5 Ideas for Improving Your Personal Productivity

There are far too many distractions in daily life. Email, mobile phone, social websites, video websites, colleagues that just want a quick chat… The list goes on. Every one of these things can stop us doing exactly what we need to be doing and achieving our daily goal. But how can we avoid these distractions and how can we best organise our daily lives to achieve our best productivity?

1. Set a goals list. This is actually our last task of the day before. If we have a clear idea, well ahead of time, of what the next day should achieve, we will be able to start the next day ready to go. The other big benefit of making up the next day’s schedule is that we can sleep on it and let our subconscious mind work on the problem for us, ready for the day ahead.

2. Set a time limit for each task. Almost all of us work best to a deadline. It almost turns it into a game to beat the deadline – which of course you will shorten the next time you have a similar task. You can also see if a task will need more time that you will need to allocate for the next day’s task list.

3. Break big tasks into smaller jobs. Big jobs always look more terrifying. Having the personal satisfaction of completing part of a job beats the feeling of failure because you didn’t complete the whole thing.

4. Promise yourself a reward in advance. Especially for a more difficult or longer task. Whether it’s just a cup of coffee or an extra cookie, you and your body should feel that the effort put in has been worth while. A small sugar or caffeine boost might not be what a doctor would order, but it should be something extra to your day. Perhaps 5 minutes on Facebook is your idea of a treat.

5. Switch off the distractions. It really is as easy as that. You don’t need a window open to the social media all the time. Close down the email program until you are ready. Tell colleagues that you will make time for them later, once your current list is complete. They will get the idea very quickly that you shouldn’t be disturbed and you may just inspire them to be of the same mind when they see how much more you get done.

Three Measures Of Personal Productivity

Most of the talk about performance measures is how they are applied to monitor the performance of an organization, a business, staff, a project, or a process.

But have you ever used performance measures for your own personal performance? One area that really lends itself to being measured is personal productivity. This is about how well we use our time to achieve whatever goals we’ve set. Of course, it virtually goes without saying (but let’s say it anyway), if you have no goals then you have no way of assessing your productivity!

Personal productivity is something we all have to deal with, particularly when there are personal goals we’re striving for, and no end of obstacles and distractions getting in the way of our striving!

So here’s a handful of measures, over which you might like to ponder with the question “would it be useful for me to know this?”

Return on time invested (nickname is ROTI)

You have to define what the “return” is for you, and how you’ll quantify it. Then you just divide that quantity by the number of hours (or days or whatever) that you’ve invested in generating that return.

If you’re a consultant or solo business owner, for example, your return might be profit. So you could measure the profit your business earns for every hour you invest in your business.

It’s a measure that easily leads you to the question “which activities give me the highest return, and how can I do more of those activities?”

Percentage of time spent on priorities

Do you know what your priorities are? Can you recognise when you’re working on them, as opposed to things that aren’t a priority?

If you can, then by keeping simple records in your Outlook Calendar or diary, you can easily tally up the proportion of your time each week that you gave to your highest priority tasks.

It’s a great measure to really appreciate the extent to which we can let distractions and other people’s priorities invade our time.

Task cycle time

If there are tasks that you perform time and again, such as preparing for meetings or writing a specific type of report, or recruiting staff, then a little careful analysis might highlight where you can save time that’s currently being wasted.

It happens to the best of us – we get carried away with how things are done, and forget to check for better ways of doing them. Measuring the cycle time of your regular tasks can encourage you to ask this question (and hopefully find ways to improve your personal productivity).

These aren’t the only measures of personal productivity, of course. But if you’re currently measuring nothing about how well you use your time to achieve whatever goals you’ve set, could one or more of these be a good place to start?

Dynamic Leaders and Their Teams Need High Personal Productivity


You and your team have a lot to do. To get through everything, make sure everybody is trained in how to be productive. Make sure you and your team are working on tasks that move you to your objectives.

The underlying philosophy of leaders of high growth companies is that they have a “do it now” attitude. They simply get on with the job and only do those tasks that move them towards their goals. Procrastination is the enemy of high growth. Doing nothing is no longer an option for any business, high growth or not.

So you and your team need:

  • Good time management
  • Good organisation.
  • A clean and organised work place. (A place for everything and everything in its place.)
  • Good communication between team members.
  • 10 minute stand up meetings at the start of the day or shift to communicate quickly and effectively. Attendance by senior managers is essential to ensure a quick cascade of key information.
  • Only hold sit down meetings when you need to agree a number of actions with a number of people. Only document the agreed actions, by whom and by when.
  • Effective email management.
  • Effective delegation skills.

Make it a priority to get everybody trained in how to be personally productive and you will create a lot of time for you and your team to work on the business as well as covering the day to day operations.

Good Time Management

Setting yourself a 3-6 month goal that you really want to achieve is the first step to good time management. This is because if you know where you are going then it will make it a lot easier to decide which tasks are important to you and need to be done. When faced with a task all you need to do is to ask yourself, “Is it going to help me towards my goals?” If not why are you doing it?

There a number of tools and techniques for managing your time and these will be described in a following article.

Action Orientated

It is often surprising how many smaller tasks are needed to be done in order to achieve a larger task. Careful planning can obviously help you identify those tasks but it is sometimes difficult to identify where a task in a project starts an unrelated project which needs to be done in order to achieve the longer term goal. In project management terms this is called scope creep or requirements creep.

What this means then is that you have a set of tasks that are known to you and probably a number more that aren’t no matter how careful you’re planning.

So this means getting through the tasks you are aware of as quickly and as efficiently as possible so that there is time in the project to get on with those that you don’t know of yet.

Busy leaders of successful companies have a “do it now” approach to getting the job done. This means they make a decision and then do the task. No procrastination, simply doing what needs to be done as soon as it can be.

This is characterised by meetings which end with the action lists of what needs to be done, by whom and by when.

Do It Now Approach

It has been shown that starting, doing and finishing a task is better than trying to multi-task. Better to focus on the one activity and complete it successfully than trying to jump between tasks. Clearly, this is not always possible but it has been shown that it takes several minutes to get back to the original task when interrupted by another.

Over the years there have been a great range of task management tools developed to help you list and prioritise your tasks. However, one of the downsides to this approach is that you are constantly re-reading, re-prioritising the same information instead of actually getting on with the tasks in the first place.

In life there are a lot of things that we do that instead of adding it to a list if we simply just did it we would be a lot more efficient.

Take your email box for example. A lot of people leave emails in the inbox and use it as a surrogate job list. This means that they end up with an inbox of full of read mails waiting for action and as new ones arrive each day the inbox becomes an impossible task in itself.

By setting a time aside each day to process your emails in a methodical way and by taking a do it now approach you will be able to clear your inbox and more importantly keep it clear. A later section will describe this process in more detail.

Interruption Handling

Interruptions during your working day can also be dealt with using with a do it now approach. The approach goes along the following lines.

  • Does the person coming to you with the problem also have a number of solutions? If not, ask them to identify a number of solutions so that all you have to do is to help them select the most appropriate. Avoid solving other people’s problems. Get them to help themselves.
  • If the problem requires you to think it through, go to where the problem is happening (if you can) as you will be able to get the data first hand and this significantly reduces the chance of making an incorrect assumption. This may seem to increase the time involved in resolving a problem but by getting everybody together at the source means that assumptions are significantly reduced and therefore subsequent errors reduced which saves time overall.
  • Make time in your day for times when you can take interruptions and those when you can’t. Managing emails and telephone calls are short tasks which can be interrupted. Report writing or complex spreadsheet work can’t easily be interrupted without breaking concentration and therefore subsequent loss of time whilst you get back into the task. This means putting aside blocks of time when you can’t be interrupted. Try to get somebody to take your calls, close down your email client and shut your door with a “Do Not Disturb” sign on so that you cannot be interrupted. Then after that block of time is complete, take a do it now approach to tackling the telephone calls, emails and queries that may have built up.

Good Organisation

The phrase, “A place for everything and everything in its place” captures the idea behind effective good organisation. If you can’t find something quickly then you will waste time that could be better spent on tasks that will move you nearer to your goals.

Lean and efficient working means having a tidy workspace. It means:

  • A clear desk at the end of each day.
  • A clean desk (which is now possible as it is clear.
  • Minimal use of paper. Use a scanner to store any key paperwork and then shred or archive.
  • Keep project or working files close to hand in a pedestal with hanging folders. Only keep active files close to you.
  • Longer term project files in filing cabinets. Minimise the paperwork you do store and so remove from any redundant papers before filing.
  • Scan and shred any documentation that you need to keep, ensuring you only retain physical items for legal reasons.

Effective Email Management

Email can be very time consuming. These ground rules are designed to help companies and employees get their time back and get email management under control.

The principle is to only touch an email once and to keep your inbox clear.

Consider the following rules for managing your emails:

Elimination: Can you delete the email?

Automation: Can’t eliminate it? Can you use a rule to delete it or move it to a folder? If you are copied in on a lot of emails then you can create a rule to automatically move any emails you are cc’ed on to a folder so that you can still search.

Delegation: Can’t eliminate it? Are you the best person to do it? Can you delegate or outsource it? Once you have delegated it, move the email to a folder called Delegated so that you don’t lose track of what has been delegated.

Do It Now: Process what is left. If you can do tasks immediately, don’t keep rereading jobs on job lists or emails in your to box. Do it now. You will be surprised how many tasks only take a few minutes.

Project Manage: For those remaining emails that require more time, move them to an Action folder and dedicate some time in your diary for clearing action items.

Batch process tasks: Only check your email at set times during the day. (e.g. 9:00, 11:00 and 15:00) Switch off the alert of an incoming email.

Brevity: Keep emails short and to the point. Be clear on what actions you want the reader to take. If the email is for information only, make it clear in the subject line. Use bullet points.

Subject Line: The subject line should be a brief summary of what is in the email. Try to make it so that the reader can simply act on the subject line.

Focused: The best approach is one idea per email. List multiple actions in bullet points.

Length: If an email looks like it needs to be more than 20 lines then consider putting it in a briefing document, better still a mind map or use one of the new Smart graphics in PowerPoint so that the ideas can be scanned quickly.

Email conversations: Don’t. Pick up the phone. You can speak faster than you can type.

Keep it positive: Only send emails that have a positive message. For anything else pick up the phone or meet them in person. No jokes, they will be taken the wrong way.

Cleanliness: Keep your inbox clear.

Good Communication

Good communication is the key to a successful business. All too often a manager will supply information on a “need to know basis” to a member of the team working on a task. However, as the world becomes more complex those doing the task may know a lot more about the detail than the manager does. In fact entrepreneurs tend to hire better people than themselves and so by design don’t know everything to supervise a task.

The way to avoid mistakes is to over communicate. Provide the person doing the task with the an idea of the bigger picture. Talk them though why the task needs to be done, how and who it will affect. Introduce them to other parties involved so that they understand the true scope and importance of what they are doing.

Good communication doesn’t mean hours of endless meetings. It probably means substantially less. It means using the right communication tools.

When deciding how to communicate, consider the following hierarchy:

  • If the message is positive can you send a text or email?
  • If the message is negative can you phone, Skype or meet in person?
  • If a group of people are involved can the actions be agreed in a short stand up meeting or if spread out using video conferencing?
  • If you are dealing with a problem, can you go to the source of the problem?
  • If developing a vision or a discussion is needed considering using a facilitator so that the debate is managed and actions agreed at the end to move the debate on.

Quick 10 minute Stand up Meetings

Lean manufacturing brought in the idea of short, usually 10 minute, meetings at the start of the working day or shift working through a fixed agenda which includes some key metrics for the team. Attendance by a senior manager means that nobody should be more than 24 hours out of date of what is happening.

Short, stand up action oriented meetings means that the meeting doesn’t interrupt the working day and everybody is clear on what needs to be achieved and by when. If an organisation is larger then the first stand up meeting could be between the managers or supervisors and then followed by the stand up meetings of the teams themselves. In this way information can be cascaded very quickly even through a large organisation.

Attendance by a senior manager at the morning meeting then means that it is taken seriously and the manager stays in touch with what is happening at the “doing it” end of the business. This is becoming more important as organisations “de-layer”.

It is important that the meeting works through a list of key metrics for the team. The metrics must link back to what the organisation is trying to achieve. So in a customer service team the number of orders processed might be important. Number of orders is linked to turnover which is likely to be a key metric for the organisation as a whole. This means that the customer services team see a direct relationship between what they are doing and what the organisation needs to achieve.

Efficiency and effectiveness equals productivity.

Efficiency can be described as doing as much as can be done in the time available with a minimum of effort. It goes without saying that if you work efficiently you will have the capacity to get more done. But this is not enough to maximise your personal productivity. You could be very efficient at getting things done, but if you then spend the rest of your time doing nothing of value, then you have missed a huge opportunity to be more productive. Even worse it is possible to be efficient at getting the wrong things done!

The other factor is effectiveness (or efficacy): that is doing the right things, doing them right and doing them at the right time. So here are five ways to boost your productivity.

1. Identity:

How do you do the right things? This starts with defining your values and purpose in life or in work and with it the vision of what your life, your environment or your work will look like in some future state produced by being on purpose. This is followed by setting goals and working towards them. The big things you decide to do must be consistent with your identity, your values, beliefs and purpose or you’re unlikely to truly commit to them.

2. Learning:

How do you do the right things right? This is about learning, training, practising activities until you can do them well. The link here to efficiency is an obvious one, in that if you do things right then you shouldn’t have to redo it, saving time and money. So what do you need to learn to be able to do what you need to do to be on purpose and work towards your vision?

3. Planning:

Finally, how do you do the right things, right, at the right time? Prioritising, planning, and time management are part of this. You need to be clear about your priorities and about what needs to be done first. Your plan needs to accommodate these priorities and put them in order (a great way to do this is with post-it notes). Your plan also needs a time-frame. Admittedly, the time-frame for achieving your vision may be imprecise, but better to set one and adjust as the plan proceeds than to have no completion date in mind. Milestones in the plan will have much more precise timelines.

4. Discipline:

Another aspect of doing things at the right time is discipline. Self-discipline is defined as doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done even if you don’t feel like doing it.

5. Accountability:

You can help yourself to become more disciplined if someone holds you accountable. This could be a coach, a mentor, a confidant or a mastermind group. Your probability of successfully achieving your goals increases from around 40% if you do nothing more than have the idea to 76% if you ask someone you respect to hold you accountable to achieve the goal.

In summary, to be productive you need to be efficient. Then you also need to do the right things (aligned with your values, purpose and vision for the future), do them right (have the aptitude, skills and knowledge or ability to rely on others who do) and do them at the right time (planning, discipline and accountability).