. I think we all suffer from working on too many projects during the day only getting bits and pieces done versus tackling items from start to finish.

  28. “Respecting your own time”. Always remember that we only have sixty minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, to respect your time you also need to respect your calendar. Your calendar is one important tool for you to keep track of your progress. It’s where you place all your schedules and your commitments with other people. By respecting your time you need to stick to your calendar. Whatever you put to your calendar you need to stick to it and be responsible with it.

    To learn how to respect your time, take this link at http://davecrenshaw.com/the-truth-of-time/

  29. I liked this idea with online egg timer. And I agree with Dave Crenshaw.
    In fact, I think a good schedule is fundamental, especially when you work on your own, e.g. at home. I have to admit that being my own boss is still a challenge for me and I cannot imagine working without a well-prepared calendar. I know some tools that may help to manage the schedule (including time tracker).
    And recently, I’ve read (at ) that you can even have kind of online boss who will monitor your productivity, isn’t it great?

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