It’s rare that I actually give myself credit for just how productive I am. It’s unusual for me to actually look at what I’ve done and pat myself on the back. Instead, I find that I’m usually beating myself up for all the things on my list I haven’t gotten done. (Perhaps you can relate?)
But, over the last few months I’ve been trying to change that. It really comes down to being conscious about what I’m thinking. As soon as I realize I’m berating myself for projects left undone, I shift my focus to the things I did get done, and I can go to sleep smiling.
You see, it’s usually just before I go to sleep that I start ruminating about things done or undone. I sure sleep better when I close my eyes with a word of gratitude about all that I did accomplish on that day, instead of lying awake worrying about what didn’t get done. And when I am consciously grateful, I also wake up eager to get back to work to see what good I can get done that day.
You probably want to be as productive as you can be, too. Especially when it comes to your marketing. After all, the more you get done, the more clients you can serve, and the more income you generate.
When I stop and give myself credit, I’m pretty dang productive (most of the time), but I’m by no means perfect at it. I’m a work in progress for sure, but I do pay attention to what serves me and what doesn’t. The following are just some tips of how I work and some of the tools I use that help me keep on track and get things done.
There are two keys, I’ve discovered, that help me be the most productive:
#1. Systems. You have to have systems in place for accomplishing routine tasks. This includes keeping track of projects and the many “moving parts” and planning, too. Without a plan you can’t work your system. (More on my systems below.)
#2. Gratitude. Doesn’t seem like being grateful has much to do with being productive but it sure makes a big difference for me. (See comments above.) Try it tonight as you are ready for sleep. Simply remember what you accomplished today, no matter how little or how much, and just be grateful for having done that. If it helps, just be grateful for the ability you have to do what you do. (Be sure to smile.)
The absolute best productivity tool I use is a simple kitchen timer. The timer is my salvation. I use it religiously if I want to get a lot done.
So say, for instance, I want to go in and deal with my email — notice I said “deal with my email” not just “check it” — there’s a big difference when you think about it, as you’ll see below — I set the timer for however long I can afford to be in there. If you’ve got an hour and you want to spend that amount of time on email, go ahead and give yourself permission to do that. Just set the timer, and when the hour is up, stop.
My timer gives me an alert when there’s 10 minutes left and again when there’s 5 minutes left. When I hear that first alert, if I can’t finish email in the time left, I figure out how I’m going to deal with the remainder FIRST when I come back to my inbox later.
Depending on the scope of the project I’m working on, I set my timer for various lengths of time. If I’m writing, and I know I’m going to be at it for a while, I may set my timer for an hour. That way I’m not interrupted and the flow of thought can just keep on coming. I do an hour maximum because it’s good to get up and stretch after you’ve been sitting for a while and sometimes you just need to give your brain a rest and take the pressure off your butt.
But on other projects, especially on customer projects where I am keeping track of time for billing purposes, I usually set my timer for 15-minute intervals. I use another tool by a guy I like named David Seah that gives me space to mark off each 15-minute interval. This way I can keep accurate track of the time I’m spending on a project.
Some people have told me that having that alarm sound every fifteen minutes would drive them crazy. And I say, “then don’t set it for 15 minutes. Use whatever time intervals work for you.” By using David Seah’s Emergent Task Timer, I can easily see just how I’ve spent my day, too. So if you’re wondering where all your time went, David’s tracking method might be just the thing to help you figure that out, too.
Knowing how you really spend the hours in your day can do wonders for changing up the way you do things. If you do this — track your hours — for the purpose of figuring out where your time is going, do it honestly. Don’t change anything about your routine for a week. Just keep track of everything you do. At the end of the week, take a look, and see if there are areas for improvement. This is a very liberating exercise!
If you’re like me, dealing with email causes you more stress — and eats up more of your day — than just about anything else on your plate. So getting a handle on how you handle it will be incredibly useful in being more productive.
Many people — myself included — suffer from shiny object syndrome. This means that we spend an inordinate amount of time surfing around on the ‘net looking for the answers to our problems when in fact, if we’d just get busy doing what we already know, we’d get a lot more done. (I’m getting better about this. I have a short eBook that might help you deal with shiny object syndrome: How to Keep the Internet Marketing Buffet from Killing Your Business and Messing with Your Sanity.)
It helps to strictly limit the amount of time that I spend in my email inbox, which is usually the source of sending me off on what I call a “toot and a tear” scoping out what everybody ELSE is doing, and often spending a boatload of money that could be better spent on mailing out newsletters or postcards to promote my business.
I’ve tried every trick in the book to manage my email. The best tip I can offer you is to be truly ready to deal with email — and just email — when you go in to your inbox. Too often you might just take a peek in there, look at a few things, and figure you’ll get to the rest later. Then later there is even MORE email to deal with and so your inbox continues to fill up. You are picking out things here and there, and soon it is filled to overflowing with the stuff you intend to get to but rarely do.
In the back of your mind you’re wondering, have I missed something really important, and truth be told, you probably have. You may think the goal of an empty inbox is impossible, but it isn’t IF — and only IF — you clean it out each time you go in there to look.
So the first rule of email productivity is: Be ready to deal with ALL of the email messages when you go to your inbox. Do you really have time, at that moment, to make a decision about everything in there, whether that is to answer it, archive it, save it, or delete it? If not, come back to it when you DO have time. When you check email, do so with the purpose of dealing only with email in those few minutes. If there’s something there you want to scope out later, save it where you can find it, and then do it later, at a time when you plan to do just that. (If you manage your email with gMail, a cool tool called Boomerang is good for revisiting things you don’t want to forget but don’t have time for now.)
You may find it helpful, like I did, to write out a short procedure for how you will deal with your email. Refer to this procedure each time you decide to deal with email until such time it becomes second nature for you. Old habits die hard is a common cliché for a reason: it’s the truth! So give yourself time to create a new habit, and be forgiving when you fall off the wagon.
It requires discipline to do this — I still struggle with this every day — but I get a lot more done when I’m diligent about dealing with email only when I’ve decided to deal with email.
One last thing about email: You may find that it is extremely helpful if you just move everything out of your inbox at once — into a folder where you get back to it later — so that you can start from a clean inbox. Put your email system into place from now on, then go back to the folder at a time you schedule for that purpose, and retrieve anything from there that you think you might miss or need. Eventually you can just dump that folder if you want. If you’re afraid, however, that there’s something in there important that you might need to find later, just keep the folder around until you no longer need it. Do not stress about it!
You may have noticed already that a time or two I’ve mentioned working on something when you’ve scheduled time “for that purpose.” I’ve discovered, even with as much as I have put on my plate — and that others pile on to it — that I cannot multi-task. At least not very well.
I truly cannot be working on a client’s ebook project while at the same time trying to update my own website, or trying to check email, so I just do one thing at a time. If I’ve got multiple projects to work on in a day — and I usually do — I set my timer and work on only thing. My brain appreciates that I do that, I get way more done, and truthfully, I’m not as tired at the end of the day as I would be if I was constantly switching between tasks.
When you set out to do something, do just that one thing. Whatever it is. The only question you might ask yourself is this: “Is this the project that I should be working on at this particular time?” You get to decide what criteria you use to decide that.
Since I am managing a lot of projects, and because I’m still more of a paper and pencil kind of guy than I am an electronic guy, another tool I use is a “ticketing system.” I also got this idea from David Seah (I tell you, the guy is brilliant on many levels).
I’m sure most of you have eaten in a diner-style restaurant where, after the waitress takes your order, she sticks it up on a wheel and turns it so the cooks in the kitchen can see a new order has come in. If you pay attention, you’ll likely notice that the cook grabs that ticket and sticks it up in front of himself on a “rail.” The cook can see all the orders in progress and work accordingly.
I do something similar, but instead of a rail, I just use a metal whiteboard and affix the “order tickets” with a magnet. I have printed out a bunch of blank tickets — what David calls, The Task Order Up! — and I fill out one for every project that I intend to work on.
So for instance, when I had the idea for doing this post, I made a Task Order Up! Ticket, and added it to my board so I wouldn’t forget it. When the time was right, I took it down and started writing. And since I didn’t finish in one sitting, the ticket went back on the board.
The fresh tickets are kept in a handy spot on my desk so it is easy to just grab one when I have an idea. That alone is worth doing things this way. I never lose an idea with this system. If I think it, I ink it. No matter what idea I’ve had, it hangs on the board waiting for me to work on it — or not — whenever the time is right. From time to time I decide something is not worth pursuing and so, the ticket just goes in the trash.
Now, I know I just said I’m more of a paper and pencil kind of guy when it comes to keeping track of things, and I still use a paper planner for a lot of stuff, but I’m finding that I’m using electronic tools more and more. And this is largely because the tools themselves are getting better and better.
Having easy access to certain tools no matter where you are helps us keep our business running efficiently while at the same time, giving us a life, too. I love that the tools I work with are available on my computer, my phone and my iPad. My cell phone is always with me, but most of the time, these days, so is my iPad.
Of course, these tools can be a great help or a great burden, depending on how you use them. I’ve tried several electronic tools to keep track of things and I’ve found that for me, a Google tool called GQueues works really well for keeping things on track regardless of which device I’m working on at the time I need to add something to it or be reminded about it. I love it because it integrates seamlessly with my Google Calendar which is really where most of the action is happening. I appreciate getting reminders when I need them so I am not missing things.
I have a feeling that this may be the last year for my trusty paper planner. In fact, it may not make it until March. But I will always have a notebook, or paper of some kind handy — and in my pocket — to capture ideas and other things I don’t want to forget. Hell, I even have some AquaNotes hanging on the wall in my shower because I have most of my good ideas in there.
Along with my little notebook in my pocket, I also carry, attached right to my keys, an Inka Pen. I love my Inka Pen and it is always with me since I always have my keys. This is great for you guys. Women have it easier, I think, because they get to carry a purse everywhere. (Maybe not, since they have to carry a purse everywhere!) I always have a pen so long as my keys are in my pocket. Kind of a pricey little thing, but worth every penny to me for the convenience.
You know, if we’re being perfectly honest about productivity, it really just comes down to getting busy and getting things done. I can often think of a zillion other things to be doing and if I let myself go off and do those things, I’d never get anything done and I’d let a lot of people down. (Myself more than anybody.)
So these are just some of the ways and means that I use to keep myself productive and that you may find are helpful to you, as well.
When it comes right down to it, though, the harsh reality is, being productive really is all about disciplining yourself to do the things you need to do, when they need to be done. But having systems and tools in place that help you get those things done, makes life and work more joyful and easier, too.
One more thing before I let you go that I’ve only recently discovered that has improved my productivity by like a thousand percent, is having a dedicated space for getting my work done. I hate to admit it, but living on the road, full-time in an RV — while the greatest fun I’ve ever had in my life — created quite a challenge for me in trying to manage my business AND be a tourist. Kind of hard to work on a computer and drive at the same time.
Now that I have an office in my home — where I can go in and shut the door if I want — my productivity has soared. Part of that is having established office hours where I’m working and doing nothing else. Another part is having the space to spread things out, plus having lots of room to store my stuff and my books, and when I’m in here, in my office, I’m in work mode.
It won’t be long though, before we get back on the road for another extended tour, and I gotta tell you, I’m a little nervous — no, make that a LOT nervous — about losing this productivity roll I’m on. The cool thing, however, is that I’m learning what I really need to do to be productive — and so I can translate that knowledge into whatever situation I’m in, whether in my office at home, or back out on the road. It’s going to be another fun challenge and I’ll let you know how it goes.
So to wrap things up, here’s what I suggest you do if you want to improve your own productivity:
First, don’t try to change all of your habits at once. You’ll make yourself crazy. If email is your biggest obstacle to high productivity, deal with that for a week or two until the email system you put into place is becoming second nature, then move on to other things you want to implement to raise your productivity level.
Try some of the things I’ve suggested in this post and see if they work for you.
Above all, don’t try to force yourself to use tools or techniques for managing your time or your productivity just because some “guru” tells you that’s the way to do it. I suspect that if you pay attention to what works for you, you’ll adapt the strategies you learn about to work the best way for you.
And remember — you, me, all of us, are a work in progress so be gentle with yourself and give yourself time to make improvements. And remember, tonight, be grateful for what you did accomplish today, and sleep well.© Copyright 2012 Marty Marsh