May 17, 2017 • 7 minute read • by Saeed
Tip #1: First, eat a frog.
Mark Twain once said: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” How that translates to productivity is at the beginning of every day, look at your to do list and think about which activity you want to do the least. That’s the activity you should do first. Otherwise, that thing will nag at you the rest of the day and slowly sap you of your creative energy.
Tip#2: Harness the power of technology.
Seriously. Luddites beware. Technology has ingrained itself in our daily lives. Do not resist it. Take advantage of your company’s telecommute policy. The office is where the least work gets done. Take advantage of the mushrooming of productivity apps and tools. I know. Information technology is developing at such a rapid rate that sometimes you feel like you’re in the middle of a digital technology rodeo. But you have to stay on that horse and learn to ride it. Use Trello to schedule your social time or to plan your wedding. Use Mint to manage your finances. Bookmark your creative impulses and curiosity with Evernote. Manage your passwords with LastPass and organize your travel itineraries with TripIt. Don’t know what to cook or don’t have time to shop for clothes? No problem. Technology has a solution. Learn to use it. You’ll be more productive and creative for it. With the abundance of tools out there, there’s no excuse.
Tip#3: Process work in batches.
Batch processing is finishing as many tasks as possible at once. If you are reviewing and responding to emails as they come in, you are living in the dark ages of productivity. Studies have found that the average person checks email more than a dozen times every hour and a whopping 28% of their workday managing emails. Set aside three times during the day instead to sift through and respond to email. I like to do one batch at 11:00, the next at 3:00 and one more for the end of the day. There, email done. Tasks from your assistance? Have them be grouped and shared in batches. You will soon find that this is an avenue to more creative responses because your creative energy is designated not taxed.
Tip#4: Outsource the mundane.
Most ethnographies of successful people reveal how they expend their creative energies and guess what: it’s not on chores! Have you ever considered that it may be your lack of organization that’s keeping you from realizing your dreams. That’s the perfect opportunity to support a digital nomad and use an outsourcing service like Guru or Upwork to hire a virtual assistant. Use Asana to collaborate. Working in teams? Try GetFlow. How much would your productivity increase if you could expend your time and energy on your creative ideas rather than on mundane chores?
Tip#5: Declare time your eternal friend.
Time is a non-replenishable resource. Period. You have to be single minded about how you use it. You may need to be stingy, greedy, and selfish with it too. Don’t let others waste it and don’t waste it yourself. Set a strict time limit on meetings. This signals to your colleagues that you are a valuable person because your time is valuable. Say ‘No’ more often. Block time off on your calendar for self-care and don’t let anyone intrude on that time. Minimize distractions. Bookend your day with good routines. Wake up and go to bed early. Many successful people have early morning rituals. A daily early morning walk routine will give you more energy to be creative and productive. When the alarm rings, practice mind over mattress. Successful people also have good sleep rituals. If you believe Arianna Huffington, “we are in the midst of a sleep deprivation crisis.”
WARNING! Procrastination is the thief of time. It’s the antithesis of being productive with your time. Your time is flushed down the proverbial toilet of no return when you procrastinate. When you procrastinate, your present self is sabotaging your future self.
Tip#6: Declare clutter your mortal enemy.
If you are protective over your piles, you have a problem. You can make excuses about how you’re a misunderstood creative genius but the truth is it’s killing your productivity, not to mention your creativity. Admit it: You’d get a hell of a lot more done if you’d stop resisting the need to ORGANIZE! Organizing means that everything has a home so that it can be easily found, accessed, used, and put back. Sort, label, filter, categorize, organize. Use the 5S methodology I learned from Japanese manufacturing. If it’s your home that’s cluttered, try Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy. Need ideas? This Pinterest page has more than a thousand. The bottom line is how things look on the outside, is probably how things look on the inside. It’s hard to be creative when your space and your mind is cluttered.
Tip#7: Bundle your actions.
Writing for your blog? Don’t write just one blog post, write five. Don’t comment on just 3 blogs, comment on 10. Create three videos at once. Copy all the papers. Do all the shopping. Change all the cartridges or whatever it is. Don’t move from task to task. Move from project to project completing tasks within one project before initiating another. Otherwise, you’re just moving tasks from your inbox to your outbox all day long without focus or purpose. Go a step further. Bundle your skills and strengths. See them not as individual traits on a linear list but as groupings that form stronger clusters. For example, public speaking, presenting, facilitating and training make a more powerful bundle than any one of those skills alone. Alone, they say skill. Together, they say expertise. This gives you greater leverage and flexibility in your productivity and in your creativity.
Tip#8: Practice task completion.
Are you the type of person that always knocks the nail halfway in and walks away? Simply put, you have to finish what you start. Modern life is assaulting already dangerously stretched attention spans. We’re always eager to start a new task but somewhere in the middle, the juice runs out and we don’t finish it. We surrender to boredom or a depletion of energy. Resist the temptation. It puts a drag on productivity. When you leave the task half done, your creative energy then burns on the unfinished business of the task. Start. Do. Finish.
Tip#9: Go with your natural flow.
You wake up, begin to check emails, stuff some breakfast down your gullet and get in the car with the first conference call of the day on your commute into work. You transition from your car seat to your desk seat and continue the same way at a steady clip for the next 8-12 hours. Sound like you? Well, we are not designed to work that way. It goes against our biological rhythm. Think of sleep. You’re not designed to sleep that way either. You don’t simply close your eyes and enter one state of sleep for eight hours and then wake up. How you really sleep is you shift between several 90 minute cycles of deep and lighter sleep. As it turns out, the ideal rhythm for work is four or five 90-minute chunks throughout the day, with breaks in-between. Be deliberate about those breaks. You need the mental space to be creative. Productivity then becomes more like sprints of creativity than a marathon of exhaustion.
Tip#10: Discipline thyself.
Know yourself? Yes, that’s important. But without self-discipline, your knowledge will not get you far. Of all the items on this list, this may be the most important. We often hear so and so is so smart. The reason for their success however will nine times out of ten be because of their self-discipline. You have to move your project along in a systematic way. Do something every day to advance whatever it is you’re working on. Also, don’t reward yourself before completion. Do the work first, then take the break, eat the cake, or watch TV, or do whatever it is that gives you pleasure. Pleasure is good. But not before the work is done. That’s just a bad habit and it’s likely an addictive one. By inducing pleasure, you stimulate your brain’s reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. Your brain gets used to the kick and wants more. It’s self-defeating to put pleasure before business. Very little creativity stems from it. Very little productivity comes from it. See this list as a fuse box. Throw the main breaker off and flip it back on again with these 10 new habits. When you do, watch your life change. Watch the lights come back on again.
©2017 – All Content and photography by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.
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