“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” – Alexander Graham Bell
I’m listening to Chris Bailey’s The Productivity Project on Audible and it’s got so many great tips and suggestions to improve your productivity. I highly recommend you pick it up. I’m one of the most productive people I know, but I’m always looking for a slight edge, and increased productivity is a great way to get one.
Pro Tip: One of my favorite productivity hacks is to listen to audiobooks while doing other things (like working out). I listen to most books at 2X-3X speed. Once your ears get over the initial shock, you’ll find that you can easily understand/take in everything, even at those higher speeds. The only time I have trouble is when the speaker is a non-native English speaker with a heavy accent (e.g Thich Nhat Hanh’s Classic Dharma Talks. Of course, Thich Nhat Hanh would think I have a heavy accent. It’s all relative. I mean no disrespect…).
Anyway, one of the most important parts of the book is about getting focused and staying focused (which is really directing your energy and time to one thing). I could give you a million stats about why getting focused is so important, but the bottom line is you should focus if you want to make the most of your time and life.
As I wrote about a couple days ago, multitasking has been proved to be nothing more than wishful thinking. You simply cannot do more than one thing at a time well. The biggest problem is, multitasking appeals to the part of our brain that feeds on excitement and distraction, so it feels more fun/fulfilling in the moment than focusing on one thing. Nevertheless, focusing is one of the biggest keys to getting more done in less time. If you’d like to be more focused, here are some tips to stay focused.
* Make Lists — One of Bailey’s suggestions, one that he has borrowed and refined from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, is to make lists so that you don’t have to carry around all the extra stuff in your head. Bailey calls it a brain dump, and that’s pretty accurate. The goal is to get all the clutter out of your head so you can focus. He even recommends developing a system to get things out of your head as they come up (he uses his smart phone but also leaves notepads all around the house where he can jot down a thought as it comes to him).
* Prioritize – Now that you have a to-do list, it’s important to prioritize what you are doing so that you can do the most important things first. Each person’s priorities will be different. The truth is, if you are a small business owner, your first priority each day should be doing the work that you need to do for yourself as your “first” client. Bailey recommends that he calls “the rule of 3.” Basically, you should have no more than about 3 important things to do each day. You can fill up your schedule with so many things that you end up being less productive in the end.
* Use a Calendar – Your calendar is your best friend when it comes to staying focused. Use it to block time for the things you are supposed to do each day and to set deadlines and check-up points, to make sure you’re being effective.
* Turn Off Noise – Turn off your phone, your cell, your email, your social media networks, and focus on each thing you’re doing 100 percent. Don’t focus on all the noise around you. It’s really hard to do, but you’ll find that the work you produce is of higher quality and that you‘ll get done faster. Bailey turns his mobile phone off at 8PM and doesn’t turn it back on until 8AM. I’m not that brave (yet), but I am definitely considering it. Two other suggestions: 1) turn off all the notifications on your phone and computer. I have done this on my phone already but not my computer, and I can’t tell you what a difference it has made to my peace of mind. I don’t need to see the email notices, Facebook notices, etc. in real time. I get to them when it suits me. 2) Put your phone in airplane mode when you need to focus. You’re guaranteed to not be distracted by any calls/texts/etc.
* Take a Walk – Whether it’s a walk or other types of exercise or movement… before you get down to work on any project, be sure to move. Breathe in deeply, breathe out deeply and clear your mind of all the junk going through it so that you can focus. When you walk, it allows your brain to recharge and enables your brain to make new connections with the free flow of ideas/thoughts. In the end, you will be more productive if you take a break from work periodically.
* Time Yourself – Try not to work for more than 90 minutes at a time without a break. Taking frequent breaks where you get away from your work or the project for at least five minutes will do wonders for your ability to focus. Now, don’t use this time as email checking time. Get away from your desk and do something else. Bailey also recommends that you try to shorten the amount of time that you give yourself to complete a task. If you’re used to taking an hour to do something, try getting it done in 50 minutes. It will force you to focus more and you’re likely to get more done in the end.
* Stop Multitasking – It’s gotten crazy that people have started to see multitasking as a virtue. The truth is that it is very inefficient, causes undue stress, and you don’t get things done any faster. Plus, typically what you do when not focused is of lower quality and you can’t get as much done. Interestingly, there was a study Bailey cited that showed people who work 70 hours a week get about as much done as those that work 55 hours a week. Even though the 70-hours folks were working much longer, the quality of their work didn’t improve and the quantity didn’t either.
* Check Email Less Often – Two or three times a day is enough to worry about checking email. This is true even if you are a service provider. Let your clients know the times you check email, and set up an appointment system for clients to schedule phone calls. Bailey’s gotten down to checking email three afternoons a week. I’m not that brave (yet), but I have dramatically reduced the amount of time I am checking email. It was hard at first (for me and for my employees), but they’ve gotten used to it and I love the extra time. One other tip: don’t check email if you don’t have time to deal with whatever your email requires of you. How many times have you checked an email, realized you needed to take action but didn’t have time to do it, so you had to put it away (or mark it “unread” then put it away), only to open it up later when you had time to deal with it. That’s a huge waste of time. Stop it!
* Give Yourself Plenty of Time – Over-scheduling yourself is a sure-fire way to become unfocused. Instead, give yourself more time than you think it will take so that you have plenty of down time. Being stressed out and rushing through things is a way to make mistakes. It sounds counter-intuitive, but Bailey contends that you get more quality work done when you focus and don’t over-schedule.
Learn to give yourself time to do each thing that you need to do by turning off the noise and placing your focus on “first things first.” By narrowing your focus, you’ll enjoy your day more and each moment more – because you’ll shut down the noise that happens all around you and get to business doing what needs to get done.
If you have other productivity hacks you’ve found helpful, please comment and share them. We can all get better together. And if you’d like to have a conversation about how to optimize your productivity, call me. Or hit me up on Skype. My Skype ID is ron.tester.