I am not a productivity expert, but I am well known for getting
things done and getting them done well, so I want to share with you a
few strategies which have worked for me so that you can also be more
The first thing to know is that we are in unique times. Because of
laptops and the internet, our work and personal lives are intersecting
unlike they ever have in the history of work. We lie in bed
checking e-mail. We are up at the crack of dawn to write our blog
entries (like this one today.) We can have a report faxed or e-mailed
to our homes 24/7. The question I hear from leaders each day is “How do
I deal with all of this so that I stay as productive as possible?”
My response is always to come back to the leaders I work with and ask them to answer the following questions:
1)What is the biggest project that is on your mind?
If you have something on your mind, and it’s not getting done, it
may never happen. The best way to address this is to sit down with a
piece of paper and get the project on paper with a list of things to
get done, completion dates and the names of people you will delegate
out the project to.
2)What is the weakest link in your time management system?
One of the tools I use quite often with my clients is the Time Mastery Profile.
With this profile, you will be able to quickly see the area which is
your weakest link in your time management system. The weak link might
be a lack of planning, procrastination, interruptions or poor
communication. Once you have identified the weakest link, sit down and
craft a plan to turn that weakness into a strength. Once your plan is
crafted, you must be willing to dedicate your time and energy to
changing that behavior around for at least one year (hey…it took you
20, 30 or 40 years to get where you are, so it’s going to take time to
turn the behavior around.)
3)What commitments are you not fulfilling?
I work with leaders each day who are just simply over-committed.
They are not only running a large organization. They are sitting on
multiple non profit boards, attending conferences and attending
meetings with strategic partners and political decision makers. Many
leaders will tell you that they often can’t meet about 50% of their
obligations. Look closely at your commitments, rank them in order of
priority, and politely decline from any commitments you know you cannot
meet (or delegate them out to someone who can meet them.)
4)What small tasks are you worrying about?
What are you thinking about? “I need to make a doctor’s appointment”
or “Send that thank-you note” or “The dog needs a bath.” Does this
Last night, as I was going to sleep, I realized I had a radio
interview this morning at 7:45. I had been worried that I might miss
the interview, so I got up, wrote myself a big reminder and placed it
beside the phone. I was then able to go to sleep. Each day, we have
small “worries” that run in the background of our minds. They keep
playing and playing like a broken record. The best thing you can do to
relieve this mental stress is to complete a brain dump. Sit down, and
write out a list of everything that’s on your mind (including that
squeaky door that keeps irritating you every time you open it.) Then,
set out to knock out every “to do” on your list. You will find that
your productivity is so much greater once you get everything out of
your brain and on paper.
5)What is your magical time of day?
Each person has a time of day that is what I call “magical.” It’ s
that time of day when you are the least distracted and the most
productive. It’s that time of day when you can focus on one project and
get in the zone on that project. Consider carefully what your magical
time of day is, and dedicate this time to your most important projects.
6)What do you always find time to do?
There are tasks on your task list which always seem to get done.
Look closely at this list. From there, you will want to ask yourself
why these things are easy for you to do. Do you enjoy them? Do they
help you fulfill a core value? Do they allow you to feel a sense of
accomplishment? Do they spark your creativity? There are always “to
do’s” in your life which are working, and these accomplishments can
boost your confidence. Once you discover “why” they are working, use
these reasons as a way to look at why other tasks are difficult to
accomplish. As an example, if you value time with family in the
evening, and you are committed to an evening meeting that you never
seem to be able to attend, it is probably because this meeting is
bumping up against time with your family.
7)What projects are the most important to your overall life and career success?
It is so easy to put off bigger projects which may have a huge
positive impact in our lives, because they seem so daunting. I know…I
wrote two books in two years, and there were times when I wondered if
they would ever get done. The thing to know here is that you cannot
“implement” or “act on” a project. You can only “act on” each task
which is a part of the bigger project. The best way to approach a big
project is to sit down and write out each and every step you will need
to implement to complete the project and then implement one task each
day (or two tasks each day if possible) until the bigger project is
8)What seems to interrupt you?
Life is filled with interruptions. The first step in the direction
of reducing interruptions is to keep an interruption log for one week.
The log should include:
-The time of day
-The person who interrupted you
-The length of the interruption
At the end of one week, look closely at your data to spot trends in
your answers. You may find that a certain person interrupts you or that
interruptions are more frequent at certain times of day and so forth.
Once you have discovered the repeating patterns of your interruptions,
it’s time to start making some changes. Speak to the people who are
interrupting you, establish office hours, close the door and turn off
the phone during your peak productivity hours.
9)How many hours each day do you spend multi-tasking?
The multi-taskers of the world think they are getting a lot done (I
am admitting that I am a multi-tasker. Right now, as I write this
article, I am not multi-tasking. I am sitting in my dining room away
from my other toys and people). The Journal of Experimental Psychology has
discovered that it takes the brain four times longer to process each
task you are working on during multi-tasking. So, if you are
multi-tasking for one hour, you are actually working for about four
hours. The best approach with any task is to carve out the time of day
and a quiet location so that you can stay focused on that one project
only. Your completion time will literally be cut in half.
10)How often are you checking e-mail each day?
Many people think that checking and responding to e-mail is making
them more efficient, yet the reality is that checking e-mail multiple
times a day creates distraction and causes us to veer off in a
direction away from our most critical tasks. It causes a loss in
concentration and causes eye strain and fatigue. The best approach with
both e-mail and phone calls is to schedule two times each day to check
e-mail and to return phone calls. Use the time in between to work on
those tasks which are going to help you achieve your most important
projects and goals.