Over the past years, I have experimented with a lot of time management and task organization techniques with the goal of increasing my personal productivity. But after all the books and the organizing tools, I came into the conclusion that it is not about technique and tools, it is about sticking to certain ‘best practices’.
Here are my top 10 tips for a productive day:
- Never check e-mail first thing in the morning – Doing this made a lot of difference in my life. I used to treat all emails as urgent, eventually losing days just to reply to every email that comes my way. One day, I decided to check email only twice a day: the first being after lunch and the second, about two hours before I go home. This cut my email activities to 30 minutes. Most problems sent in by my colleagues get resolved by the same colleagues when they don’t get an immediate reply. (Bonus Tip: Unsubscribe to useless lists or use spam filters!)
- To-do-list – I used to have a to-do-list that is pages long. Guess what? The list never gets shorter. What I’m doing now is making a list of the top three things I need to do for the day and two more if I have some time left. It makes me happy throwing away the list at the end of the day rather than carrying a long list.
- Avoid water cooler meetings – Water coolers are just that: water coolers. Avoid getting into small talk otherwise they become long conversations about the weather, politics or sports.
- Avoid becoming a dumpsite – I have colleagues who enjoy complaining a lot. You just can’t guide them to a solution since they have the uncanny skill of finding problems everywhere. What I do: I tell them I am not in the position to help them and point them to someone who can.
- Do not email when you can call or talk face-to-face – This is a real time-waster. Talking face-to-face is better and quicker. If possible, I only use email to send documents or discuss with someone I cannot meet physically.
- Know meeting agenda beforehand – I used to come to meetings that have no agenda other than think about some things that the organizer is concerned about. Eventually, someone else will put his unrelated concern for everyone to discuss. What a waste of time. Now, whenever I receive meeting invitations, I make sure that the agenda is clear and that important information is sent beforehand.
- Preventive maintenance – This takes a few minutes each day but well worth the hours save doing corrective maintenance.
- Delegate/Outsource – Do only things that only you can do. For other things, delegate/outsource.
- Talk to the right people – Similar to #4. No use talking to the wrong people. If you need something done, talk to the people who can do something about it.
- Work within your energy cycles – During each day, a person has certain hours when he is most effective and efficient. Use this period for very important tasks. Use the other periods for routine work.
That’s my list. Hope this is helpful.