The Working With … Podcast | Episode 39 | How To Become More Productive In An Unproductive World

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In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about how to become more productive

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Hello and welcome to episode 39 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week I have a question that I feel many people want answering. That is how to become more productive in a world that seems designed to make us unproductive. It a great question and I hope to give you a few tips that will help you to get in control of your stuff. 

Last week saw the launch of the 2018 edition of Time And Life Mastery course. There’s been a lot of excitement over this course and I would hate for you to miss out. The early bird discount will be ending soon so if you haven’t got yourself enrolled in this complete course, get yourself enrolled today. This is one course you will never regret enrolling in and is a course that can change your life for the better. It would be great to see you there.

Okay, let’s get into this week’s question so it is now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Jenna. Jenna asks: I struggle to get my work finished on time and my manager is always telling me I need to be more productive. The problem is I don’t know where to begin. Can you help? 

Thank you, Jenna. That’s a great question and one I am sure is on many people’s minds. 

There are a couple of issues I see regularly with many of my clients that have simple fixes. The first is in setting personal deadlines. Now I first came across this one when I began working in Korea. Having come from a working environment where the close of day was fixed. My working hours were the traditional 9 til 5, although for me it was 9 to 5:30. What that meant was when I arrived at work in the morning, I knew I would be finishing at 5:30pm. It was unheard of anyone working beyond their finish time. 

When I came to Korea, I noticed many of my students here had a much more flexible end time. It was normal for workers to stay an extra hour or so at the end of the day to finish their work. This is where Parkinson’s Law comes in to play. Parkinson’s Law states: "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” So if I begin my day knowing I only have 7½ hours to complete my tasks for the day, then it will take me 7½ hours to complete them. If I begin the day thinking I have 10 hours to complete those same tasks, it will take me 10 hours to complete them. 

Once you know this law, you can use it to your advantage. When you begin a task set a deadline. Let’s say you have a proposal for your client to do today. When you sit down to work on the proposal give yourself one hour to complete it (or 90 minutes if it requires a lot of work). So you sit down at 9:30am and before you begin you say to yourself this must be finished by 10:30am. And get started. You will find that your brain will go into the focused work zone and you will get the proposal completed by 10:30am. This is one of my favourite time hacks if you can call it that. I use this all the time to write my blog posts and even record my regular YouTube videos. YouTube videos can be incredible time sucks if you are not careful. There’s something about making videos for me that has me always wanted to re-record them. If I do not set a finish time, I can easily spend five or six hours recording three ten to fifteen-minute videos. Instead, I set a three-hour deadline. If I begin recording at 3pm I always plan to have them finished by 6pm. It really does help to focus the mind. 

Another thing you can do to really improve your productivity it to begin the day with a plan. Write down the two or three things you absolutely must get complete that day. Don’t leave them in your head. Get them written done where you can see them. Now the key here is to only write down two or three things. These are the big rocks, if you like, that must be completed that day. I know there will always be other things that need doing too, but what you really want to be doing is having the two or three big things that absolutely must be completed that day written down either digitally or on paper on your desk and have them right in front of you. Once you have finished the first thing, cross it off, take a short break and then move on to the second one. 

Difficulties occur when you have a long list of to-dos. It is natural for us to look for the easiest tasks, the quick checks. They make us feel good, but the problem, of course, is many of these quick and easy tasks are not actually that important and are easy to do. To really focus you in what is important and to get you working on the work that will contribute towards completing your work by the deadline, keep your list to two or three tasks. If you are really good and take full advantage of Parkinson’s law, you could have those two or three tasks completed by lunchtime and you can then move on to the easier, less important tasks. 

Another area I find people often struggle with is not being clear about what work is important. We all have a good mix of routine and project work to complete each day. Difficulties start when you are not clear about what work is important. Prioritising your work is a big part of becoming more productive. This is why beginning the day with a plan based on what current projects are important is vital. However, the routine work can very easily take over the day if you are not careful. There are a couple of ways you can handle the less important routine work. One way is to assign one day each week for admin work. This could be Friday afternoon for example. Friday’s are famously difficult to focus on important work because we are often thinking about our plans for the weekend. If that is the case, you could assign Friday as your admin and cleaning up day. This means you only have easy tasks to do on Friday and you don’t need a lot of focus to get them done. Another way is to allocate a time slot each day to do your admin and routine tasks. Giving yourself one hour a day to just get the routine, easy tasks complete will help you to stay focused on the important, project work for the other seven or eight hours each day. This is my preferred way of doing it. I assign one hour a day for all my routine admin work. I usually assign the end of the day to do this because I don’t need a lot of concentration to do it. But you can choose any time of the day or week to do it. 

And now for the biggie. Use you calendar to schedule your work each day. There’s something about seeing a time slot on your calendar that says something like “Prepare presentation file, for next week’s presentation” that really kicks your arse into gear. I guess we are conditioned to follow our calendars more than a to-do list. Take advantage of this. When you plan your day, look at your calendar and between all the meetings and client appointments, schedule focus time. Now only you know when that will be the best time each day. For me, it is usually between 9:30am and 11:30am and between 2pm and 3:30pm. Outside of those times I am either teaching or in meetings. This gives me around four hours every day for focused content work. 

Now I understand that in most companies meetings are often scheduled at the last minute, so it would be a little unrealistic to schedule your focused work for the whole week, but if you have established what two or three things you really want to get done for the day when you plan the day, when you get to work in the morning, you can then look at your calendar for the day and schedule those two or three things on your calendar. When you do this, you know what you need to be doing at what time each day. This is one of the best productivity tricks you can use. It really works. Remember, your calendar is sacred. What’s on your calendar gets done and although you are free to change it at any time, you should resist. Once you have scheduled your day, stick to it only allow real, genuine emergencies to change it. 

There are many other little things you can do to help. When you are given a task always write it down in a trusted place. Never trust your brain to remember it. When your boss asks you to do something always ask them when they want it by. This actually works on two levels. Firstly it gives you a deadline to work from and secondly, it prevents your boss from changing the deadline. You have an agreed, set deadline. 

Another little trick I use is when no deadline is given to me. I will always tell them when I will complete it by. This works because it sets a deadline for me and I get agreement from the other person that the deadline is okay with them. We then have an agreement and because I have committed myself to do the work by a certain time I will make sure I will do it because it was I who set the deadline. It’s almost like a matter of honour. It’s a great incentive. 

The truth is becoming better at productivity is really all about knowing what you have to get done and by when. It’s about knowing what you have to do before you start the day and making sure you have enough time scheduled to get it done. It’s simple. I know it means you need to spend ten minutes or so getting clear each day about what you need to get done, but those ten minutes will save you so much time and stress later. Think of those ten minutes as an investment in your sanity and your professionalism. 

Well, I hope that answers your question, Jenna and thank you for emailing me your question. Don’t forget if you have a question you would like answering on this podcast, just get in touch either by email, Dming me on Twitter or Facebook and I will be very happy to answer your question. 

Thank you for listening and it just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.