Tag Archives: Productivity

How to Stay More Focused in 5 Simple Steps

We live in a multitasking world. We are constantly bombarded by messages via email, LAN line phones, TV, radio, mobile devices, text messages, pop-ups on the internet, global conference calls at weird hours…the list goes on.

We think we can handle it, but all this multitasking and gear-switching robs us of our productivity while deluding us with thoughts that we’re accomplishing more than we are.

In order to get more things done, it’s important to follow some simple rules. I know rules are a challenge for creative, free-flowing types but trust me, incorporating a bit of structure will facilitate the achievement of your goals faster flitting from one thing to another.

Here are 5 simple steps to getting more things done faster.

1.  Look at the task.
That may seem like a weird statement. If the task, for example, is to clean your messy desk, looking at that messy desk is likely to overwhelm or even frustrate you.

It may make you want to run out of the room screaming and find something more pleasant to do like chat with a co-worker or get something to eat.

What if the task is a writing an article or an email? Sharing at a blank piece of paper or empty ‘new message’ window, could paralyze you.

So why do I suggest that you look at the task?

Because it will allow you to focus.

Take a few slow deep breaths. Allow yourself to relax a bit. Don’t judge yourself, the task or the person who assigned it to you. Just breathe and relax.

Close your eyes if that helps you relax. Imagine what the finished ‘project’ looks/feels like. Allow yourself to feel grateful and proud that you’ve completed it. Hold that vision and those feelings of accomplishment in your mind for several moments.

2. Think about the steps.
With your now calm mind and still closed eyes, map out your strategy. Think about the actions you could take, the points you want to make, the words you could use. Think it through first. Visualize the steps unfolding in natural order. If you’re writing, think about the person/people you’re writing to. Consider the points you want to make.  Then open your eyes and do, write, move the first thing(s) that comes to mind. Trust yourself to accomplish your goal with grace and ease.

Even if you’re under a deadline, allowing yourself to get centered and focused will allow you to take more effective action. It will be time well spent.

3. Focus your attention on the task.
Avoid distractions. If music stimulates you, turn on your favorite tunes. I find classical music conducive to deep thinking. I find dance music stimulating for motion tasks (like cleaning). Do what works for you but stay focused on your task. Don’t drift off into reverie about any distracting memories that get evoked with  your tunes. If that happens, turn the music off and focus on your task again.

4. Try your best to ignore distractions by others.
Shut off the ringer on your phone. Tell the kids/spouse/best friend at work, you’re not to be disturbed until… If an idea comes to you that you need to take action on, write it down. Resist the urge to do it, even if you think it’s quick. It probably won’t be as quick as you imagine and even if it is, you will have lost the momentum you’d gained on the original, important project you were working on.

5. Stop working only when you’re done.
If it’s a big project, consider setting a time limit. Staring down the throat of a monumental task, can indeed be overwhelming. Work on huge tasks 90 minutes at a time. Take a short break, then go back to work for another 90 minutes. Stay on task. Don’t move to another project. Stay on this on until it is complete or until you’ve reached the time you had allocated for it this go round.

BONUS STEP: When you’re done, reward yourself!
Give yourself a ‘High 5!’, ‘Atta girl! or Atta boy!’

Wallow, for a bit, in your sense of accomplishment, pride and relief. You’ve just completed something that was a big deal or had been sitting around nagging at you for too long.

A celebration is well in order. Don’t cheat yourself out of enjoying the moment!

Imagine yourself at the Olympics, having just crossed the finish line ahead of everyone else. Hear and feel the crowd cheering for you in all your glory.  Feel the pride yourself and bring the memory of your accomplishment to the next daunting task you have to perform.

‘Cause you know there will be another one coming. But this time, you’ll be more prepared.

5 Ways to Improve Your Productivity and Get More of the Right Stuff Done

productivitytool10One of my speaking gigs is being an Actor for a local hospital. They give me a script and I act out various patient roles for nurses in training or those going for a professional certification. The hospital staff and I evaluate them and provide feedback on their patient care style and medical expertise.

On my last gig, we were conducting certification testing for trauma nurses. It quickly became evident that those that followed the system they had been taught, were WAY more likely to diagnose my ailments and save my life than those who were just ‘shooting from the hip’ trying to figure out what was wrong with me and what they should do about it.

That experience started me thinking about the value of process and systems in improving productivity and efficiency at work. Here are some tips you can apply even though you may NOT be a nurse.

1. Have a process and use it.
Shooting from the hip wastes time. Without a process, you’ll waste time and won’t get the desired results as quickly as you might need them.  Even for simple activities,using a framework will keep you focused, on task and produce more consistent, reliable results.

2. Make a list of your next day high priority activities BEFORE you leave work.
This will allow you to ‘hit the ground running’ when you get in first thing. You won’t waste that early morning quiet time (if you have it) trying to figure out what to focus on. Even if, especially if, you have a full day right off the bat, knowing what you’ll do before you get in will allow you to allocate precious time more quickly than if you get caught up in the back-to-back meeting syndrome so many people suffer from.

3. Keep the big picture in mind.
The trap many people fall into is dealing with the emergencies that land on their desk first. Of course, if the ’emergency’ is a critical one, you will have to deal with it quickly, but keeping your own important goals top-of-mind will help you triage situations and give things demanding your attention their proper place in the larger scheme of things.

4. Don’t answer the phone or check your email until AFTER you’ve done the top thing on your list.
This may seem like sacrilege or heresy to some, but think about it. Incoming phone calls and emails are things on the top of SOMEONE ELSE’s agenda, not yours. This one takes courage, but if you’re prioritizing things correctly, you’ll make the right decisions. If you’re really worried you’ll miss something from your demanding and irrational boss, scan your inbox if you must, but resist the urge to do anything you don’t absolutely have to until you’ve knocked out your top item(s).

5. Take a break every 90 minutes.
“Step away from your computer!”. Imagine a police officer yelling at you if you need some outside motivation. Go outside if you can, go to the bathroom and relax for a bit. Close your door and play your favorite music video or a snippet of an iTunes playlist. Taking a short 10-minute break, even in the midst of a critical project will rejuvenate your brain cells and reignite your creativity.

Incorporate these tips and see, not only how much more you accomplish, but also how much better you’ll feel in the process.

Top 10 Time Traps

Life moves so much faster now than it did a decade ago. They promised us all of these productivity improvements but rather than simplify our lives, we’ve accelerated the speed at which we burn out if weren’t not careful.

Almost every single person I talk to says they’re busy, maybe even swamped. We’re inundated by email, phone calls, meetings, projects, family, social media, broadcast media, responsibilities, fun, etc.

So given that none of this is likely going away in the short term, where are we most at risk of being sucked into the time vortex and losing our capacity for true productivity with purpose?

Here are the top 10 traps that keep us from using the time we have in the most conscious way.

1. Doing busy work
There is a difference between being busy and being productive. When you’re merely busy, time goes by and you feel you’ve used it well, but in reality, you haven’t. You’ve deluded yourself into thinking you’ve accomplished something meaningful, when you’ve really just stood still. Think about a hamster running in a circular cage. True, he’s burned up some calories but he didn’t really get anywhere. How much cage running do you do that you pass off as getting somewhere?

2. Procrastinating on important tasks
Fear can be gripping. It’s likely the source of your preoccupation with busy work. When you don’t tackle those scary items, you let opportunities pass you by. You effectively give up before you even start, assuring yourself of certain defeat. The gold medal could be yours, but you never even start the race.

3. Multitasking
Given all of the distractions listed earlier, this is an easy one to give in to. Unfortunately, it’s a major drain on your productivity. When you multitask (and I’m guilty of this myself), you lose focus. And with lost focus, productivity suffers. You shift gears constantly and never get “into the groove”.

There is something to be said for assembly line work. As boring as it can be, the repetition of the same task over and over makes those assembly lines crank out a ton of product at low margins. When you multitask, your brain has to start from scratch every time you shift gears, wasting energy and brain cells and costing fluidity and productivity.

4. Flying by the seat of your pants
Some people hate to plan. Are you one of them? If so, you may pride yourself on being flexible and spontaneous. Both of these are virtues, but can also cause lost opportunities. Without a plan, you’ll forget things that are important. You’ll stay focused on what’s presented to you and not what is truly important.

5. Focusing on urgent, rather than important tasks
People who fly by the seat of their pants often are trapped in a either an urgent, emergency world or a drifter, come what may world. If this is you, you are responsive but probably not making the progress you’d hoped for, if you even remember what that progress would have looked like. Focusing on the urgent generally keeps you working on someone else’s projects not your own.

6. Living in your Comfort Zone
Miracles and major achievements occur outside your Comfort Zone. It feels nice and safe inside your CZ, but you’ll also fall victim to doing busy work and not confronting what it takes to step up and become heroic about your accomplishments. So your accomplishments don’t actually happen or take much longer than necessary.

7. Working outside your ‘gift’ zone
You have gifts (we all do) and those special skills are uniquely yours. Unfortunately, when you work on everything that crosses  your desk, you exhaust yourself. You stifle your creativity because creativity arises when you’re free and unburdened, not when you’re engrossed in a task that’s a struggle for you.

8. Not allocating your time properly
You don’t know how long it takes to complete your tasks (likely because you are multitasking and working on 5 things at a time). Additionally, your calendar likely gets filled up with meetings and before you know it, you’re out of time and didn’t get to the things on your to do list. Does that sound familiar…more work than day available?

9. Not monitoring your use of time
When you don’t allocate, it’s hard to monitor. And what doesn’t get monitored, can’t get measured nor managed properly. If you saw how  much of your time you were flushing down the toilet, you’d probably be shocked.

10. Forgetting the big picture
Most people get up and get to work. They work on what’s in front of them or happens to them during the course of the day. When you forget the Big Picture of why you’re here and what you’re supposed to be working on, your day gets filled in by many of the above items. It leaves you feeling somewhat frustrated, wondering ‘what’s the point’? You wake up one day singing ‘What’s it all about Alfie?’ (if you’re in my generation), talking about the Good Old Days, but feeling like you’ve missed out somehow…even though you’ve been busy the whole time.

Don’t fall victim to these traps. It’s not too late! Change your habits before you miss the big boat.

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Need More Time? 5 Top Tips on How to Get More Done

roadrunnerrunningsmallerIf you’re like most of my coaching clients, you probably feel like you’re scampering around like a roadrunner – with too much to do in the time you have to get it done.

If that’s the case, read on, this article is all about improving your productivity and getting more meaningful work accomplished with the time you have.

The key is to focus more, concentrate your efforts and leverage your most productive skills.

Here are my top 5 tips for getting more done in a day.

1.  Prioritize
Before you leave at night, do two things: 1) straighten your desk up and 2)make a list of your most important items to accomplish the following day.

When you get in in the morning, start working on the list. Don’t open your email!  Work on the top two things on your most important list for at least an hour, if not two.

If people drop by during those first two hours, unless it’s an emergency (or your boss), ask if you can get back to them later in the day.

2. Get stingy with your time
Strive to reduce the number of meetings you need to sit in on.  See if you can send a delegate or submit a report in advance. For any meeting you conduct, make sure there is an agenda with outcomes of the discussion for each item on the agenda.

3. Be the boss of your email
Open your email two, maybe three times during the day and answer all of the emails during those times.  Then close your email program so you’re not distracted by the ‘you’ve-got-mail’ signal.

4. Systematize
Create/document systems and processes for your staff so they don’t have to bother you so much during the day. Make a list of the most common questions/issues and document your responses.  Cover them in staff meetings regularly.

5. Delegate/Outsource
Identify those things you do that someone else could do (even if you could do them better).  Document the process you use to complete those tasks.

Figure out who around you would be the best person to take the task on.  Meet with the person and explain what you want them to take over and how it will benefit them (and you) to start doing the task(s).

Ask what questions or concerns they have about taking on the task then address the questions/concerns. (Do this for the concerns you have about giving them the task as well.)

Invest some time in training the other person to take them over for you. Meet with him/her periodically to make sure things are going the way you want.

Implement these tips and get more done. Value your time.  It’s a scarce commodity.  Value your gifts and skills. They are treasures as well.  They should be invested in high-return activities.  When you value your time and abilities more, you’ll create more value in your life, business or career.