We’re all concerned about productivity – measuring it, boosting it, evaluating it. Don’t believe me? If you enter “productivity” as a search term on Amazon, you’ll have access to over 172,000 products. We have apps that are supposed to make us more productive, and we tend to evaluate new technology based on its potential to help us do more in less time.
I’m not immune to the siren song of products that consolidate tasks and let me work smarter and achieve better results for my clients, but I have found that sometimes the very best solution can be a low-tech approach. My primary productivity booster is a two-fold approach.
First of all you must unplug. Don’t panic – I don’t mean completely. I’m talking about unplugging from the biggest timewasters while you’re working. If you take the simple steps of closing Facebook, Twitter, and the dozens of other popular apps, your productivity will increase more than you can imagine. Don’t believe me? YouTube reports that more than two billion videos are watched on their site each day. Two billion. Let that sink in. You don’t actually need to see Miley Cyrus’ new video during business hours, and the single best way to eliminate the temptation to meander through social media and similar distractions is to close those apps. Period.
Even your email account can be a distraction that inhibits, rather than fosters productivity. If you can resolve to check email periodically, rather than constantly, you will discover that you can work more quickly and effectively as a result of the focus you can achieve when you eliminate distractions.
We’re going to go really old school for the second part of my approach. Dig out those archaic tools – pen, paper, and a highlighter – and try my method for organizing and prioritizing your workflow.
Step One: Divide the piece of paper into two columns: A narrow column labeled TYPE and a wide column labeled TASK. In the wide column, list all of the things you need to accomplish. As new tasks occur to you throughout the day, add them right away, rather than wasting energy on trying to remember them.
Step Two: Go down your list of tasks and in the TYPE column, put a $ next to each task that will bring in revenue in the next thirty days. Put a smiley face next to each task that’s for an established client. You’re going to use these symbols to help you prioritize your workload.
Step Three: You’ll notice that most of your tasks neither generate revenue nor serve an existing client – these duties are going to be sorted to the bottom of your to-do list. Work your way through the list, beginning with the tasks that have both the $ and the smiley face: jobs for established customers that produce revenue are your priority. Next, work on the tasks for existing customers – the smileys. Third priority is the revenue producing tasks for new clients, and fourth – only when you’ve taken care of your existing clients and generated some revenue, do you attack the chores that are left on the list.
Step Four: One of the key elements of this strategy is the way you manage your list throughout the work day. When you start on a task, highlight that line. That way, when you’re interrupted by a phone call or an urgent matter, you don’t have to waste time recalling where you were when you get back to your list. When the task is complete, cross it off your list (so satisfying!) and highlight the next task. You’ll have a concrete plan to help you work through your day and get the most out of your time.
Real productivity isn’t about the latest app or management buzzwords. It’s about disconnecting from distractions and focusing your energy on the tasks that best reward your time and energy.