“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”-–Paul J. Meyer.
I heard this statement that comes from the Economic Policy Institute.
Since the early 1970s, productivity (the amount of output per hour worked) has risen in America. Between 1973 and 2011, the productivity of the American worker has grown 80 percent. Why? My opinion, because we’re finding new tools and techniques to increase our focus and efficiency.
Below are some ideas and tools I have discovered over time that people I would say are productive have repeatedly talked about using. I believe I can learn a lot form people and their habits, tools they choose to use, their processes and the reason why they do and use what they do. So in the following, I have come to use many of the same and investigating using some others.
Police Your Own Internet Habits.
There’s a tool called StayFocusd to keep track of how much time you spend on various sites. I have a tendency to begin researching something online for a sermon I am preparing with the very best of intentions and then get lost viewing irrelevant content and wasting way too much time. To limit this, I turn on the browser extension to Chrome of StayFocusd where I keep up a list of sites I can get lost on for hours–YouTube, Ted Talks and Facebook are mine. StayFocusd alerts me after a pre-determined time that I have set up has passed and then blocks the offending sites to help me resist temptation and stay focused on the task at hand. Another tool I will mention before leaving this part is RescueTime which I have a post previously about this. This is a tool worth checking out as well.
Clear Your Mind, Define Your Focus
Wendy Lea, CEO of getting Satisfaction and principal at The Chatham Group, shared two tips that keep her focused, energized, effective and productive both personally and professionally. “There are two things I do to get the energy, capacity, and focus I need to not only be efficient, but effective. Personally, I take 15 minutes every morning for contemplation and to empty my mind. I take a bag full of thoughts I need to be cleared and each morning I pick one out, read it, and send it down the river near my house. Watching the thought float away really helps clear my mind, reorient things and increase my focus for the rest of the day,” said Lea, who successfully juggles several roles across various companies including CEO, investor, advisor, mentor, and principal.
“Professionally,” Lea added, “I send an email to my team each Monday morning with the top five things I will be focused on for the week. This really keeps me on track and gives me the focus I need. These two things set the pace for me every day, both in my personal and professional life.”
Cut Back On Meetings
Randy Komisar, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (KPCB), said he keeps productive by being diligent about meetings–sticking to the allotted time and only scheduling in-person meetings when it’s absolutely necessary. “I leave meetings at their allotted end time regardless of whether they are finished,” said Komisar, who authored the book, Getting to Plan B: Breaking Through to a Better Business Model. “I do not reschedule an appointment for a more important one unless it is an emergency. If an email will do, I don’t make a call; if a call will do, I don’t have a meeting; if a 30-minute meeting is enough, I don’t schedule an hour.”
All About Evernote
Dylan Tweney, the executive editor at VentureBeat, said Evernote, the popular note-taking and archiving service, is his go-to productivity tool. “I use Evernote to collect everything I might need to save for later, with the exception of emails–Gmail is fine for that. I store all of my important documents–from notes to interviews–in Evernote. I also use Evernote tags as a kind of to-do list: I have a set of tags that I can use to rank things that need to happen immediately or that I’m waiting for someone else to finish: (“1-next,” “2-soon,” “3-later,” “4-someday,” and “5-waiting”). When I get an email that I need to act on but can’t respond to immediately, I send it to my private Evernote address and then rank it,” said Tweney. “Finally, I use Instapaper liberally to save articles that I run across during the day, but don’t have time to read during the busy hours. It sends stories to my Kindle automatically, so I always have something interesting to read on the train ride home or in the evening. That helps keep me focused on work, even when people are sharing fascinating things on Twitter and Facebook all day.”
Get Tunnel Vision
Kevin O’Connor, the serial entrepreneur who founded both DoubleClick and more recently FindTheBest, a data-driven comparison engine, said he makes an effort to focus on only the top few things that really are going to move the needle. “Most people tend to focus on the 100 things they should do, which can be overwhelming and result in the failure to actually accomplishing anything of importance. I try to focus on the three to five things I absolutely have to do. I don’t get distracted by those ninety-seven other unimportant things that don’t ultimately give to my success or the success of my company.”
Patrick Dolan, the EVP and COO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), said what keeps him productive, focused and energized is going for runs in the morning. “I love to run in the morning before I get into work. Running clears my mind, gets the blood flowing and ultimately makes me much more focused and productive. During my morning runs, I try to come up with solutions to any unresolved problems at work, brainstorm new ideas, and really prioritize my work in terms of the top things I want to carry out that day. By the time I get into work, I already have a set of focused priorities, and I also have the energy to make them happen.”
Put Email In Its Place
Anne-Marie Slaugher, a professor of politics and international relations at Princeton University and author of the popular article published last year in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” said basing your work day around the never-ending flow of incoming emails is a huge productivity drain. “My principal productivity tip is that if you are caught up on your email, your priorities are in the wrong place. An extra of hour of email will do very little in the long run, but that hour could be spent reading to your kids before bed, cooking a meal, or taking a walk and clearing your head–all far better choices,” said Slaughter, who previously served as Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department. “More generally, email puts you in response mode, where you are doing what other people want you to do, and not send mode, where you are deciding what you want to do and taking action.”