Not the hours you work, it is the work in your hours

Posted on 08/10/2010

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Working smarter and not harder is a passion of mine ever since I did my EMBA. I spend a lot of time thinking about all the ways that I can increase my productivity to allow me to spend the most time on the most important parts of my career and life. I strongly believe that having the thinking and focus drives better solutions to problems and having time to just think and read allows you to be more creative.

I think that makes me a bit of a hybrid, maybe a hippie engineer. In a lot of ways I enjoy the structure and design of my engineering background, although at the same time I know that the world is not that linear and rational; it needs to break the mould and look for new ways to do things. So here is my take on increasing your productivity.

First, the actual quote that I ‘lifted’ to make the title of this blog post:
“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Abraham Lincoln

Productivity tips by Steve, use at your risk:

  1. Only open Outlook twice a day. You can have it open, but do not connect to the server, go offline. Connect only at Noon and at 5pm.
  2. Move towards 50% meeting time (or close to half of what you are on today), and always have a bias for handling issues via e-mail or quick phone calls or a drop by the desk, and push yourself to try and resolve it with no responses needed. This is best if it translates into long blocks of no meetings, three hours or maybe even a full day. And in those times, it can be useful to find somewhere else in the office to work.
  3. On the way to work each day, list down the two things you must do in that day. And do not do any other ‘work’ until those two items are done. Mine almost always are the slightly more difficult, not high my list items, take 30mins of real concentration. These are the ones you do not do, but instead monitor your e-mail!

If you need some audio/visual support for the argument, check out this Stanford professor Clifford Nass on multi-tasking (and some other topics), it is brilliant: http://www.dailygood.org/more.php?n=4282 . As we all are starting to learn, multi-tasking is doing the same task multiple times!

Once you have started to master these 3 areas, your biggest problem becomes ‘What do I do with all the free time?!’ – I am not joking, it takes a while to learn new habits and you will miss the constant ‘Pavlov’ reward of the e-mail task notification! So here are some ideas once you get your time back:

  • Organise your filing system, on your computer, around your desk
  • Read blogs, papers, articles that relate to your industry; get out and see the world
  • Take a walk around the office, say ‘hi ya’ to folks and connect with them again on a human level
  • Put together your case to change the way something is done; whether it is a new process, product or program
  • Call your mum, she will be so happy and surprised you called her during the day!

If you are a book type and want to know where some of these ideas come from, take a look through the following four books, as they are some of the best in the field:

  • Productivity: Getting things done
  • Delegating: What got you here, will not get you there
  • Methods to getting thoughts/ideas/strategy: The Long View
  • Creativity and producing excellent work: Flow

If you give any of these a try, please post a comment and tell me how it is going. I would be really interested to hear from you.

Cheers, Steve

Books: Let my people go Surfing; Yvon Chouinard; founder of Patagonia; An amazing read.

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Posted in: Life, Strategy