How are you doing? Feeling busy? Me too! How about productive? Less so? Yeah, same.
We live busy lives, with busy jobs. We rush between work and home, or we pull long hours building business, freelancing or creating. But how much of your time are you actually executing i.e getting stuff done. Whilst it seems busy comes naturally, productivity is a little bit harder to achieve. In New Zealand we have a Productivity Commission, an author famous for telling women to rush less and be/do more and a burgeoning startup and freelance community who want to maximise their doing. So how do we shift from busy-busy to doing-done?
Productivity tip one: draw a line in the sand and craft a habit
Sometimes throwing yourself fully into something really gives you the momentum you need to move forward productively. This in mind draw a line in the sand and commit to a time constrained challenge for yourself. This may include cutting out something that feeds into your unproductive nature, such as social media or tv OR committing to actually doing something. This month Simon Ellison (innovator and designer) has committed to ‘the most productive 30 days of his life’ in which he will produce one idea, concept or product every day for 30 days. You can follow in his steps (or just see how he is getting on) on his website.
Productivity tip two: Understand how you work (and create the best situation for that to happen)
There are things that you know of yourself – essential truths one might say. These will help you get the very best out of your working situation and yourself. Do you work best in quiet but reside in a busy, bustling, loud space? Utilise headphones or meeting rooms for focussed projects. Do you find yourself easily distracted? Keep the windows you need for the current project you are working on open and close all others.
Being honest about your working style will allow you to harness productivity through solutions based thinking.
Productivity tip three: clarify and prioritise
Getting things done can often be more about knowing what you need to do than anything else. A former employer had a favourite saying ‘How do you eat an elephant, one bite at a time’. No matter how big your projects are, breaking them down into their parts and then assigning due dates not only clarifies what you need to do but also creates a natural ‘to do list’ for projects.
You can use tools like Trello, Todoist or Basecamp to break your work down, and then into bite size work chunks. This allows you to quickly and easily see what you have done and what needs to happen.
It is a good idea to create a list for yourself the night before, clarify what you want to achieve from the next day so you start the day with a clear plan, and focus.
Productivity tip four: learn to say no to avoid drowning in work
I say this next bit of advice as someone that needs to learn to take it. Learn to say no.
So often as entrepreneurs and freelancers we feel that more is not only better, it is essential. Thinking of the bottom line we tell ourselves that taking on more work will surely mean more money and more success – right? The amount of work you take on personally or within a business should be compared to the amount of work you can get through in a reasonable amount of time. Whilst pulling the occasional late night is fine, constant evenings burning the midnight oil and working through your lunch breaks will leave you tired, empty and sad – which is pretty much a breeding ground for feelings of demotivation.
Founders and CEO’s may find it easier to avoid burnout, after-all you are working towards tangible results for yourself. But your team? They are pulling those late nights for the over-time. Not only will you and your team become unmotivated, you run the risk of having so much to do that it becomes impossible to clarify or prioritise anything.
if you are working for yourself be realistic about your workload and learn to say no to taking more on to your plate than you actually can get through. This will stop you feeling like you are drowning in work.
If you are a manager, have regular updates with your team on what they are doing. Look for tasks that stay on their to-do-list week after week, and track how many jobs they have on the go at once. In an ideal world you should be managing your team effectively enough to mean they don’t get into a ‘spinning wheel’s’ situation, and if they do then you need to work out how to get them out of it. Keeping in mind that if there is too much for them to do, that extra team members may be the answer.
If you are sitting here and reading this as a member of a team, and you think – “oh man, this is totally me” never fear. Using tip three, create a to-do list and then set about highlighting what you actually can do. If you are having trouble prioritising reach out to your team or manager for help. Ask them what they need to have done as first priority, and let them know clearly the things you won’t be able to do in the here and now as a result.
Productivity tip five: work on something to completion
We work in fields that are increasingly complex where we complete many different tasks in our day. When working, pick a task and follow it through to completion or blocker before moving on. If your project has a blocker, define what it is, how much time it will take to solve and then put a ‘restart’ date next to your project.
Countless studies show that multitasking is not an effective way to get stuff done, instead focus in, execute then move on.
Extra for experts: There are tonnes of tips on how to be productive, from focussed spurts of work followed by rest. To intense four day weeks. If you are really finding it hard to get going and even harder to execute the simple question may be, do you find joy in your work? We are more inclined to execute when doing tasks we find enjoyable after all, so if you can’t do maybe the problem is not you but what you are doing.
Anya wrangles brand & comms for GridAKL, you can find her tweeting productively online for GridAKL or unproductively for herself.