by Matthew Moran

6 simple ways to increase your productivity

Aug 04, 2015
IT LeadershipPersonal Software

These six tips can help you increase productivity and experience greater project success.

In the past, I’ve written about cloud-based tools that I find beneficial for managing projects and people. However, I’ve discovered the greatest productivity gains have not been in the tools and systems we’ve implemented, but work we’ve done in personal effectiveness.

In this article I will introduce you to six strategies that, when adopted, can greatly increase your productivity and that of your team.

A reminder about systems and silver bullets

In my work as a writer and consultant, I’ve spent a lot of time searching for the perfect tool … the silver bullet. Based on feedback from clients and readers, I am guessing you have as well.

I often say,”the system does not exist but a system is critical!”

Our systems are flawed as soon as we get involved. Systems fail more for our lack of diligence than on the merits of the systems themselves. Remember, there is no silver bullet and no perfect system.

Here are some strategies to help you put an effective – not perfect – system in place.

1) Step away from your digital leash

Do not underestimate the value of breaking away from your computer, tablet, mobile device and wireless access. A simple pad of paper and pen can do wonders for mental clarity.

We are in IT. Because of this, we understand the value of digital and computerized systems. We are helping our businesses implement any number of applications and tools to help better run and streamline operations.

This may cause us to rely too heavily on digital systems in our personal planning and daily tasks and project management.

I start my day with a pad of paper and pen … and coffee. I write down personal and business tasks and project ideas. Some are concepts or ideas to explore later. Later, when I sit down at my computer, I transfer those ideas into either my current project systems or store them in a “to be reviewed later” document.

Hand-written notes are less linear and this process helps me remember items that have not been captured in my digital system. I find this 10-to-15-minute daily process extremely valuable.

2) Simplify your system

Another challenge with IT is the analytical and systematized nature of the work. This can lead to an over-reliance on digital systems.

We may look for or create systems to track every nuance of information and this can lead to over-systemization. The more complicated a system, the more difficult it is to maintain and teach others.

If your system requires too many steps to see your work or communicate with your team, too many pieces of software, too many places to look, and require extensive oversight, the system will breakdown at the most critical times – when work gets busy or chaotic.

Before adding any new steps or processes into a system, ensure that you cannot either, a) do without that process or system or, b) that it cannot be managed in an existing part of the system.

3) Put project tasks on your calendar quickly

Rather than using a to-do list, move tasks to your calendar as set-time appointments. Blocking out time on the calendar for project work is critical.

Often, we only use the calendar for meetings and other appointments. But making your project tasks a calendar item forces you to address them at specific times. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned. I even place phone calls onto my calendar as appointments.

4) Review your calendar weekly and daily

I have an appointment with myself every Sunday evening. It is a preview of the coming week. I use it to look back over the previous week, move anything forward that was not accomplished the week prior, and I establish project work appointments, phone calls and meetings.

I also do a cursory preview and review of my calendar each morning and evening. By the time I get to my weekly review on Sunday evening, most incomplete items from the prior week are already moved and much of my week’s project work is scheduled.

Remember, your calendar is your benevolent dictator. If you use it properly, it will tell you what you need to work on.

5) Top load your most critical work

I’ve always been a morning person, and I’ve top loaded important work more or less naturally. However, this idea was driven home by my friend Bill Hart, a mortgage and real estate industry coach.

Whenever possible, schedule your most challenging and mentally intense work before noon. Schedule meetings and calls in the afternoon. Your brain is most engaged in the morning and better able to solve critical problems.

6) Document your system as it grows

A shared document library explaining key concepts and the tools you use in your system is the only way to get your team using the same techniques.

We use Google Drive for this because we can simultaneously edit and update documents. Also, Google Drive is great for creating extremely effective linked document libraries. Watch the video below for an example.

Work with someone on your team to discuss what works about your system, what doesn’t, and then modify the shared documents accordingly.

These concepts do not focus on a specific tool but on ideas and strategies you and your team can implement across any systems. I would love to hear what you find effective as a productivity strategy or project and team collaboration technique.