Some time ago Antwerp Business Community – non-for-profit networking and knowledge sharing event organization community in Antwerp, Belgium – hosted a meetup on the topic of Personal Productivity. Around 40 people of different nationalities gathered to discuss the most common productivity problems and share best practices how to get things done. The discussion turned out to be very insightful and we have decided that it is worthy to combine all the insights in one blog post.
To begin with, some interesting statistics. All guests were asked to write on a sticky note the productivity problem they are concerned about the most and the results were quite surprising:
- 55% of the group consider concentration management as their key problem: they find it hard to face distractions and stay focused
- 20% have troubles with setting the right priorities for their to-dos and sticking to them
- 10% selected time management & planning as their main concern
- 15% of the group mentioned other issues, such as stress management, email policies & meetings
As the next step, guests started to exchange best practices & share their thoughts. The high-level summary of the discussion points can be found below:
- The environment is important. It is easier to concentrate in a quiet atmosphere, using headphones/earplugs might help not to get distracted. Some people have a concentration track they love to play on repeat, which helps them to stay focused. Keep your desk clean
- Observe your time to find distractions. Take control of your time: use time trackers to see where and how you lose your time and to monitor your effective working hours a day (f.e. Toggl, Hours, Everhour)
- Be proactive – fight your distractions. Start with ignoring or better removing all the notifications, then install the app/web blocker on your mobile/laptop (f.e. Omnifocus, RescueTime, Go Fucking Work or ColdTurkey), make a game out of staying away from your mobile phone/social media while you are working. Use paper & handwriting instead of a computer when it is possible
- Adopt pomodoro technique – work with a timer in a set of fixed intervals without distractions with small breaks in between. If you have anything else mind during a pomodoro session – just write it down and then, when you have a break, come back to it. Think about introducing a small reward each time you complete the time block without interruptions. More info on pomodoro techniqiue and rules of deep work: Introduction to Deep Work
- Check emails at a set time (f.e. beginning of a day, after lunch and end of working day) – since the notifications are removed, it makes sense to set certain time slots to check & answer your email. You can even use Inbox Pause for Gmail and let the e-mails drop in at certain times only. Moreover, you can add the special signature notifying others about your new email policy: “I only read my e-mails once a day at 5 PM. In urgent cases call me on ..” (more tips from Lodi Planting – here)
- Schedule your emails – use Boomerang to control the timing of your emails
- Skip subfolders – without subfolders you can use your inbox as a search engine
- Aim for zero inbox – systematically archive read emails
- Manage your subscriptions – unsubscribe from the spam and create personalized subscription lists with unroll.me website
- Integrate your email with other tools – you can connect your email directly with your to-do management system (f.e. todoist) & note management system (f.e. evernote) and automate the process (f.e. with zapier)
- Convert your email to project management system – use streak or other project management add-ons to manage different projects like finding a job/new house or launching a new product. More advice on the productivity email tools: How to optimize your Email? p.1
3. Prioritizing (to-dos)
- Create a system & check it at fixed regular intervals. To-do list is a must-have no matter where and how you decide to have it. Some of the ways: GTD (Getting Things Done by David Allen), bucket list, trello, todoist, basecamp, calendar
- Use 2 min rule – if the action takes less than 2 minutes, do not postpone it – do it straight away, it will save you a lot of time in the future
- Use GTD 3 times rule – if you postpone the action more than 3 times, remove it from your to-do list since it has a low priority level
- Consider both importance & urgency of the tasks – the highest priority things are normally both important and urgent. Secondly, focus on important, but less urgent tasks. Only then urgent, but not important & only in the end – not urgent/not important tasks as low-priority stuff
- Break down long-term goals into short-term goals: yearly to monthly, monthly to weekly, weekly to daily
- Break down short-term goals into actionable to-dos – select max 3 priorities per day based upon urgency or due dates a night before. More insight into effective goal setting & planning: Planning before everything
4. Time management
- Manage your goal like a project: divide into steps, define resources required, block time in your schedule
- Plan for unforeseen circumstances – always add ~15% extra time just in case something goes wrong
- Delegate when you can – do not hesitate to delegate certain things if you can. Normally it is mutually beneficial
- Learn to say no – there is nothing wrong in saying no. You’re the boss of your own time. If you have to decline a request in order to do what is really important – do so
- Add description & timing – when you set a meeting add a clear description, structured agenda and proposed timing. Do your best to follow it
- Organize premeeting – sometimes 10 minute internal brainstorming session about meeting beforehand could be very useful to align expectations and define what you really want to achieve with this meeting
- Stick to the right stakeholders – when inviting more people to attend the meeting, always doubt if they are bringing additional value to the final purpose of the meeting. If not – do not waste their time, you can always brief them later
- Add visuals – add pictures/slides/infographics/mindmaps to make the meeting more interactive and keep the audience focused
- Distribute notes – take high-level notes and distribute them afterward
- Define action plan – the meeting was just a waste of time if you did not set a clear actionable to-do list to proceed further
- Set timeline & the owner – no action point should be left without the deadline & the person in charge
- Follow up – do not forget to follow up on the to-dos and deadlines. Better do it even before the deadline approaches
As a final note, all guests agreed that healthy daily routine is necessary for being productive: maintaining a good work-life balance, sleeping enough, eating healthy food, exercising, taking a cold shower, drinking water, meditating and adjusting your work schedule according to your personal most-productive hours will definitely boost your overall productivity. More info on how to introduce better habits for a better life: Better habits, better you
To conclude, one more comment regarding a sticky note, which says that the main productivity problem is “I am lazy“.
There are thousands of books, blogs and articles trying to explain how to get motivated to do something, but the best one I have ever heard is a saying by Artemiy Lebedev, Russian designer: “How to motivate yourself to do something? Just don’t, stay in the ass where you are“. Yes, it’s harsh, perhaps rude, but it could not be more true.
Thank you for reading and I hope you found this post helpful. If you have more tips regarding personal productivity, feel free to add them in the comment section below.
If you liked the content, you might probably be interested in learning more about Antwerp Business Community (check out this video and download more event materials from the website). Follow Antwerp Business Community FB page to find out about next events – we will be happy to meet you!
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