I recently put together a training module on time management and productivity and it forced me to explore some issues and techniques for remaining motivated, productive and efficient. The full module is a key part of the Effortless Marketing programme but here are a few thoughts. Having worked on my own for more than twenty years, I know a thing or two about procrastination. In my very humble opinion, it’s the biggest killer of success. So if you want to be more productive, read on…
INCREASE YOUR MOTIVATION
This is a no-brainer surely? The more motivated you are, the better you’ll work. It’s no surprise that virtually every self-help guru in the known universe will tell you to find something that inspires you every day. But do you do it? Does it really do any harm to have something playing while you dress and eat breakfast? Or in the car on the way into the office? Or on your ipod while you exercise? There’s no shortage of great motivational blogs, speeches and books online.
BOOST YOUR ENERGY
The human body is an amazing machine. When you do something healthy, it actually makes you feel good about it. Many people fall back on instantly gratifying pleasures like sugar (candy and chocolate), salt (chips and fast food) and alcohol when, in fact, these simply depress the body’s natural chemical processes. You might think that vigorous exercise in the morning will leave you exhausted and lethargic. But actually, it has the opposite effect. Exercise stimulates the body’s production of endorphins such as phenylethylamine (that’s FEEN I’LL E THIGH LA MEAN) – the body’s natural ‘recreational drug’. It’s why runners and other sportspeople get a so-called ‘runners high’ during a long run or game. These chemicals also create sharper thinking, a better ability to concentrate and ultimately, MORE energy (not less) and better productivity. Try 20 mins of gentle exercise each day and see how it makes you feel. After a week, review how much more productive you’ve been. You’ll be surprised. You’ll probably lose a few of those pounds of flab you’ve built up too!
If you’re like me, you’re probably pushing dozens of bits of paper around every day. Maybe you even have one or more of those piles of ‘stuff to review’, ‘stuff to file’, ‘stuff that I need to do but haven’t quite got around to yet’. I bet you’re looking at them as you read this, right? A quick poll of my clients suggests that a single individual probably spends over 30 minutes a day just looking for bits of paper – basically, sifting through those piles. Ring any bells? And, in addition to wasting time, you’re losing concentration on the task in hand.
GET IT SORTED. Start filing documents AS YOU USE THEM. Create a list of filing areas right now – project names, activities, home stuff, family stuff, car stuff, bills etc. You’ll have a list of 20 at least. Plastic or card folders are a dime a dozen so get some and mark them up. Then just get into the habit of putting EVERY bit of paper into one of those folders, EVERY time you finish with it. It’ll take a few weeks to get it all organised but I promise you, you’ll never look back. Searching for that outstanding invoice or report will never take more than a minute once it’s done.
CHANGE YOUR ‘CHORE ATTITUDE’
Yes I said ‘Chore’ not ‘Core’. Let’s face it, when we’re doing something we LOVE, it’s easy, isn’t it! When we’re passionate, exited and engaged about a task, we breeze through the work. The real challenges are the ‘chores’ – those horrid tasks that have to be done, but fill you with dread. How you deal with the chores will have a massive impact on your overall productivity. Here’s how I approach them:
1. Do them first – generally people work better in the mornings, so get the pain over and you’ll be able to enjoy the rest of the day.
2. Break them up – if you can, break each task down into smaller chunks then it won’t feel so daunting. One small step at a time.
3. Make them more fun – if you can, create an atmosphere that makes it bearable. Play some music perhaps. Or reward yourself each time you complete one chunk (just a small piece of chocolate though!).
4. Do them together – working with someone else will keep you both on track. Get someone else involved if you can, or suggest a deal: ‘help me with this chore and I’ll help you with yours.’ You can even chat about the footy or the latest soap opera while you work.
5. Pass them on – outsourcing is a lot easier and cheaper than you might think. And I haven’t found a task yet that someone, somewhere on the planet isn’t willing to do (Ok, maybe a few.) Check out elance.com, guru.com or one of the many freelance aggregators for ideas on how you might offload those chores.
DON’T WORK ALONE
Following on from the ‘do it together’ theme, working with others can often help you become more productive. This is especially true when a partner, colleague or client is expecting you to deliver your finished work in an agreed time frame. Even if everything you do is ‘by yourself’ and ‘for yourself’, try talking it through with someone and asking them to review your work ‘next Tuesday at 5’. That deadline (if it’s realistic) will hopefully keep you on track through the week.
Multi-tasking may ‘feel’ like a great idea – getting multiple jobs done at once – but frequently it leads to poor use of time and lack of attention to detail. I frequently find myself recording CD’s, printing documents, checking email AND working on whatever main task I’m supposed to be doing – I’m doing it right now 🙁 And the result: I’m distracted from the core task and don’t work as efficiently or effectively. Ok, I got some CDs recorded and documents printed, but I could have done that over lunch, or whilst listening to the latest Dan Kennedy seminar. Focus on the SINGLE most important task in hand and you’ll be far more productive.
DEAL WITH BLOCKS
Eventually, in any major task or project, you’ll get to a point where you’re blocked. Either you’ve lost your motivation, or you’ve reached an impasse, got confused or simply can’t concentrate. Maybe you’ve simply run out of ideas. Suddenly a great piece of work becomes a mountain to climb. At this point, your brain needs a BREAK. Battling on with a task when you’re blocked will result in hours of wasted time. Put it aside and do something else (for a hour, a day, maybe even a week). Whilst you’re engaged in something else, your subconscious will be beavering away on the problem. And nine times out of ten, when you come back to the task a day or two later, ideas will flood into your mind. What clever little brains we all have.
CREATE YOUR PERSONAL TASK MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
So you’re full of energy, organised, focussed and bursting with a positive attitude. But there’s still a to-do list of 173 items in front of you. Where do you start!?#@! Task Management is a fine art and there are plenty of ‘systems’ to choose from. But at the end of the day they all come down to the same basic principles:
1. Set realistic goals
2. Prioritise – there must be 101 theories on how to do this. I explore the most effective systems in my training.
3. Keep track – use one of the many, many task management apps out there. They’re incredible! Or do what our ancestors did (ie: before 2007) and keep a list.
4. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted.
5. Reward yourself when you achieve your goals (even if it’s just a mental reward).
However disorganised you feel at this moment (and most of us do – it’s part of the entrepreneurial lifestyle) TAKE ACTION and incorporate some of these techniques into your week.