Let me be clear right up front that I still have a lot to learn in terms of productivity. I certainly have not arrived. I have simply learned how to be more productive from many others, who, over the years, have shared the tips, tools and practices they use. People like Carey Nieuwhof, Jim Wideman and Frank Bealer are great examples of leaders who are extremely productive and have lots of wisdom to share in this area.
This guide is a collection of most of the principles, ideas, tools and practices I have found to be helpful when it comes to making the most of the limited time we have.
HOW TO BE PRODUCTIVE: PRINCIPLES
These are some overarching principles I believe in when it comes to learning how to be productive. They are the foundation for everything else in this post.
- You can’t manage time. You can only manage your activity.
- All hours of the day are not equal, so focus on managing your energy.
- Don’t touch things more than once—otherwise, you’re wasting time.
- “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” – Parkinson’s Law
- Plan your work and work your plan.
- As your responsibilities grow, particularly across distinct areas, the more important all of this becomes.
HOW TO BE PRODUCTIVE: EVALUATE
Before you jump in and change how you work, it’s important to evaluate how you have worked to get an accurate picture of how well your current system functions (or doesn’t). Here are a few ways you can evaluate your current system:
This is tedious and certainly isn’t fun to do for a long time, but I think it’s important to track your time in great detail for two to four weeks to really see where you’re spending it. Create categories for your time, and shoot for six to 10 of these categories. If you have only have two to four, it’s probably not enough. More than 10 will make it hard to track. After two to four weeks, look at it, and see where you’re spending the majority of your time so you can determine if you are using it well.
LIST AND CATEGORIZE
List everything you are responsible for doing. If you track your time like I just mentioned, this should be fairly easy. Break that list down into three categories based on the return on investment of your time and how it matches your gifts/strengths. The three categories are:
- Low return on investment
- Average return on investment
- High return on investment
If that’s not clear enough, it might help to think about this in business terms. If you were the owner of a business, the time you spend could be categorized like this:
- $10 return on investment
- $100 return on investment
- $1000 return on investment
Use the insights from this exercise to make one complete, prioritized list. As you plan your work, make sure you’re spending your best time on the things that give you the highest return.
HOW TO BE PRODUCTIVE: PRACTICES
Now that you have evaluated your current system, you’re ready to make it better or consider changing your approach. The following includes some specific practices you can do to help boost your productivity.
PLAN YOUR WORK
One mistake we all make is jumping into each day without really planning our work. Often, we do this simply because we’re so overwhelmed and behind on everything that we don’t even know where to start. We have to begin digging just to figure out how deep the hole needs to be. Regardless of how much there is to do, it is always worth it to plan your work. Here are some tips to help you do that:
Plan Your Day
- Take 10 minutes at the end of each day to plan the next day.
- Take 10 minutes each morning to review the plan for the day.
- Use a one-page productivity or day planning sheet. I like the Storybrand one. You can also Google “1-page productivity planner.”
- Create artificial deadlines. See Craig Groeschel’s podcast episodes: It’s About Time 1 and It’s About Time 2.