How to be productive

Rowing Team

Productivity is critical to your success, whether you are a solopreneur, speaker, consultant, or part of a larger company. Productivity doesn’t mean doing as many things as possible during the day, but doing as many things that create value as possible. We all get paid for creating value, not for being busy.

As they say in the commercial, “everybody knows that”. How do we do it?

Give all of your attention to what you are doing at any given time.

  • Focus on the most important things that need to be done
  • Eliminate distractions
  • Put the information you need in a place (or a few places) you are sure you can find it
  • Delegate work that others can do better than you and be able to track progress
  • Organize the work that only you can do so you will always know what to do next

You will need to change the way you think about your work, and you will need to use some tools. The good news is, the tools are either free or not very expensive.

What do you mean, change the way you think about your work?

Multitasking ruins productivity. Inc. Magazine reports that “research has shown again and again that the human mind isn’t meant to multitask. Even worse, research shows that multitasking can have long-term harmful effects on brain function.” And an article in the London Daily Mail adds “Studies by Gloria Mark, an ‘interruption scientist’ at the University of California, show that when people are frequently diverted from one task to another, they work faster but produce less. After 20 minutes of interrupted performance, people report significantly higher stress levels, frustration, workload, effort and pressure.”

Reduce distractions. In another Inc. article, CEO Ilya Pozin reminds us “You probably don’t want to admit it, but you love distractions. In fact just like monkeys, you get a shot of dopamine every time something pulls you in another direction. Why do you think you check your email so much?” And later, he says ”pick two or three times during the day when you’re going to use your email. Checking your email constantly creates a ton of noise and kills your productivity.” Of course, the same advice applies to social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Prioritize. Start each day with a list of the 3 to 5 most important things to do and focus on them.  And at the end of the day, take time to evaluate how much you accomplished against those important goals.

Delegate. Share the workload with employees (if you have any) or outside assistants. According to author Jan Yager, “You should be using your time on the most critical tasks for the business, and the tasks that only you can do.” This is hard to do when you are just starting out, but you should begin delegating as soon as you have the resources (money) to do it. Ms. Yager also tells us to give clear assignments and instructions, set a definite task completion date and follow-up system, and give public credit to the person who did the work.

Organize. Writer Merlin Mann tells us that a to-do list is a list of things “that can and should be done.” A good to-do item, he says, is “a physical action, that can be accomplished at a sitting, that supports valuable progress toward a recognized goal, and is something for which you are the most appropriate person for the job.”  Mann defines a sitting as about ten minutes, but it will vary depending on the nature of the task.

There are real benefits to breaking a project into physical actions. Mann says, “Consider, for example, how an oversized to-do like ‘prepare the big presentation’ might be improved by zeroing in on a first step like ‘draft four ideas for our presentation’s theme.”

Going back to the idea of reducing distractions, it’s a good idea to build a “don’t do” list to go with your “to-do” list.

What tools are you talking about?

Information storage tools like Evernote or Microsoft OneNote (we will use Evernote as an example)

Email tools like Gmail and Outlook (and about a million others).  We will use Gmail as an example, along with other Google applications like Docs and Calendar.

Project management tools to track the tasks you have delegated or shared with others. Podio and Trello are two of many options; we like Podio.

Social media management tools. We like HootSuite, although there are lots of other choices.

Social CRM tools. There are lots of options. We prefer Nimble.


Remember, we don’t get paid for being busy; we get paid for producing valuable results.


Photo courtesy of Christopher Schmidt under Creative Commons license