Three Keys for Increasing Your Personal Productivity

What do the President of the US, the Queen of England, you, and the bum on the corner all have in common? Each has exactly 24 hours in a day – that’s 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds exactly – no more and no less. What distinguishes each is not how much time they have, but how they use what they have. Let’s look at 3 keys for increasing your personal productivity and shifting the way you use time.

Start with a list

The great unwashed masses use their time reactively. Their day is largely spent reacting to others around them and to the circumstances that they find themselves in. Too much time spent in catch-up mode and too little time spent planning. Minutes spent in planning can save hours in execution.

Lists are essential for effective time management. You must put your list on paper (or computer). Keeping your list in your head is a sure way to increase your stress level and limit your productivity. You’ve got to get that list out of your head and onto something that you can look at. Some people hate lists and they come up with all kinds of lame excuses about why lists don’t work for them. That’s fine. Peak productivity is a choice. If it were easy, everyone would be highly accomplished. Peak performers always use lists.

Don’t worry if your list is too long. At least when you look at it you can deal with a lengthy list appropriately. Until it is committed to paper or computer, it is stuck in your head and your subconscious is stressing about the possibility of forgetting to do something important and how to get everything done. Getting your list out of your head actually reduces your stress.

Prioritize your list

Chances are your list is scary long. This is where setting priorities comes in. You want to organize your list around the highest priority items and do those first. By focusing on the high-priority items on your list, anything that is undone will always be less essential than what was done.

It is important to distinguish between the things on your list that are truly important and the things which may be urgent but aren’t really important at all. One technique for sorting things out is to ask yourself if you were to look at today’s list from a point in time 6 months into the future, which items would you be glad that you accomplished and which ones wouldn’t matter as much. Tackle the highest priority items first and work your way down in the order of relative importance. If there is more on your list than you can accomplish in one day, the stuff that is undone at the end of the day is of lesser importance than what was done.

Schedule

Some hours in your day are more valuable than others. Your most valuable hours are the hours where you are mentally freshest and have high energy. Becoming consciously aware of when you are at your peak energy and alertness is essential for achieving your personal peak performance. Once you identify your most valuable hours, reserve that time for knocking out the highest priority items on your list. Protect this time from all unnecessary intrusions and interruptions. Save all the routine tasks like responding to email, returning phone calls, meetings, etc. for the other hours in your work day.

The way you manage your time will determine your accomplishment. Effective time management is about utilizing your time proactively – taking the few minutes that are necessary in order to create your to-do list, prioritize it, and use your most valuable hours for your highest priority items.

Charging Up Your Personal Productivity

Have you ever wondered that there are so many things to do but yet so little time to use? Have you always been busy at work? Have you always been saying, “I’m busy”, “not now…” or “I do not have enough time!” At the end of the day, you feel there is no sense of achievement from a long day at work and you have no clue about it. Have you always envy the performance and time management of your co-workers? (Or you simply don’t care). Do you want to power up your personal productivity and improve your time management like your co-workers?

We’re going to introduce you a power concept that will make you efficient and productive at work. It’s called the 24-hour pay check. It’s the base principle in getting self-disciplined for time management (good time management requires self-disciplined). Everyday, you are given a pay check of 24-hours. No more, no less. However, this “free” pay check can only be utilized in a day. Like a one-day voucher at the shopping mall. You cannot ask for more (time) in the check nor can you deposit and reuse it for another day. You have to use it in that day only.

timeIn a normal weekday, you spend 7 hours sleeping. 3 hours traveling to and from the office. You work average a day of 8 ½ hours with lunch breaks included. Now how much time do we have left? That’s an estimated 5 ½ hours left in the pay check. With the remaining 5 ½ hours left, you need to have breakfast, buy groceries, shower, dinner and washing the dishes. Say that takes another 3 hours. You’ve got 2 ½ hours left. These 2 ½ hours will be your only leisure and self-improvement time. Not forgetting if you have kids, part of the remaining hours will be used attending to their needs… And all this CANNOT be brought forward to the next day!

Now you can see that time is a precious commodity and we should treasure every expense of it. Using this powerful concept, we can identify what are the time wasters and what are the things to do to be productive. The time spent at the workplace is an average of 8 ½ hours. 1 hour is used for lunch break. ½ hour is used for tea break. Another ½ hours maybe spent at the water cooler on gossips and rumors. Back at your desk, you enter into procrastination mode for another ½ hours in and out throughout the day. You received an average 6 phone calls of 5 minutes interval every day and this sums up to another ½ hour being used.

How much time is left from the 8 ½ hours? We’ve left with 5 ½ hours… yes, we’re not finished yet. You have to handle fire-fighting tasks such as co-workers’ enquiries/requests and attend to emails. That will be another 1 ½ hours. You spent time chatting on the instant messenger for another 1 hour throughout the day. This includes time to respond to your buddy and time wasted flipping your tasks and the instant messenger. Finally, with all the things going on in the workplace, you give yourself another ½ hour of personal breaks throughout the day. Let’s not also forget that there are people who spend time reading newspaper or looking at stock prices at work…

Now how much time do we have left? Only 3 hours is left for you to do actual productive work. Can you see how much time is really effective used if you were operating daily like this? If you can optimize the time, wouldn’t you be able to achieve more things in a day? Now re-look your daily schedule in the workplace. Does it resemble anything like that? If it does, our advice is you need to rethink of the important things in life (and office) for yourself. Of course, “important things” can mean differently with people. But if you stumbled upon here seeking for time management solution, you will know deep in your heart the definition of “important things”.

My New Favorite Personal Productivity Tool

I was just about to order a journal to become my Bullet Journal when I saw that some people who liked the philosophy of the Bullet Journal said they used the ideas with an online tool called Workflowy. While I’d used or looked at least a dozen online to-do list tools over the years, I was unfamiliar with this one.

So before I ordered the journal, I checked out Workflowy. And fell in love!

I realized that all the other personal productivity tools I’d tried over the years forced me to adjust my thinking a little or a lot to use the tool. That’s why I kept going back to pen and paper for my daily to-do list. It just matched how I thought about my day. But Workflowy lets me organize my plans and thoughts exactly the way my brain works. And it’s so flexible, I imagine it would work for people whose brains are different from mine – everyone else, I assume.

Fundamentally, Workflowy is the simplest tool ever. It lets you create an infinitely deep nested set of lists. That’s it! But it turns out that’s so powerful.

You can have as many levels of nested lists as you wish. Many people start at the top with ‘Work’ and ‘Personal’ and drill down into each of these areas. Since I work at home, these two areas blur into each other, so I’ve found it more helpful to have one area called ‘Planning’ where I put all my monthly and weekly goals and daily to-do lists, and another called Projects with all my client and business project plans. I add personal tasks into my daily to-do lists.

If your mind is able to handle things in a more hyperlinked way, you can just have your lists of projects and add a “today” tag to the tasks you want to accomplish today. Then, search on “today” and you’ll end up with your daily task list.

I don’t do it that way because I’m consistently overly optimistic and would tag way too many tasks and doom myself to failure every day. So I move the ones I want to accomplish from my projects area to a daily to-do list, actually assigning a duration to them so I don’t have eyes bigger than my schedule.

You can mark an item complete and toggle the settings so that completed items show or are hidden. I usually have it set so they are hidden. It’s great to mark an item complete and have it just disappear!

You can perform other actions on an item:

  • duplicate it
  • delete it
  • move it
  • indent it in the hierarchy
  • outdent it in the hierarchy
  • add a note to it
  • share it with someone else

Performing any of these actions on an item affects all the items nested beneath it.

You can tag items which allows one to search for all the items with that tag. For example, I’ve used tags for clients so I can search for all items related to a particular client.

Now here’s the mind blowing part. The items don’t have to just be tasks, they can be anything you want.

So you can add subitems to your task to get groceries which is your grocery list.

I create a list with subitems for notes from a client meeting. Of course, this list has the client tag added to it.

You can star favorite items to get back to them very quickly. Each day, I star the day’s to-do list so I can jump back to it easily any time during the day when I’ve been working in another area of my hierarchy.

You can tell Workflowy to send a daily email summary of all changes. Another setting has Workflowy save a backup of the current file to Dropbox.

A favorite feature of mine is that Workflowy is available as a Chrome widget on my desktop as well as in a browser window, and has apps for my iPad and iPhone. I believe there’s also an Android app.

And there’s no saving – all changes are autosaved and updates are available immediately on any of your devices. So seamless!

Workflowy is free to use up to 250 items. If you want more than that – I quickly did – it costs $49/year.

I think the key to Workflowy’s power is that you can put everything into it – tasks, notes, lists – and have a great overview of your life and/or business. But at any time, you can click on an item to change to a page with just that item and those under it. So you can drill down to the most detailed aspect of something and see only that while you’re working on it.

Some tools are good at giving you the big picture. And others let you lay out all the details. But Workflowy gives you the best of both worlds. You can choose to look at the high level areas, or just focus on the details of one small corner.

Let Me Show You How to Double Your Personal Productivity

Imagine what would happen to you if you doubled your personal productivity? How would that affect your work?

Have you ever finished your day and reflected on your lack of progress? You seem to have been busy all day yet achieved very little. Have you ever looked at your “to do” list and realized that it is longer than it was at the beginning of the day because nothing has been crossed off?

When you are managing a successful career or developing the business of your own, your time is in short supply and therefore invaluable. Your time is fixed. You can’t get any more. This means that you have to do all the things that you need to do in a fixed time frame. The clock doesn’t stop ticking. The secret is to make the best use of your time without working any harder. It is a case of personal management.

Logically speaking, the first step to better managing yourself in relation to time is to find out what you are currently doing.

· Measure how your time is being used.
· Check out how much of your time is being wasted.
· Who are the people that waste your time?
· What do they do?
· Can they be neutralized?
· How much of your precious time do you personally waste because of your work habits?

Keep a Time Log

You may say “I don’t have time to mess around doing that!” Keeping a time log is a very effective way to discover your current work habits. You’ll gain a tremendous amount of information about your use of time even after trying it for one day. It seems that once you start measuring what you are doing or what is happening to you, it creates a situation where you become conscious of your habits. Once this happens, you have the ability to examine them and if necessary, change them.

For one week keep a log of your activities. Record each activity as the day progresses. Throughout your day record the time whenever you start or stop any activity. You can use a stopwatch or put a timer on your desk. Be as detailed as possible in your time log.

Whenever your attention shifts from one thing to another, make a note of the diverting activity, no matter how trivial. This means that you will record all interruptions, noting their sources and reasons. Give as much detail as possible. Make a note on how much time you spent on each item. Set a priority for every single item. After a day, you will be able to see what proportion of your time was spent on high priority work.

Record your ideas on how you might have done things better. Write these comments as you go along. This reduces the chance of overlooking details.

Keep the time log close at hand. When you answer the phone, write down the phone call. When someone pokes their head in to make a comment or pass on information, reach over and jot it down on the log sheet.

Use abbreviations and shortcuts.

Show people by their initials.

Indicate interruptions with a big “X”.

For phone calls, use a letter “C” with an arrow pointing to the “C” for an incoming call and an arrow pointing away from it for your outgoing calls.

Each day go over the following points.

· Every time you shift your attention – log it. Be specific.
· If you note a 12 minute block as “Phone calls” you will not be able to tell if they were necessary or time wasters.
· Record everything.
· Do not skip over socialising or brief interruptions because they seem minor.

You are trying to determine how much of your total time is frittered away in such minor activities.

Note how much time you spend on interruptions, emails, reading blogs, web surfing, planning, phone calls, problem solving, research, filing, eating, drinking tea or coffee day-dreaming, doing meaningful work, going to the bathroom and thinking. If you get out of your chair, it probably means you need to make an entry in your time log. At the end of a typical day, I end up with around 80 log entries.

Warning:

Log your time as you go Don’t try to catch up at the end of the day.

When I first checked myself using a time log, I was astounded. Out of my 58 hour week I only did 13 hours productive work. As a self-employed consultant, this was my only source of my income. I soon changed the way I operated and managed myself differently.