As we look forward to the New Year, with new resolutions, new efforts and new goals, I thought it was a good time to share some tips, tricks and hacks to being more productive, effective and happy in 2017.
There is a huge body of excellent research available on goal setting, prioritisation, focus, habits and time management. I know I’m not the only one who is a big fan of these books, articles and research. Together with my colleague, Dan Mikulskis, a productivity ninja, we gathered together our top combined tips to share with others at Redington.
We hope you find these useful. Please share your tips below.
- Set SMART & stretch goals
Set daily priorities, weekly goals, quarterly objectives, as well as longer term stretch goals. Use these daily to help prioritise what you start your day doing. Review at the start of each day, at the end of each week, each quarter, etc. At work, each team and across the firm everyone should know what their biggest priorities are for the week, the quarter and the year, these should be aligned with the bigger team or firms objectives.
2. Do the Important before the Urgent
Stephen Covey was one of the first to share this 2×2 productivity matrix (https://goo.gl/images/H3e8tc) of what is urgent/not urgent versus important/not important. Everything you need to do does not have the same importance or impact. It’s ok to delegate or say no to things that are neither urgent nor important. If it doesn’t help you achieve your goals it’s not that important. You can’t spend your day dealing with a long list of last minute urgent items. Plan your time between blocks of time to deal with the urgent stuff and dedicated time each day to do the things that are most important.
3. Do the most important things first
This is the golden rule of time management. Having identified the two or three tasks that are the most crucial to complete, you need to do those first. Willpower is a finite resource, each distraction/temptation we resist depletes the amount of willpower we can rely on. That means after resisting opening your inbox, then resisting checking your phone when it beeps, etc, when a colleague interrupts you to ask about your weekend, you welcome the distraction because you have no self-control left with which to resist it. Start by doing your most important or hardest tasks first in the day when your willpower is at its best.
4. Keep the main thing, the main thing
Always ask yourself – what are the most important thing I need to achieve today. Don’t let your focus drift from those for too long. Try committing to particular deadlines to yourself (“I must get this done by 2pm”) to force yourself to prioritise avoid getting sidetracked into other things. If you’re experiencing a dip in productivity, take a walk, go for a coffee, get out of the office to try to refresh and get the right “headspace” to come back and focus that one thing. Some people find just being aware of their breath and being still is a powerful way of recharging and taking control of your mind-state.
5. Multitasking doesn’t work.
Switching between tasks is a classic productivity killer. Humans can’t physically multitask. We’re not very efficient at it. If you try to do too many things at once, you probably won’t finish any of those tasks to a high standard. Plus, it could take you more time than if you simply focused on one task at a time. Eliminate distractions. Close all other browser windows. Put your phone away, out of sight and on silent. Find a quiet place to work, or put on your headphones if that helps you. Concentrate on this one task. Nothing else should exist. Immerse yourself in it. Try the Pomodoro Technique – promise yourself you’ll focus exclusively on something for 45 mins then take a break – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique
6. Use memory and learning hacks
We are presented with infinitely more material than we can ever assimilate or retain in our minds. Human beings are inherently forgetful. We need memory hacks to make sure we remember and can reproduce what is important. Instead of passively absorbing data, we need to overcome information blindness by engaging with it – hand write notes, draw charts, test hypotheses, etc. If you read a good book, write notes on it, discuss it and present it
7. Harness the power of background processing
Sometimes when working on a ‘high-cognitive load’ task (such as writing a new report from scratch) it is best to quickly sketch a rough template early in the day (no need to get it perfect, it’ll change anyway) then jot down a few thoughts. Then leave it and move onto other tasks. Often you’ll find yourself unconsciously thinking about it during the day/over lunch etc. and when you come back to it “it writes itself.
8. Ship it
We can all be perfectionists, though we may not recognise this is driven by fear. We need to start by recognising that it is our fear that stops us pressing send on an email, that makes us avoid difficult tasks, that causes us to read, re-read, check, second check, procrastinate, kill trees by writing unnecessarily long papers. Note: we need to do be careful in how we apply this to client work we send out, for example detailed factual performance reports need to be treated with a “right first time” approach. However, by adopting a lean/agile, test, iterate, get feedback approach you can get more done and get real, honest and critical feedback on what needs more work.
9. Create Habit loops
Most of the time we operate on auto-pilot, that’s why it’s so hard to break old habits. We can all learn how to create habits. You start by identifying the cue that triggers a bad habit. For example, the first thing I do when I get in… Straight after lunch I … When I get a mid afternoon craving I… etc. once you know your cue, you can insert a good/new habit. It’s important you have a reward at the end of the habit loop (Cue > Habit > Reward – https://goo.gl/images/c4WYkz). Do it everyday for 1-3 months and a new habit is formed. Once it’s committed to your unconscious mind you don’t need to expend any energy on it, it becomes automatic.
10. If something should be very quick – force yourself to get it done right there
Just told someone you’ll “send them that”, or “you’ll get a slot in the dairy”? Just do it. Right then. That should take no more than a minute or two of your time.
What do you find most useful? What works for you? Please share.