5 Ways to Increase Your Productivity by 20% or More

by Shaun R Smith on July 20, 2010

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Whether you’re at the stage in your business where you are still having to work long hours or you have reached the point where your business is set up so working only a few hours will keep the engine running and growing, you want to make the most of your time.  Time is a completely non-renewable resource — once it’s gone, it’s gone.  Here are five tips to help you make the most of your time.  Choose at least one, and implement it today.

1.  Do not multitask

Hopefully by now everyone has heard this advice — but are you following it?  In David Allen‘s Getting Things Done, he teaches that there is no such thing as multitasking, just a rapid refocusing of attention.  That refocusing takes time, effort, and energy.  That refocusing decreases our productivity.  The BBC describes a research study where individuals multitasking suffered a greater drop in IQ than those individuals on marijuana.  Christine Rosen, in her article “The Myth of Multitasking,” explains the rise of the phenomena and the mounting evidence against its effectiveness.

To do any major task effectively requires focus.  While you might be able to put out minor fires and keep up with your administrative tasks, you cannot advance your company without a chunk of time to invest your full attention.

2.  Checking e-mail at specific times only

Sometimes I think e-mail was designed to fill Stephen Covey‘s Urgent-Not Important quadrant (as discussed in his best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People).  If you don’t manage your e-mail, it WILL manage you.  The first and simplest rule to follow is to turn off any incoming e-mail notifications and only check your e-mail at specific times during the day.  If you have an important project that requires thought and focus, do that first thing in the morning — BEFORE checking e-mail.

3.  Close your door

While you may be working in an environment where you don’t have a literal door to close, the important thing is to prevent your staff’s fires from driving your day.  You need to set boundaries so that you don’t end up spending your whole day doing your staff’s work.  Especially in open office environments, it is very easy for business owners to encourage mental laziness.  Whenever one of your staff has a question, he just jumps up and asks it.

As you do with e-mails, schedule and batch this task.  Create “office hours” to answer any questions that your staff might have.  Train them to solve their own problems unless they are at a complete impasse.

4.  Schedule realistically

It takes observation and experience to know how long tasks take.  As we discussed in the REWORK analysis on their criticism of planning, people overestimate how much they can get done in a given period of time.  With tracking and practice, you can become proficient in estimating how long tasks take.  Then you must become realistic in your scheduling.  I understand your product launch is behind schedule and that you don’t have another two weeks to wait; but, if the remaining tasks take two weeks, don’t set yourself up for frustration and failure by only allocating one week.

5.  Create a daily Top 5 task list

In the effectiveness classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie tells the story of a consultant who creates tremendous value in a company simply by making them list the top five priorities for each day before their day begins.  How much time do you spend each day choosing and planning what you will achieve that day?  This one habit alone will move you from the reactive state to the proactive one.

Make a Change

The only way to get different results is to take some different actions.  Which of the five ideas listed here do you practice and how do they work for you?  Which new one will you take on?

Photo by: Meddy Garnet

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