How can you be more productive in 2016? Toward the end of 2015, I struggled with too much to-do left at the end of my days. How about you? With only so many hours in the day (24, at last count), you’ve got to use your head to accomplish more with less.
I’ve been a whirling dervish of productivity before, so I went back through my notes to help myself get back there to start the new year. Here’s my seven-step productivity plan to start the new year if you wish to join me. Pay particular attention to the seventh.
Step 1: Have a crystal-clear picture of what it is you’re trying to make happen.
Can you tell me, in just a couple sentences in clear language, what you’re trying to accomplish and why? Write the what and why down. Keep them somewhere you can always access them. Say them aloud like a mantra because they’ll help you stay focused on essential tasks.
Step 2: Create a to-don’t list.
Are you being productive, or are you just busy? By using something like an Eisenhower box or grid to prioritize your tasks, you’ll quickly and cleanly learn what, frankly, doesn’t need to be done.
Step 3: Schedule your time.
Stuff that goes on your calendar gets done. Rather than opting into a large-and-growing-ever-larger to-do list, when a task comes in, schedule time to get it done. If it’s a larger project, break it up into steps. Schedule the first, and keep a list only of the steps so you can schedule the subsequent tasks as they move up in the queue.
Step 4: Build in margin.
You’ve heard of eyes being bigger than a stomach? Is your will/enthusiasm bigger than the clock? Try adding 15 minutes to every newly-scheduled task on your calendar.
Step 5: Just do the next right thing.
Once you’ve got your to-do’s scheduled on your calendar, you can relax and know you do not have to fret. Just keep your head down and focus on what’s next.
Step 6: It’s a series of sprints.
Don’t look at your day as a marathon; instead, consider it a series of shorter bursts of activity. Once you finish your first scheduled activity, take a short break as time and margin permit. Get a drink of water. Breathe. Go for a short walk.
Step 7: Do NOT let others interrupt your flow.
It’s very tempting—and it’s never been easier—to allow others to dictate your workflow. Turn OFF email, Slack, IM. Instruct your direct reports to CALL but only in emergencies. I have a rule with my team: if it’s urgent, and I am available, I will always answer your call or text, so please respect my respect for you by saving these options for last.
BUT – if part of your job is managing a team and being available to them, you must also SCHEDULE time (whether through office hours or managing by walking around) where you are predictably and consistently available to them.
I don’t know about you, but I was ready for 2015 to end. It was a tough year in many ways (not, you know, coal mining tough, but tough). It’s going to be a great year in 2016. We’ll get through it together. We’ll celebrate together.
Now, let’s get to work.