Increased Productivity by Reducing Noise

As the New Year started to 2 days ago, I’m a little bit behind with what I promised myself to be better at in 2015, which is: shifting the balance from consuming to producing.

What I mean by that is (when reflecting on 2014), I definitely feel like I spent 80% of my time researching in the next thing I want to build, reading, going to meetups, networking, attending conferences and in general taking more in that I was putting out into the world.

The common excuse was that I just simply don’t have time during the day to sit down & write a blog or couple lines of code due to things like work, family, “staying busy” chipping away at the hours available during the day.

Since most of those things will still be in place going forward, the only way to increase productivity is to be more efficient about the time you have available.

Below is a list couple steps I’ve taken in the past year to be more productive:

3 item To-Do list
Out of all the things you want to accomplish in a day, prioritize and choose 3 things that have to be done no matter what. I found that having a to do list any longer than that just became unrealistic. Sure, you can still accomplish more after finishing those 3, but at least this allows you to focus on a small subset first.

Always leave work at X
It’s easy to get pulled into another meeting or shift your focus from the task at hand & play catch up by the end of the day. Often times resulting in leaving work late.
Having a strict cutoff point forces you accomplish the time consuming and hard tasks first, so later in the day, there is more room for random things to take up your time as you see them viable.

Auto Reminders & Follow Ups
Often times when responding to emails, there are a million and one actionable items that get created out of it.
For me writing them down is a waste of time (if actionable), since the next time I’ll have time to follow up on them it’ll already be too late.
What seems to work for me fairly well, is take action on things I get done within 5-10 minutes and schedule Google Calendar Reminders or Yesware Auto Reminders to double-check on the status somewhere in the near future.

Avoid Meetings
On this I could write a whole separate blog post.
Meetings are great for brainstorming and getting a discussion flowing if that’s what’s necessary.
For all other situations, Slack, Email or a daily standup should be sufficient.
This Dilbert comic reflects my thoughts on meetings:

Avoid Multi Tasking
Multi tasking is a myth.
Focus on one thing at a time, take frequent brakes & allow yourself to take a different approach. A great method is the Pomodoro technique. At first it might seem hard, I’m kind of a scatterbrain myself but with time you’ll see the results start to add up.

Batch similar tasks together
Batching is easily my productivity technique.
Instead of answering emails throughout the day I only respond twice a day, for a matter of fact I go as far as batching all communications (social media, email, phone) into one block of time.
This works great for errands and more household tasks as well.
I get all my banking done in one block and then move on to cleaning the house for example.
One thing to note about banking or bills in general, I recommend disabling “Auto-Pay” since it easy to miss/dispute an overcharge or suspicious activity if you don’t review your account upon payment.

Book Alone Time (Open Office Scenario)
Having worked in an open space environment for the past couple of years, I have to say I agree with an article I read recently on how such an can actually decrease your productivity without proper culture in place.
To make up for the decrease in productivity I tend to book a conference room once a day, preferably a non-fishbowl looking one and focus on the tasks that require high levels of concentration.

Clean up Email & Embrace Filters
Remember signing up for those random startup email newsletters that you keep getting once a week? Me neither.
Unsubscribing from each individually would be a nightmare(trust me, I tried before). Thank goodness someone introduced me last year to, a service that scans your inbox for all emails you can potentially unsubscribe to and compile a list of them with a CTA to either remove it, batch it into a digest of email or leave as is.
This could easily be my favorite tool of 2014.
The second thing is email filters, embrace them and learn how to use them.

The default answer is “No”
As much as this might seem like a way of not opening yourself up to different opportunities, there’s only a finite amount of time you can spend pursuing them.
It’s easy to please others by saying Yes, but it’s short lived since you start working on things that don’t interest you, meet people that don’t have an impact on your life and waste time not working on things that you can shine at.
Another way to look at it is by saying Yes you ultimately allow others to dictate how you spend your time.

Delegate what you can
I’ve been a big fan of the idea of outsourcing repetitive tasks to Virtual Assistants ever since I’ve read The Four Hour Work Week.
Having actually implemented it only a handful of times, the experience varied based on the people I’ve hired.
This is definitely something I wish to get better at in 2015.

Turn off App Push Notifications
At the start of 2014, I chose to use archaic flip phones for couple of months.
In the beginning, it was unbearable; No internet?! No apps?!, but as time went by I realized I spent most of my day in front of a computer anyway, making the phone redundant.
The amount of time we spend on our phones is mind-boggling.
If you don’t believe me, try to take a subway couple of stops, observe people interacting at a bar or look back at your recent holidays.
Instead of focusing 100% on the person we meeting and engaging with them, I oftentimes find people glancing at their phone 30% of the time. Which is both disrespectful and rude.
We are constantly bombarded by pings, notifications, and txts.

Just turn off all app notification, trust me you won’t miss anything critical.