I’ve got a lot of issues. I am most of them.
Peak Productivity Secrets: Proven Tips and Techniques for Amplifying Focus and Motivation.
Personal productivity is a hot topic, and it has always been for me.
One of my first passions in the corporate world was Lean Six Sigma, which aims to reduce waste and variation. While learning about Lean Six Sigma, I met two of my favourite people and mentors from that time, and they taught me some great things about personal mindset to help enable personal productivity.
Tip one was shared during a senior stakeholder meeting. My mentor, a master black belt, was chatting with the head of banking services and me. My mentor led the conversation to win an agreement for a new project while building trust with the senior leader. My mentor shared a story about him being in the army when he was younger and how, every day, he focused on how efficient he could be, how little waste he could generate and how much energy could be reserved to keep stamina for walking considerable distances. He then shared how, every day, he looked at the sequence of tasks he did and challenged himself to improve and do these tasks better.
From that day forward, I had the bug; the seed was planted, and I found that every time I did something, I would retrace the steps in my mind and think, “How can I do this better?”.
An example might be walking from the fridge to get milk, to the kettle to turn it on, back to a cupboard past the refrigerator to grab a cup, etc. Then I would think, could I save a few seconds by doing it in a different order or by moving stuff to make it more accessible? Applying this thinking in the present day is a great mindset, and with the tools and tech around us, it's much easier to automate tasks and save time (still need to find cups and pour coffee, mind :).
Tip two was shared by another master black belt in Lean Six Sigma. During a performance review, he asked me what I was doing to grow myself and learn new things outside my day-to-day projects and team leadership duties. I shared some examples of reading a few bits or attending mandatory corporate training. His response stuck in my mind, well, forever.
He said, “Do what you must do so that you can do what you want.” Puzzled by this at first, I thought about it over the next few days and then realised that if I got through the work I was chartered to do, I would have the time and capacity to work on things that excited me and that were different.
Over the next twenty years, I've applied these tips to my life and working practices.
I now have four children, and people are often surprised when they see my children all organised in a line at the supermarket checkout: one placing items, two picking up items, and one arranging and bagging our food. Of course, this happens on good days - it can be chaos, or sometimes they have to be dragged into shops.
Work-wise, over the years, I've seen how people don't organise their email and digital communications. Often, I see people share their screens, and their desktops are full of icons and documents. Many have had hundreds or sometimes thousands of emails unread or uncategorised.
This approach clutters your workspace and actually has physiological implications. Studies show that as much as 30% of people have disturbed sleep due to the amount of messaging and emails they receive during the day.
Looking at how you carry out tasks, removing waste from your working week and getting through the things you must do frees up time to focus on new growth areas and even side hustles.
1 - Personal Effectiveness - Fixing the Time Twister
Take a stern look at your typical day. I mean, think about the sequence of your day and look at how you can adjust your meetings and time to create space.
Colour code your meetings or time into
Red = non-negotiable
Orange = can flex
Yellow = nice but not needed/don’t need to be as frequent
Now look at your weekly schedule and adjust your meetings/time
Where orange, bunch them together to free up either mornings or afternoons
Cancel or move all yellow to be half as frequent.
Now add Green spaces to your schedule.
These should be filled with thinking time, learning or side hustles.
Taking this approach works. You own your time, and by making simple changes, even looking further at your monthly schedule will give you time back.
Also, if someone schedules a meeting that doesn’t work for your green time, have them move it - make your time work for you.
2 - Set Boundaries - Manage the Boundary Vampires
Being deliberate, transparent, and constantly communicating your expectations with others is the only way to master boundary setting. Over the years, I have heard and seen employees working odd hours, complaining of pointless meetings or dropping everything because “my manager says”.
Decide the non-negotiable hours of your day, and if someone tries to set up a meeting, decline and explain why. Very quickly, you will find these boundary vampires will know it’s not okay.
When a meeting with no clear agenda is requested, don’t accept until you have asked and received a clear agenda that makes sense and approve of sharing your valuable time.
Ensure you have a note on your signature that shares the times you will respond to emails or messages and give them alternatives for urgent contact.
3 - Effective Communication - Digital GaGa
There is nothing worse than disruptions during your working day. If you work in a digital-first company, you no doubt have Slack, email, messengers, whatever. If you find you live in digital notification overload, take control.
Create a communication agreement and have your teams and leadership help complete it before sharing it with the entire team, function, org or company.
Every group, channel and digest must be muted unless business critical.
Groups, channels and digests should be grouped according to relevance, e.g. team, function, interest or general communication. This approach will help you know where to look and keep your time on priority items.
4 - Email Management - The Sea of Digital Waves
A lean approach to keeping your workplace clean should apply to your mailbox. I rarely have more than a handful of emails in my inbox at any moment of the day.
Create folders that align with the teams, functions, roles or customers you have.
Create folders for org admin and corp communications.
Set up auto-move rules for all org admin and meeting notifications.
If you receive an email during the day, action during your agreed email time and either respond, archive or delete.
Trust me, being on top of your mailbox in this way will give you a lot of time back and remove mental distractions.
Physiologically, seeing hundreds of unread emails will keep prompting your brain that you need to chase them.
5 - Meetings - The Redundant Money Pit
You may have recently read about Shopify adding a cost of meeting calculation in their Zoom meeting invites. This clarity is, of course, brilliant; however, you may have read in the past about Amazon's approach to meetings not being about someone presenting a load of stuff. If we considered both principles and then created and advocated a hybrid version, how different would our world be?
Consider leading by example and expecting meetings to be about making decisions, creativity, problem-solving, or networking. If an appointment is for watching someone presenting or giving updates, it shouldn’t be a meeting.
Be the person who records your presentation or update in a loom, zoom recording or other screen capture software. Please send it to people beforehand with a clear call to action(s).
Don’t schedule large group meetings unless you are facilitating in a way that can digitally capture decision outcomes, creativity inputs or help capture problem-solving issues.
By having clear guidelines around a meeting, you will save hours per week and be much more effective.
Your preparation before online and physical meetings will ensure they are interactive and gain the best outcomes.
These are just a few personal productivity tips to help you on your way. Please play around with them, and I would love to hear how they work for you or how you tweaked them to amplify your success.
Remember, productivity isn't just about activity; it's about intention and focus.
We regain control over our time and energy by adopting a continuous improvement mindset and setting deliberate boundaries.
This journey is ongoing, a chance to refine and realign daily.
By implementing these techniques, you're embarking on a transformational process where you reclaim your time, declutter your workspace and give your mind the space it deserves. So, embrace the challenge. Integrate these practices into your routine.
If you have ideas or suggestions, please share your experiences and contribute to our community of productive minds.
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