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How to Get More Done with Less Effort

image - SMARTSTART Productivity

Productivity is never an accident.

The secret to being more productive is learning how to master your minutes and your mind. Here are some of my best tips to help you with that.

1) Stop chasing inbox zero.

Of all the things people waste valuable time and energy on, chasing inbox zero has to be the worst. Email is exploding and yes, it is important to stay on top of your inbox. But all you really need is a system for dealing with it (a lot can be automated now), and the discipline to limit how often you’re checking your messages.

Never work on email first. If you’re expecting that life-and-death message, use tools to filter it out and text you when it arrives. Otherwise, don’t touch your inbox until your designated processing time(s) which should be later in the day.

I only check my email twice a day and not until my top priority of the day has been worked on for at least two hours. I use multiple email addresses (one personal, one professional, and a few for specific clients or other work). Messages that can be handled with a quick response are dealt with immediately. I use a library of signature lines to deal with repetitive requests. Another option is using Gmail’s AutoResponder tool for this.

Messages requiring some thought before responding get scheduled for a reply. I unsubscribe from all useless email senders and schedule a “reading timeslot” for those I want to keep up with booked into parts of the day when my energy is low and creative work would be a struggle.

I do clean my inbox from time-to-time using batch delete – typically when I’m snowed in with nothing better to do. It’s not a priority and it’s a mindless task. It doesn’t matter if I get to it or not. What matters is that everyone who needs a timely reply from me gets one. And they do.

Different systems work for different people. Don’t waste your valuable time and energy on something that is meaningless in terms of the success of your business. Hubspot has a great list of 11 inbox organization tools to try, several of which I’ve written about before, and that many of you already use and love. If you’re new, you’ll want to start with that list.

2) Schedule time in your calendar to get stuff done.

When working on a client’s site, it’s easy to lose control of your day by having a lot of meeting requests come in when you’ve got more important work to do. So years ago, I developed the habit of blocking off time to work on specific things in my calendar and, happily, productivity skyrocketed! I also book off time for critical personal commitments as well – a huge stress reducer all around.

Don’t pre-schedule your entire day (unless you’re attending or presenting at an event or conference); you do need to have some flexibility. But, when you’re working on your priority tasks for the day, shut the door and don’t answer the phone. The world won’t collapse in the two hours you are focused on working without interruption. And, you’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish when you eliminate distractions.

3) Batch calls and 1:1 meetings; set up meeting-free days.

Nothing interrupts your work more than answering the phone. The best way I’ve found to manage that is dealing with telephone calls by appointment only on specific days. This small change was such a life changer a lot of my clients are now doing it too!

I did the same thing with team member meetings and you can too. Set aside a specific day or two and deal with them one appointment at a time, back-to-back. But don’t try to do them all in one day – it works better if you choose days when you’ve blocked off time for focused work periods as well. It adds some variety to your day without having a negative impact on getting things done.

4) Work when others aren’t.

I like to work, shop and work out when others aren’t. For this reason, I’d usually plan to be in my office at 6:30 am when most everyone else arrives at 8:30 or 9. I also like to work at night. With this trick I get more done in less time which means I can hit the gym or go to the store at times when it’s not busy. Not only do I get in and out faster, I enjoy the experience a whole lot more.

And with the added flexibility of working odd hours, I can work more when I’m really in the mood and so it comes more easily, rather than spending energy pushing myself through a task at a more conventional time because that’s how everyone else is doing it.

Sunday is always my “do nothing” day and I don’t work on Fridays, but I often work on Saturday, even if it’s just for part of the day. Sometimes I just feel like working. Those days can be very productive as well. They are often even twice as long as a weekday workday but there’s no resentment as it’s strictly my choice.

For example, off hours make for highly productive writing days and Saturday is great for catching up on social media. Realistically, how much more work could you finish if you spent less time on social media during the week? Think about it!

5) Make time to exercise – outdoors whenever possible.

Like many of you, I’ve been guilty of putting work before exercise. Any reason I might give you for that is an excuse. And the more you put off exercise, the faster your productivity tanks. And the more likely you are to come down with a cold or some other illness if the stress doesn’t get you first. It’s all downhill from there.

So, I had to make a change. Maybe you will need to do that too. I had to put exercise first before I even sit down to work. If that means getting up early, I’m up early. But most days I can get up when I wake up naturally, have my glass of water and get right to it. Then I come back for breakfast and settle into my planned work day or personal day. Which is always that much more productive having spent an hour or three in the gym or walking around the neighbourhood. Possibly both. And sometimes I’ll go back at night if it’s been an especially stressful day although recently I started experimenting with freestyle dancing just for something different to do at home. (Thanks, Spotify!)

6) Practice gratitude.

Not too many people think of gratitude as a productivity enhancing tool but it truly is. When you focus on all there is to be thankful for, life simply flows more smoothly, regardless of what’s going on around you or what comes your way when you least expect it. You’ll sleep better too and nothing recharges your brain better than a great sleep. Try it tonight by writing in a gratitude journal before bed or listing things off in your head as you drift off to dreamland.

So there you have it! Six things to try today any one of which has the power to improve your productivity and radically change your life!

More next time. Until then, remember to LOVE YOUR WORK, whatever it may be.

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