I love personal productivity systems. I read Getting Things Done, by David Allen, nearly 10 years ago and it changed my life.
I once organized a Thanksgiving dinner using SCRUM and kanban (my wife has the patience of a saint).
I am always looking for more ways to optimize my time, but I do have a few time-tested methods that have worked over years. I deploy these 6 productive hacks every day, and they work wonders.
1. I know my creative times
Every person has a time of day where they feel more creative. For me, it is between 9:30am and 11:30am. So that is when I schedule tasks that need deep creative thought. I can be creative at other times of the day, but it requires more mental energy. It is not as effortless as it in the mornings. So I schedule my creative work in the mornings.
2. I write down my “must-dos” every morning
My days can get busy. And with new “to-do’s” coming in all the time, I need a way to stay focus on what is most important. So I write down all my “must do’s” every morning on a piece of paper next to my computer. These are the items I know I have to get done that day.
If there are too many “must do’s” to accomplish, I can recognize that and let other stakeholders know before it is too late. If a new, more urgent situation arises in the day, I can look at my “must do’s” and reprioritize. It is a simple way to remind myself of the most important items you need to get done.
3. I block my meetings together
I learned this one from Paul Graham’s blog
years ago. Nothing can kill a productive day faster than having meetings scheduled every other 30 minutes. By the time you settle back down to pump out some work, you have another meeting.
Instead, I have learned to block my meetings together – in the afternoons so my mornings are free. I try to book my meetings for the latest time slot in the day and book other meetings next to it.
For example, if a day is completely free of meetings, and someone requests a 30-minute meeting, I try to book it for 4:30-5pm. If a second meeting request comes in (for an hour-long meeting), I try to book the second meeting from 3:30-4:30pm. That blocks the two meetings together and my day remains free from 8am-3:30pm. New meetings get added to the block so that they are kept together.
This tactic works great if you can influence the meeting times. If others can book your calendar, and you cannot dictate the time, that is fine. Block off the times you need for productive work (like your creative time). Booking “productive time” on your calendar will help you keep some time free for work (not meetings). This only works well though if you hold firm, and do not accept meetings that book over it.
4. I schedule time to check email
It is tempting to respond to emails as I get them. But I noticed once that the more emails I send the more I get.
Two ways I combat the urge to constantly check email is to turn off incoming mail notifications, and schedule times in my days for checking and responding to emails.
I check and respond to emails every 2 hours. It is a simple cadence – 8am, 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm. In instances where there might be an emergency, and someone needs to get ahold of me ASAP, see number 5.
5. I tell everyone, “Call me if you have an emergency.”
I firmly believe that email and IM are not for emergencies. I regularly tell colleagues and clients that if there is an emergency, call me. Do not email. Do not IM. In return, I promise to do the same.
This policy has an extra benefit. It means that I do not have to worry about checking email more than every 2 hours. If there is an emergency, I will know about it through a phone call. As long as my phone does not ring, I can rest easy that anything sitting in my inbox can wait until I get to it.
6. I pick up the phone and call others
Years ago I had a disagreement with a colleague of mine. The diagreement was simple, but it got exacerbated over email. The colleague and I finally jumped on the phone and straighten things out in 10min. I learned my lesson.
Now every time I prepare an email or IM response, I ask myself, “would it be easier for everyone if I called?” It often is, and nobody minds getting a call. I have formed better relationships with colleagues and gotten a lot more done.
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