Everyone has the same amount of time in a day, yet some people can be amazingly productive while others struggle just to keep up. What’s the difference and how can you elevate your productivity by 3, 5 or even 20x?
The good news about being productive is that it’s a skill you can learn and get better at with practice. Just like anything, though, it requires discipline and a willingness to improve.
By analyzing how the world’s best CEOs get more done in a day than anyone else, I’ve put together a list of 6 productivity secrets you can start using today to dramatically improve the efficiency of your life – both professionally and personally.
#1 – Use your calendar like your life depends on it
What’s the number one mistake made by people who are busy but not productive? They only use their calendar professionally. As the week progresses, they add so many professional events to their calendar that they never have time to do 1) important things and 2) personal things.
Think of your calendar as the center of your life. Start by writing a list of all the personal events you want to accomplish every week – the recurring things you deeply care about such as time with your kids, hitting the gym or exercising, a date night with your spouse, etc.
Pencil those in first and make them repeating events that are blocked out in your calendar every week. Make them a different color as well, something fun like a bright blue or pink.
Only once you’ve scheduled these in, do the same for your weekly professional commitments. The key here is to also schedule time every day for email, which is the next tip.
#2 – Only check email at specific times of the day
8am for 30 minutes and 4pm for 30 minutes, for example. Add these to your calendar as daily recurring events as well. Don’t fall into the trap of living in your inbox.
If you’re expecting a reply from someone important, use the VIP feature in iOS or use Dropbox’s Mailbox app to be reminded about specific emails you need to keep on top of.
Everything else can wait until the next time you check your email. If something is important, you’ll no doubt receive a call. Also make sure you disable all new email popups and notifications on your desktop, phone and tablet as well.
#3 – Use labels and conditions in Gmail
Another email tip, yes, but a good one. Don’t let all of your email drop straight into your inbox. If you use Gmail (or Outlook), setup specific labels for the people, teams, clients, partners, etc you regularly communicate with and use rules to automatically move their emails to those labels as soon as they arrive.
By doing this, you know that 95% of emails in your inbox are noise – otherwise they would already be in one of the labels you setup. This little trick can easily save you 15 minutes a day sorting through hundreds of emails to find the important ones you need to reply to.
#4 – Block out 2 hours a day where you can’t be interrupted
Whether you’re a manager or maker, you need quiet time to get productive work done. What’s the best way to stop interruptions? Either work from home (or a nearby cafe), or simply put a sticky on your office door that says “Please DND, doing important work. Come back at 11am or email me”.
If you’re a manager, your team will respect the note and will either come back at the time you’ve mentioned or send you a quick email. Another trick that works is asking “is it important?” when someone turns up at your desk for a quick chat. These chats can easily waste an hour of your day if you’re not careful.
#5 – Decide your weekly priorities on Sunday afternoon
Plan your week or you’ll be part of someone else’s weekly plan. On Sunday afternoons, sit down and write out your priorities for the coming week. Keep those priorities close by during the week and block out time in your calendar to make progress on each item.
If you feel off track, pull out your list of priorities to realign you. On Fridays before you leave the office, look at your list and decide how you’ll handle the items you didn’t get time to complete. Either move them to the top of next week’s list on Sunday, or scrap them.
#6 – Use NETT time to your advantage
NETT time it’s one of the best ways to instantly 2x your productivity. Put simply, while you’re doing one activity, merge it with another. For example, when you’re on the treadmill in the gym, return a few phone calls. Or when you’re on the bus to the office, blast through your emails.
The most accomplished CEOs and leaders defend their time like it’s their life and you should too. Learning to be productive is an important step to master if you want to get the biggest return on your invested time, regardless of whether it’s personal or professional.