3 steps to improving your productivity

Time. Its one thing we never seem to have enough of, and the only asset we have that is truly irreplaceable. I would be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t had added stress from trying to push the limits, doing too much too fast, and having days lost to being burned out.

Over the past several months, I’ve been experimenting with different ways to help improve my productivity, reduce stress, and increase my quality of life. After a good deal of tweaking, I wanted to share what I’ve found to be the 3 key steps which have been working for me.

Cut back on your notifications

This is the first step, and by far easiest step. On my phone, I have at least 4 different email address + work filtering in at any time. Combined with phone calls, SMS messages, Facebook, Twitter, and Candy birds, a lot of notifications start coming in.

Have you ever felt your leg vibrate, only to realize you don’t even have you phone on you? Have you ever heard a ring, and nothing was on your phone.

This is an effect of over-saturation of notifications, and in reality, how many of them are really important?

So step 1: turn off your notifications. Rather than letting your phone control your attention, turn off the vibrations, audio alerts, and notifications. If you want to check your email, check it when you decide to, not when your phone tells you to.

Consolidate and organize your life

These days, most blogs and magazines preach separating your work and life, stick to 9 to 5 and then turn your phone off, keep your weekends for yourself, stick to a 40 hour work week (or even try to have a 4 hour work week). While these are great things to strive for, if you are anything like me, neither life, nor work, tend to stick to their aforementioned schedules. Trying to juggle between my work list and life list left be tired and frustrated.

Merge your to-do lists

Work is a priority. So is life. So why do I find myself separating both of these to-do lists and letting one take over another.

The first thing I did on realizing this, was merging my work list and life list in to one spot. Now, I can finally see everything I’m trying to get done in one place, and prioritize accordingly.

Stop confining your time

Sometimes life gets in the way of work, or work gets in the way of life. Part of managing your life is allowing yourself to be flexible when things come up. You might have a late night meeting with a client across the globe, or want to take and afternoon to see your child’s recital. There is no reason to feel guilty for adjusting your schedule to fit these things. Understand that if work or life bleeds over one another, you can manage your time to make up for the displaced hours. The goal is to get things done while living a fulfilling life, not sacrifice one for the other.

Use a tasking system

Over the years, I’ve gone through many time tracking systems. To-do lists, Trello, Hubstaff, Excel, etc. Finally, I came across a video post by one of my favorite tech bloggers, John Sonmez. His video, “How I plan my workweek,” introduced me the concept of Kanban boards (which is what Trello provides) with the addition of Pomodoro timers, and using Kanban Flow as my tasking software.

I’ll give you a minute to watch the video, but the idea is simple, using your task list, you begin to estimate each task in the number of pomodoros it will take to complete. A pomodoro is a slot of 25 minutes of uninterrupted work, with 5 or 15 minute breaks in between. No email, no phone, no interruptions. Over time you begin to understand how many pomodoros you can do in a day, week, and month.

I find it incredibly surprising at how much work I can get done when I’m focused in on a single task for a given period of time. In fact, I’ve been working through my back-log of work very quickly over the past weeks.

My next surprise, was how much I was actually trying to fit in to a week. Almost 60 pomodoros of work, and another 40 of life activities. No wonder I was feeling drained. I notice that when I try to do too many pomodoros in a day, I end up burned out the next on, averaging less effective time between both days then if I slowed down. And slowing down is exactly what I did. It’s working well, I’m starting to stay on top of things, and seeing improvements in my attention, energy, and sense of accomplishment.

I suggest you watch John Sonmez’s short video, and try out some of these techniques for yourself. I’d love to hear about your results!


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Twitter: @aj_bubb
Blog: AJBubb.com
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