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Cartoon: "Lord love a duck, that's impressive personal energy you've got"

Boost Your Productivity a Gazillionfold

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 personal energy badly.

But don't worry! Managing your personal energy is easy and, once you know how to do it, you can boost your personal productivity a gazillionfold! To learn how, just read on.

Evaluate Your Personal Energy

The first thing you need to do is to work out your personal energy levels and qualities throughout the day. Energy level, of course, is how much energy you have. Energy quality describes the nature of the personal energy: focused, unfocused, creative, analytical, mental, physical or a combination of these.

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 up new article ideas, think about workshop concepts and plan other activities.

In the late afternoon, my creativity wanes and this is often a good time to do administrative work.

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 famous author starts (or started) 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 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, 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, 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 tasks 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.

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."

Some people have told me that they find their Do Not Do list more effective than their To Do list. You may know that it is not a good idea to read sports blogs during the working day, but find yourself doing it and feeling guilty about it. That's because you know it is bad, but you've not truly prohibited yourself from doing it. Once you put an item on your Do Not Do list, you are expressly prohibiting yourself from doing it.

In addition, the very action of creating a Do Not Do lists makes you think about the non-productive things you do during the working day. Once you filter those actions out of your day, your productivity will go way up.

Start the Day with a Bang Not a Whimper

As I've written, most people are good at focused tasks in the morning. Unfortunately, most people start their days going through emails, catching up on Facebook, browsing Twitter and doing other non-essential tasks, effectively wasting that focused energy on low energy, low productivity tasks.

Wasting time like this wastes high quality, focused energy that should have been used on more important tasks. It leaves you feeling like you've accomplished nothing during the morning, in spite of being busy. It is demotivating. If you start your day doing pointless things, you can all too easily spend your entire day doing pointless things. You'll keep yourself busy, but you will not accomplish much and you will not feel good about yourself.

Instead, get right to work while that energy level is high and allow yourself to read email, browse Facebook and check Twitter as rewards for completing tasks on your To Do list.

Turn Off Email

Email is a horrendous distraction. Most people leave their email client (or web page) on throughout the working day. Worse, their systems are 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 tasks when suddenly, your computer announces that an email comes 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, and sometimes longer, 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.

Fortunately, there is an incredibly simple solution to this. Turn off your email and notifications. If you use an email client (in other words, an email software on your computer), you can normally set it so that email is not automatically downloaded regularly. Once you've done this, email is only downloaded when you click a "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.

No email needs to be dealt with immediately. If it is a real emergency, the other person will call you. Be sure of it. 

Meetings

AAvoid 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.

Break Big Things Down

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.

Five Minute Rule

If you find yourself procrastinating over a particular action, try the five minute rule.. Tell yourself −  or put into your To Do list  − that you will work on the action 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 is the hardest thing to do. Once we get started, we often find the task is not so bad. Moreover, once the task is started, we feel more compelled to complete it. So, it will be easier to assign more time to the task soon.

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; having broken big actions down into smaller steps; 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.

Your Productivity Tips?

Have you got a productivity tip you'd like to share? Tell me about it or share it in the comments below.

Do You Know People Who Need to Be More Productive?

Do you know people who need to be more productive? If so, please share this article with them.

Comments below | Send feedback directly to Jeffrey



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