Most people would like to be “more productive” but somehow that seems to sound difficult to do. Being more productive is not really challenging at all, in fact there are some easy steps you can take to ease the way. Here are some hints to help you get started.
Often, being productive can mean just being able to find what you are looking for – without having to go look for it! That can be achieved if you have a workable filing system. Almost anything can work – filing cabinets, storage racks, in and out trays, even shoe boxes if they are suitably labelled. It just has to be a system that you and everyone else who needs to access it knows. Of course, everyone needs to follow it!
That means everyone knows where to place items – stock, equipment, documentation, everything – and then everyone will know where to find them. If some people don’t use the system when filing things then it will quickly unravel and destroy your productivity as people search for what they need.
Having a good filing system doesn’t just relate to the real world, it extends to the digital word as well. Having a system for computer files helps everyone find them when needed.
You can kick-start your productivity right now by designing filing systems that make sense for your business and then rearranging things to suit. That doesn’t necessarily mean moving everything, perhaps many items are already in a suitable place. It also doesn’t matter if the system is not quite perfect on Day 1, you can improve it over time, when you get more used to having a formal system and discovering better ways to do it. The real improvement is actually having a system in the first place, and everybody using it.
You can also enable technology to do some of the filing for you. For example you can set up “Rules and Alerts” in Outlook that will move emails to specific folders based on your criteria.
Now that your environment is organised you need to organise you. that is achieved by having a To Do list and following it. There are lots of theories about To Do lists – I prefer a single prioritised list rather than multiple lists – it means I have only one place to look to see what I need to do, and keeping the list by priority means I know where to find the tasks that will return the biggest benefit. It doesn’t matter much what format your list is, as long as it is easy to maintain and helps you get better at maximising the return for your time.
Start by listing all the tasks you can think of, and as you remember others just add them at the appropriate place in your list. Remember that a task can start out as low priority and move higher as time passes – for example servicing your car before going on holiday can be done a week or two before you leave but must be done the day before you leave.
There is one more productivity drain that can be more of a challenge to identify, and that’s spending time on low value activities. You can identify those be keeping a Time Log for at least a week. All you have to do is record what you did, every working moment of every day. If you answer the phone and talk for two minutes – record it, if you go for a coffee – record it, including how long it took, if you worked feverishly until midnight – record it, and yes if you took a break then record it. When you have completed the exercise just take a look at what you spent your time on.
I’ve asked a number of people to do this and so far the best performer spent only 55% of their time working on planned activities for the week. That’s not saying 45% was unproductive, only that it was on unplanned activities, although a lot of them were not productive. Can you do better? Be honest and tell me how your much of your time was really productive and how much you could have improved.