Everywhere on the internet you’ll always find a new productivity tool rising and tips and tricks to use your time more wisely. I have been in this field for about 7 years and most of the things that I share in this blog post are part of my nature. I do them automatically. But I realised that for many of my clients these things are a bit strange and new at times. So I thought I’ll sit and write them down on paper so that we can all practice together. Here you go:
#1 To do lists
This can be a given for those more familiar with productivity, but it can be magic to those who are on their starting journey. There is nothing better than a written list of things that need tackling. We all have great ideas which fluctuate in our mind. We think about them and say “I’ll do them once I have some time. But when you have that time, all the ideas just seem to disappear and you reach for that one easy to do task which might even be scrolling through social media not even realising that a good chunk of your day just passed by and nothing got done. Lists are meant to keep you on track, to inspire action. Not to keep you imprisoned. If you have too many then it’s time to learn how to prioritise.
#2 Have one main task for the day
No matter how long your list is, choose just one thing that, if you’d accomplished it, would lead you to greater progress in one of your projects and overall greater happiness. You can play with it as much or as little as you want. You can create a themed day, you can establish your number one priority in the evening, or you can decide it first thing in the morning. All you need to know is that if you only get that thing done, your day would be considered a success. This simple tool will take the pressure off your shoulder and let your mind know that that only thing is what matters the most. This leads to focus, to relaxation and to concentration. Which overall will lead to a successful and productive day.
#3 The Eisenhower matrix
“But all the other items are so important on my list!”, I hear you say. “Everything is important.” To help us with this quest, we will be using the Eisenhower matrix. I used this tool for myself and with clients and it always leads to greater clarity across all borders, professional and personal. The Eisenhower matrix is a way of filtering your long to do list through the lens of the important/urgent aspects. Importance is the key here.
What is important to you will be defined by your values.
So value work is really a must in building up your productivity. There is no point in being productive if what you work on is not what you believe in or what is meaningful to you. This is also essential because it will help you to say no and to not be influenced by other people’s priorities.
So, how does the Eisenhower matrix work?
Simple. After writing your list look at each item asking yourself these following questions:
Is it important and urgent? Then prioritise these items and do them as soon as possible.
Is it important but not urgent? Typically under this category will fall all the long term projects which you want to do because you find deep value in them, but they are not pressed by the time. In which case you’d better plan for them ahead and make sure that they are done. Because this will lead you to greater growth over time and you want to do these things.
Is it urgent but not important? These tasks are best to delegate for others to do. These are tasks that need to be done, but which others could take care of. Learn to practice the skill of delegation and trust that other people can do work for you.
Is the task not urgent and not important? In this case, you can easily ignore the task and cross it off from your list.
And that’s done. You have your list filtered by the tasks that need doing and by those that can be ignored.
#4 Eat the frog
Remember the one main task of the day? Usually these tasks can be enveloped in some sort of difficulty to overcome. These are usually the tasks that are a bit more challenging. And because in the morning we have more brain power and more will power, it is suggested that we tackle that item first thing first.
Besides, can you imagine starting the day with that one thing already done? The burst of confidence and achievement will help you navigate the day in a much smoother way. It is incredibly freeing to get that one thing done and know that even before the day starts, you have achieved a great level of success.
#5 The 2 minutes rule
This one is the one I struggle with the most, to be honest. I know about it from the book “Getting things done” by David Allen (which I highly recommend), and I try to apply it as much as I can. What I like to do is to actually batch those “2 minutes” items (more on batching in the next point).
The idea behind the 2 minutes rule is that if a certain task takes less than 2 minutes, you should do it right there and then. I have many of these “2 minutes” tasks, a message to answer, an email that needs a quick reply, etc, etc. The fact is that I don’t want to take that 2 minutes at times. And what I tend to do is to let them grow and then write a short list of all these things and do them in one go. My 2 minutes time. My friends and clients might need to wait a bit to get an answer, but that seems to work better than breaking the flow of my day and take two minutes. I know, I know, it’s not much. It’s all about progress, not perfection, right?
Which leads me to the next point.
Batching is an idea I took from Tim Ferris’ book “The 4 hour work week” which I read at the top of 2016. That book in itself was a game changer for me. The philosophy behind this tool is to do things in batches. Say you have many emails to answer. I’d block some time (more on this following) in my calendar and write all of that in one go. If I need to run errands, I’ll use an allocated period to do all of that in one afternoon. If I need to write these blog posts, I’ll carve some time in my month and write them all at once, do the research, the writing and polishing in stages. Same with other admin things. Doing things in batches saved me a lot of time and energy in the last couple of years.
#7 Block time in your calendar
I don’t know where I learned about this tool and how it took over my calendar but today I use this tool as a way of organising my time through the week and it works magic. Every Sunday morning, I religiously sit down in front of my computer and go through a checklist that helps me review the week which just passed and plan for the week ahead.
As part of that ritual, I look at my calendar two weeks in advance and two weeks behind, to see how my time was spent and how to plan ahead. In the calendar I have blocks of time which are related to certain activities. I treat these blocks of time as if I’d be treating meeting with friends. Since I’d not cancel on friends (that’s one of my core values in life – to show up for myself and for others), I’d not cancel on myself either. So I try to stick to the schedule as much as possible and if I don’t, I ask myself what happened.
It is ok to not show up once in a while as long as it does not become a habit. In the productivity realm we have to remind ourselves that our value as human beings does not depend on how many things we tackle in the day. We are of value. Full stop. That is a given. But how we use our time can be something we want to optimise out of a desire to do things and to experience life in a richer and fuller way.
#8 Just 5 minutes
Blocking time for creative projects or for things which are important to us, but challenging, is very brave. Showing up for those tasks is even braver. But what if we wake up to that notification on our calendar and we are filled with some sort of repulsion towards the task and we ignore the notification? Most of the times we are too ambitious in our mind. But only 5 minutes will make the difference. I talked about this in one of my newsletter (wanna be part of it? Subscribe here, bottom of the page).
Just starting with 5 minutes on a task that you have been putting off will help you get closure with that one item or task and get you back “on track”. It doesn’t matter how big the task is. If you spend even 5 minutes on it you will realise that you gained a certain momentum and you’ll want to do more. If you find yourself not continuing, maybe it is time to question whether that is something you really want to do.
#9 The pomodoro technique
I saved this one until almost the last because this tool can be used to overarch all of the above. Whether you’re “eating the frog”, you’re working in batches, you show up to your blocks of time, you’ll want to do focused work and to tackle those important tasks and tick them off. Together with the next tool, the pomodoro technique will help you get things done and stay present to that which is on hand. The idea is to spend 25 minutes on doing something productive without any distractions after which you take a 5 minutes break. And then repeat this cycle for about 4 times.
In the 5 minutes break, don’t stimulate your brain with anything which requires making decisions, etc (no social media scrolling either!). Let your brain relax and then get back to work. Some folks out there argue that the tool doesn’t work because you can get into the flow and don’t want to stop at 25. It is your call to give it a try and see it for yourself. Some people will work for 50 minutes instead of 25 and then have some relaxing time. What matters is to do deep work which is focused and which does not imply any distractions. And that leads me to the next topic.
#10 Prevent interruptions
Yes. I know. Your notifications are important. And we all live in a very connected world. But having your emails or your instant messaging app open at the same time as you are creating something for your client or your work, can be challenging and demanding for your brain. It can be difficult nowadays to switch off the notifications and to not grab that phone at the first thought that crosses our mind. Applying a bit of self-restraint for a while will help you get rid of those desires to reach for the phone or to check your emails impulsively.
On the contrary, you will be able to intentionally decide when and how to use your phone, or emails. When you sit down for work and you know the task is challenging, turn your phone to airplane mode and allow yourself to have at least one or two pomodoros without any distractions. If you need to challenge yourself a bit more, you could try taking all your notifications off at all times and allow only one app with notifications on. Regularly in your weekly review, process all those new emails and conversations which didn’t require your attention (were not important based on the Eisenhower matrix) and free yourself some time.
Bonus tip: Have accountability buddies
The last tool I use in being productive is having an accountability buddy. I raved about this tool in one of my blog posts. And I can swear by it! It is more likely you will get things done if you share them with another person. Let someone know what you will do the week or the day ahead and do it. I have a regular call on Mondays with my action buddy and it works great. We check in on what happened the week before, share our wins and commit to what needs to be done the upcoming week. We keep ourselves accountable and that makes the biggest difference.
And there you go! Here are my top tools for keeping yourself in balance in a beautifully productive way! Tell me, which one will you give it a try? Email me at email@example.com