Productivity tips from the experts

For the past several evenings, I have been watching way too many videos, but it’s okay. They are an investment in myself. I recently blogged about the importance of investing in yourself, and one of the things I recommended was finding free webinars.

Capture_PeakWorkPerformanceThe Peak Work Performance Summit is a series of video talks with some of the top productivity names in the industry. It’s a wealth of “research-based insights and actionable tips for elevating your performance,” according to the email I received from Ron Friedman, author of “The Best Place to Work,” and organizer of the Summit. Unfortunately, the videos are no longer available for free, but you can purchase access.

Here are just a few of the takeaways I had –

Gretchen Rubin on Changing Your Habits noted, “Nothing is more exhausting than the task that is never started.” After watching her session, I wrote the introduction for a book idea I have. I’d been talking about writing the introduction for three months. I also developed a writing schedule. She also suggested developing some fun habits, including running down stairs because it’s energizing. I did it at work, and people commented on how much energy I had!

Christine Carter, who wrote, “The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work,” talked about the “better than nothing workout.” Her point is that more is not necessarily better, especially if you don’t even start. I’m on a Fitbit quest, but there are days that 10,000 steps seem daunting. After listening to Carter, I gave myself permission to just walk 2,500 steps that day. Once I started, I was good. That day, I reached 7,700 steps. I was short a bit, but at least I moved.

Greg McKeown spoke about “the undisciplined pursuit of more.” The antidote, he said, “is the disciplined pursuit of less but better.” For example, when an opportunity presents itself, is it a great opportunity, or a just a good opportunity?

I have always been a list maker, and in the last few years, I’ve become even more intense about my lists. I feel vindicated now thanks to David Allen who said, “Don’t use your head as an office.” He said that writing things helps us stay clear and focused. He is the author of “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity.”

One of the ways, I have developed my skills is by volunteering through groups to which I belong. Dorie Clark, author of “Reinventing You,” recommended doing just that — volunteering in areas of interest where you want to take your career. “It can help you pivot,” she noted. She also recommended creating a networking plan and being strategic about who to spend time with and who you want to learn from.

Carrie Wilkerson, who wrote the “Barefoot Executive,” recommended picking one person and intentionally following them through the year, whether you invest with them or not. Currently, I personally pay a monthly fee to be part of an inner circle in which I get tips on earning positive media coverage. You could also follow a person’s blog or buy their book. The key, Wilkerson said, is to listen and not try to be on all the lists (of course, that’s easier said than done after participating in this summit!)

An underlying theme was the importance of developing and implementing routines. Doing so makes execution as effortless as possible, McKeown said. Turns out our mothers were right to line up our clothes for the week.

My takeaways were many, and I’ve put them on a master list so I don’t lose sight of them. Some of the items are action items, and I’ve assigned due dates to ensure that I follow through. Mostly though, I came away inspired.

5 Tips to Improve Productivity

I don’t know about you, but I’m doing more now than I ever did. With all the new tools and techniques it’s easier than ever to increase our productivity, but sometimes it’s good to stop and figure out if the tools are working for us or against us.

I know I couldn’t be as effective as I am without email and tracking tools, for example, but I’ve also realized that I have to be careful how I use them.

In no particular order, here are my top 5 tools to improve my productivity.

Cut Back on Meetings This one won’t work for everyone, but I’m at a place in my career where I can often decide if I should be in a meeting or if another member of my team can attend. Whether the meeting is at work or for an outside activity, I want to know what the purpose of the meeting is and if it’s possible to simply discuss by email or a quick phone call. Sure, it would be great to see everyone on the committee, but most likely, we’ll also end up chatting, which can cut into valuable time.

Tame Email I think we all continue to battle this one. At home, I’ve removed myself from most of the catalog emails or I have them delivered to an account I set up to receive those types of emails. I don’t respond to emails throughout the day as much as I used to. Instead I tend to check in the a.m., again mid-day and then at day’s end. Each week, I’ve been reducing the inbox by an additional five from the previous week. In the past few months, I’ve gone from more than 500 to less than 50. I no longer feel panicked that I am missing something critical because I have reviewed everything in the inbox. I still break the rule of using my inbox as a reminder, although I’m getting better with that, too, thanks to software like OneNote and EverNote.

Create Digital Lists I use OneNote to keep my lists. According to Microsoft, OneNote is “a digital notebook for capturing, storing and sharing all kinds of information.” I’ve found it particularly useful for keeping multiple lists going. I have one for each vendor with whom I work. I have another notebook with tabs for each person who reports to me. This allows me to easily track information and make notes about information I’d like to share. Not only does it keep me organized but it keeps me from sending one-off messages to individuals.

Prioritize On any given day, I know what I need to do. Sometimes, though, the most important item is the one I put off doing because it’s challenging or not fun to do. However, knowing that it’s my key priority and doing it first means the rest of the day should go smoothly. Before I leave at the end of each day, I write down the three things I must do the next day. When I come into the office, I know what my priorities are for the day and that’s where I stay focused (or at least try to).

Exercise We all know exercise is good for us. Sometimes, I exercise to clear my head or to think things through. There is nothing like an hour-long cardio workout to clear cobwebs from the mind. Just the other week, I was on the treadmill and I figured out how I needed to handle a project. I didn’t want to stop, though, so I grabbed my cell phone and recorded a message so that I could follow up when I got off the machine.

What’s your top tool to improve productivity?

Watch Your TV Viewing Habits

I’m conducting an experiment in August – no TV.

Recently, someone asked me what shows I watch. I said I don’t watch much and then listed everything I watch. I was embarrassed – and surprised – by the long list, to say the least.  Of course, I’m not alone in my habit. The average American watches five hours of TV a day, according to Nielsen.

While my habit isn’t that excessive, I realized that TV viewing was cutting into time I could be spending doing other things. Like what? How about –

  1. Reading
  2. Exercising
  3. Gardening
  4. Finishing home improvements
  5. Catching up with friends

Since NCIS is in hiatus, I’m choosing August to give up television to determine how much more productive I can be.

In other words, I could be doing instead of simply observing. So for August (and I admit I planned this so I’d be back to viewing to catch new episodes of my favorite show, NCIS) I’ll keep the TV behind the closed doors of the armoire and see how much I can accomplish.

Who knows, if my productivity soars, I may just give it up permanently and also save some money.