Jeffosophy: a collection of possibly useful things I have learned over the years.



Jeffrey, with four hands, working at desk 

Productivity Energy and Getting Things Done

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

Do you find that you do not accomplish enough during the day, even though you feel busy all of the time? Do you put off doing tasks and suffer the consequences of your inaction? Do you feel stressed and tired at the same time? If so, you are most likely managing your productivity energy less than optimally. I did too. However, I came to realise the trick to getting things done was understanding my energy levels and qualities. Allow me to explain.

Evaluate Your Productivity Energy

Productivity energy (not to be confused with energy productivity, which is an economics concept) is what I call the energy you have to do tasks during the day. So, the first thing you should do is think about how your energy levels flow during the day and what kind of energy you have at any given time period. For example, in the morning, I have a lot of focused energy that is ideal for writing. However, my creativity level is often low in the morning, so it is best if I already have the topics I need to write about, such as some article ideas or an on-going book project.

In the afternoon, my creativity kicks in, but I find it harder to focus on tasks, so I am better at planning, drawing cartoons (which are quick to do) and playing with ideas. I try to go for a walk in the afternoon during which time I usually think about creative projects, such as article ideas, travel plans and that kind of thing. In the past, when I did keynote speeches regularly, I would think up and often practice talks while walking. This is probably why a lot of my neighbours think I am eccentric.

In the late afternoon, my creativity wanes and this is often a good time to do administrative work. In the later evening, I am reenergised, but prefer to not to work, aside from drawing and painting, which I do for pleasure.

How about you? What are your daily energy levels and qualities? Think about when you are best able to do certain kinds of tasks and when you find it hard to do certain kinds of tasks. When are you full of energy and when are you tired?

Mornings Are Critical

Most people have a lot of energy in the mornings, even if they do not realise it. The average person has slept, showered, had breakfast and should be ready for the day. Most people seem to be good at focused tasks in the mornings. Almost every successful author starts her day with writing and many set strict schedules, not allowing themselves to stop writing until a goal had been achieved, such as a set number of words or pages.

If you get right to work on a task in the morning, and avoid distractions, you will be surprised at how quickly you can accomplish it and how much you can accomplish.

Importantly, your morning sets the standard for the day. If you get a lot done in the early hours, you've tuned your mind to be productive and will find it easier to get things done throughout the day. Better still, by getting an important task done in the beginning of the day, you feel the satisfaction of achieving a goal and that makes you feel good about yourself. Feeling good about yourself is motivating and energising.

Not getting anything accomplished in the morning, on the other hand, can leave you feeling busy but unproductive. You may feel that you spent all morning going through emails, answering phone calls and attending meetings − all without actually accomplishing a single real task. This sets an example of doing busy work, that you are likely to continue all day, and does not leave you feeling good about yourself.

So, if you can, always set yourself a focused task and a goal for the morning. Always. Put it in your daily To Do list, which brings us to our next point.

To Do Lists

Every evening, prepare a To Do list for the next day and be sure to assign yourself a specific, goal-oriented task for the morning − especially, if you are not a morning person. You do not want to waste what is probably your most productive time of the day thinking about what to do. You want to be doing.

Put the list in order of when tasks should be performed and assign tasks according to energy and levels and qualities. When are you not so creative? Do administrative stuff then. When do you find it hard to concentrate on more complex tasks? Read and reply to emails then. When are you over-energised? Do something physical then.

In drawing up your To Do list, give yourself small breaks between tasks to have a coffee, stretch or even browse social media. You need these breaks and you can consider them rewards for productivity.

If you have a big project to work on, for example, putting together a complex proposal, do not put "Work on proposal" on your To Do list. That's just too big and intimidating. Instead, break the project up into steps and assign yourself one step at a time. "Compile a list of IT requirements for project," is a lot more clear than "Work on proposal." Breaking big things down into smaller steps also makes big projects seem less intimidating and that makes it easier to move forward productively.

You should also allow yourself time to do things that may not seem work-like, but which are important. For instance, I try to go for about an hour's walk every day, usually in the afternoon. Not only is the physical exercise good for me, but it is a time when I think, plan and problem solve. Walking is an integral and important part of my working day.

Maybe you like walks. Maybe you need to meditate every day. Maybe you need a mid-afternoon nap. These may seem like unproductive activities and, unfortunately, they are often frowned upon in a corporate setting. But, the truth is that people who meditate daily or walk daily or nap daily need to do these things in order to be productive. Those of us who need to be creative in our work often really, really need to do these seemingly unbusinesslike things to make best use of our creative minds.

Do Not Do Lists

In addition to your daily To Do list, write up a long term Do Not Do list and keep it where you can see it, or find it easily. This list should include all the time wasting activities you catch yourself doing when you should be working. Actions listed on your Do Not Do list need not be entirely prohibited, just controlled. For instance, your list might include an item like this: "Do not browse Facebook except during lunch break" or "Do not take a coffee break before 10:30 in the morning."

Making a Do Not Do list is easy. Just list all the time wasting activities you do but know you should limit or not do at all. Then define rules, for example if you spend too much time on Twitter, give yourself a half hour after lunch to play on Twitter. Or maybe you need to prohibit Twitter for the entire working day because you know you will find it too easy to spend more than a half hour on Twitter.

Some people have told me that they find their Do Not Do lists more effective than their To Do lists. And, indeed, once you filter time wasting activities out of your day, youryour productivity will shoot up.

Turn Off Email

Email is a horrendous distraction. Most people leave their email client (or web  email page) on throughout the working day. Worse, their email software is set to notify them every time an email comes in. Are you like that? If so, you know what happens. You are busy with a task when suddenly, your computer announces that an email has come in. Maybe you are expecting a mail. Maybe you are hoping for a mail. Maybe you are afraid it is a client who will require an immediate response. Whatever the case, you stop what you are doing, check the email and either act upon it or set it aside for later. Then you get back to your task at hand. However, you've been disrupted and it takes a moment or two to get back to the task. Once you get back into your stride, you get notification of another email and the same thing happens again. And again. And again.

Even if you do not look at the email, the ping announcing a new email is a distraction. At the very least, it makes you stop and consider whether or not to check the email. That distracted thinking unfocuses your focus and wrecks your productivity. It will take you another minute or two to get back to your task. Now, a minute or two may not seem like much. But, if you get 30-60 emails a day, you waste about an hour a day refocusing on tasks rather than doing tasks.

Fortunately, there is an incredibly simple solution to this. Turn off your email and/or email notifications. If you use an email client, you may be able to set it so that email is not automatically downloaded regularly. Once you've done this, you can only download and read email when you click the "check email" button. In other words, you control when you get email and you can incorporate that control into your To Do list schedule.

If you use web based email such as Gmail or Yahoo, then you need to close the email web page or application except when your daily To Do list allows you to check email. You probably also need to turn off or uninstall notification tools. Do the same with your telephone, tablet, watch or anything else that collects emails.

Then, you must only check your email at set times. Some experts suggest having two or three set times during the day during which you check emails. I personally recommend doing it after completing a longer task or several shorter tasks. But whatever approach you take, put it in your To Do list.

Of course, if you are in a customer facing job where you are expected to respond to emails quickly, then you need to check email more frequently. In this case, I suggest you evaluate how quickly you really need to respond? Perhaps you can check email once every hour or two hours. If so, check email at those times and then deal with each email immediately. Then get back to whatever other task you need to do.

Few emails need to be dealt with immediately. If it is a real emergency, the other person will probably call you.

And Messaging Apps

The same is true of messaging apps. Unless you need to keep it active for your work, switch off notifications while you are working and just check messages when you allow yourself to do so (see "Do Not Do lists" above).


Avoid morning meetings as much as possible, especially if you are a manager setting up meetings. A morning meeting of six people who would otherwise be focusing on high personal energy tasks is killing the productivity of six people not only during the time of the meeting, but it will probably slow them down for the rest of the day. Sheduling meetings for shortly after lunch are good and force you to ensure those meetings are engaging. People are typically tired after the noon meal and may fall asleep if your meeting is boring.

Five Minute Rule

If you find yourself procrastinating over a particular task, try the five minute rule. Tell yourself −  or put into your To Do list  − that you will work on the task for only five minutes. No more. After five minutes you can stop.

This rule is surprisingly effective because, for the typical procrastinator (and, let us be honest here, most of us are at least occasional procrastinators), getting started on a task is usually the hardest aspect of that task, especially if it is a complex one. However, once you get started on the task, you will probably find that the task is not so bad. Moreover, once the task is started, you are likely to feel more compelled to complete it. So, it will be easier to assign more time to the task with your next to do list.

Pat Yourself on the Back

At the end of the day, having followed To Do list designed around personal energy levels and qualities; obeying your Do Not Do list designed to prevent you from wasting time on unnecessary things; and having made a five minute start on something you did not want to do, you will have accomplished rather a lot! Pat yourself on the back. I am proud of you and I trust you are proud of yourself.

You have just one more thing you need to do before you end your working day. You need to prepare your To Do list for tomorrow. Do it.

Now, it is time to turn off work, connect with your family (if you have one), connect with friends and maybe do something on your Do Not Do list. Go ahead. You deserve it. You've accomplished a lot today and you've got a full schedule for tomorrow.

Pick and Choose

Doing all of the above every day does not suit everyone. So, please do not feel you need to do all of the above or nothing. Feel free to choose ideas that you wish to implement and pass on the others, at least for now. But, if one of my productivity energy tips works for you, then try another one. You might find that it works too -- and then you can try yet another!

Avoid Busyness.

Being busy all of the time is draining, bad for health, bad for well being and often unproductive. Yet, it is a moniker all too many people wear with pride. Ask a colleague how she is doing and she is all to likely to say, "busy". Indeed, when I was younger and people asked after me, I felt compelled to say I was busy -- even if I was not. It is like when people ask you "how are you doing?" Unless you are a German (Germans take this question seriously), you probably say "Well, thanks" even if you feel terrible.

By structuring your working day as I have described, you should be able to improve your efficiency so you can accomplish tasks faster and with less work. But, if you are still overwhelmed with work and feel the need to work late or over the weekend, then you should make changes. You may need to talk to your manager (if you are in an office), outsource work or find ways to ease your workload. Being constantly busy is nothing to be proud of. When older friends talk about regrets in life, they never ever say, "I really wish I had been even busier at work."


Your Productivity Tips?

Have you got a productivity tip you'd like to share? Tell me about it!





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