Since first discovering David Allen’s now classic book, Getting Things Done, many years back, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with strategies for maximizing personal productivity.
Allen’s GTD approaches aside, here are a few other techniques I’ve come across that I’ve found helpful toward focusing my energy and attention on the most important things I need to make happen in my day, my year, my life.
Organize Time, Not Tasks
Start each week with a full calendar, not an empty one. Proactively controlling your schedule is tremendously empowering. Stop deluding yourself that your most critical work will fill in empty slots left by the relentless onslaught of meetings, email, phone calls, etc.
Block off chunks of time during your week for those things you place high value upon: focused work, planning and organizing, connecting with clients or team members, taking care of yourself. Plug these blocks into your calendar first and hold them as sacred. Fill in around them with things that pop up rather than letting these unplanned events rule your life. And yes, do include specific time blocks for responding to email, scheduling calls and addressing any unanticipated needs of the day. Just be intentional about how and when you take these on.
Declare your MIT
As each new day dawns, be clear as to your Most Important Task: that one thing you commit yourself to getting done today. Ideally, your MIT should be your first point of focus for the day, before unforeseen fires erupt. At the very least, your MIT should be time blocked somewhere into your day, if you’re truly not able to get to it first thing. Schedule your MIT for whenever you are at your most focused, creative, and energized.
Time Your Focus
Challenged by bright shiny object syndrome? An egg timer is a potent productivity tool. When faced with a critical task, but struggling to focus, clear the decks of other work and distractions and set a 20-minute timer. Race the sands of the hourglass and get as much done on the task as the timer permits. When time is up, you’re allowed, actually encouraged, to shift gears and do something else for a bit. Then reset the timer and do another focused round of work. If you’ve built momentum during one of these rounds and want to keep going, have at it for another 20!
Put Email in Its Place
Checking email as you start your day is the most detrimental of habits when it comes to productivity. Email is a black hole with immense gravity; you emerge hours later wondering where you are and how you got there. Start by noticing your patterns of engaging with email: when? / how often? / how long? Assess how these are serving you in the grand scheme of your vision for maximizing productivity and overall effectiveness. What better habits could you adopt around email? For some strategies and, indeed, a mindset on effectively managing email, check out Unsubscribe, by Jocelyn Glei. One of her most basic yet powerful points: not every email requires a response!
You’ll be surprised and impressed with how empowering these strategies are when it comes to managing your time, energy, and focus for powering up your productivity.
— Jeff Feldman is President of Eagle’s View Enterprises, a leadership and team development consulting firm offering training, facilitation, and coaching. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.