5 Tools to Increase Productivity

Start achieving the results you need

You know the feeling. You’re exhausted at the end of the day, yet you can’t think of one thing you accomplished.

Where did the day go?

Why are you so tired with nothing to show for it?

You feel dissatisfied and maybe even guilty that the day was a total bust.

Too many days like this, and you pay a price in mounting stress and frustration. Plus you aren’t achieving your most important goals, which adds to your stress and frustration.

You’re spinning your wheels, and the tread is getting pretty thin.

You need help before you explode, implode, or just give up.

The fix is actually pretty easy. It’s just a matter of forming some new habits about how you use your time whether you work for yourself or for an employer.

Play Detective

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You’ve heard the phrase, “Time is money.” It’s true in many ways.

You use time the same way you use money: You spend it, save it, or invest it.

Where Are You Spending Time?

When you spend money, you buy things, go out to dinner and a movie, take a vacation. The money is gone.

You spend time when you are not getting important work done. Surfing the ‘net, checking email all day, updating social media, and so on are examples of spending time. The time is gone and has produce very few results.

Where Are You Saving Time?

You save money when you pay less for something, for example, by shopping at sales and second-hand stores, making or altering your own clothing, and clipping coupons.

You save time when you work more efficiently and accomplish a task more quickly. A good tool for saving time is bundling or batching routine activities and doing them in one, focused pocket of time. For example, you can set specific times to handle email and stop checking it when it comes in. You accomplish bundled tasks faster than dealing with them on and off throughout the day.

Where Are You Investing Time?

You invest money when you put into something that makes it grow in value over time, such as buying a home, investing in an IRA or employer-savings account, buying stocks and bonds, and so on.

You invest time when you take time today to create processes and systems that save time later. This is your best use of time since it makes you more efficient, effective, and productive.

Here are five tools that, with a little investment of time now, can make you more productive and effective every day.

Tool 1. Focus on Your Priorities

Credit: Patricia Haddock

Have you heard of the Eisenhower Matrix? It might seem familiar if you’ve seen Steven Covey’s material. However, it preceded Covey’s work by several decades.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th president of the United States and the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II. He is credited with saying:

“I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

President Eisenhower planned his days with the matrix. His record proves that it works.

  • Every week, decide the top five tasks that you must accomplish that week using the Eisenhower Matrix. Planning weekly gives you flexibility to move things around on your calendar when stuff comes up — as it usually does.
  • Limit yourself to five items; more can seem overwhelming before you start. If you finish one of your initial five during the week, you can add another to replace it.
  • Block off some time on your calendar each day to work on at least one of your five tasks.
  • Avoid scheduling your entire day; you’re not in prison. You need free time to handle routine tasks, strengthen workplace relationships (a good investment of time if done prudently), and step back and unwind.

When you know your priorities, you can more easily focus on the actions that deliver the results you need.

Tool 2. Plan to Achieve Your Priorities using the Pomodoro Technique

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In the 1980s, Francesco Cirillo developed what he called the “Pomodoro Technique,” named after a tomato-shaped timer he used in college.

The technique involves an interval-style of time management.

You set a timer for 25 minutes of intense, focused activity on a single task. At the end of the interval, you take a five-minute break, then start another interval. After four intervals, you take a longer break.

Just as exercising with intervals can produce results more quickly, high intensity focus on a single task leads to greater productivity. Your concentration becomes laser-like, allowing you to produce results faster and more efficiently.

  • Set up 25-minute intervals when you are blocking off time on your calendar to work on your top priorities for the week(see Tool 1).
  • Aim for three or four intervals each day, but if you can achieve only one or two, you will be more productive than you otherwise would have been.
  • Refuse to be interrupted during each interval.

Tool 3. Plan for Daily Productivity

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What do you gain from one minute of planning?

According to Brian Tracy, one minute of planning saves 10 minutes in execution. Other experts claim that you will save three minutes; some say five minutes. There is one constant factor: Planning = Productivity.

By taking just five minutes to plan what you need to accomplish, you can save between 15 and 50 minutes in execution. This is a powerful investment of your time with huge dividends.

  • Set aside five minutes at the end of the day to plan the next day.
  • Prepare anything you will need to tackle your first task the next morning.
  • Review your daily plan first thing in the morning.
  • Handle your first, scheduled task.

Tool 4. Be Assertive about Interruptions

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We allow ourselves to be interrupted.

That’s not a bad thing because it’s under our control.

We let it happen.

The key is to stop doing it.

When you are working in a scheduled interval, just say no to interruptions. Most people can wait 25 minutes for an answer as long as they know you will circle back to them when you say you will.

  • Politely tell people you need x minutes to finish what you’re working on and will get back to them at that time.
  • Follow up when you’re on a break between intervals.When people know that you will be accountable and get back to them when you promise, they are less likely to harass you with repeated interruptions.
  • Be assertive about honoring your time.

Tool 5. Can the To-Do Lists

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To-do lists never get to done. They become an endless record that mocks you and ratchets up a sense of failure. Just looking at it saps your energy.

Stop creating to-do lists; instead keep a Task List.

When you are in an interval or any time you need to focus on something, refuse to stop what you are doing to take care of someone or something else.

  • Jot down the action you need to take on your Task List.
  • Tackle your Task List when you have breaks during the day.
  • Prioritize the items on the list using the Eisenhower Matrix.
  • Plan to handle anything that falls in Eisenhower 1 or 2.
  • Follow up and be accountable.

Productivity = Action Management

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Productivity relies on action management.

Each minute you are either spending, saving, or investing your time.

We will never have more than 24 hours in a day, and most of us don’t really want more hours. It would just mean more work!

Let’s face it, most of us already spend too much time on work. Whether we are an entrepreneur or career professional, we all want more time for life after working.

Stop spinning your wheels, start producing the results you want, and put more time in your life for living your life.

“He who every morning plans the transactions of that day and follows that plan carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life.” — Victor Hugo

Additional Reading

7 Ways to Boost Your Energy at Work by Linda Hardenstein, MPA, PCC

A Productive Summer: The Pomodoro Technique for Time Management The Financial Times

How the Eisenhower Matrix Can Fix Your Procrastination Issues by Cody McLain

Why High Performers Don’t Use To-Do Lists by Aytekin Tank

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