My friends and colleagues know me as someone who can get a tremendous amount done in a typical day, week, month or year. My secret is that I’m an efficiency nut. Over the years, I’ve developed a series of strategies that have helped me to remain as productive and organized as possible. I’ve shared these tips – on request – with assistants and coaching subjects. For those who are struggling with getting things done, here’s a few tips from my list that you are welcome to try.
- Start your day by planning your day. Quickly go through your email and voice mail, and your files/deadlines (see below re: daily file folders) for the day to do triage. Prioritize and be honest about what might have to be punted to another day.
- When working on a project I keep everything related to that project in a file. But for smaller projects that might have a variety of moving pieces but might not need a file, I keep all relevant papers in a plastic document protector (it’s open on two sides only). You can usually keep up to 20 or more pages in this plastic holder. As the project continues, I just add additional documents to that folder. At some point (usually when the project is complete), I either create a file folder for the project, or I destroy the documents. Some projects might only have two or three pieces of paper going, and never need a formal file. But by keeping all relevant documents together, I save hours of time I might have spent looking for papers.
- I create a weekly bring forward system by using different coloured hanging file folders in a container on my desk. As I set meetings, work on projects or prepare for my next coaching session with a client, I put all file folders and document holders into the appropriate day of that week. Then I don’t think about that project or file again until I open that day’s hanging file folder. This ensures that I don’t worry about missing a deadline or losing any of those documents, while keeping those projects out of my mind until they need to be worked on.
- I encourage you to figure out for yourself what time of day is best for different types of tasks. For example, I do my best writing/drafting in the morning. I’m better with admin and accounts in the afternoon. Business in the morning; marketing in the afternoon. Once you’ve determine your own ideal schedule, try to adjust your work day to accommodate that productivity clock.
- Don’t look at emails as they arrive. Check emails about five times per day, in bulk. To make this easier, consider turning off your email indicator.
- If you work in an office with an assistant, ask them group their questions rather than interrupting you every time they want to ask you something. (Of course, there are exceptions to this rule).
- Teach everyone in the office that when your door is closed it’s for a reason. (I work from home, so I’ve had to teach this to everyone in my house). Don’t close your door all of the time or people will start to ignore the message; just close your door when you really need to concentrate, or you need privacy or quiet (say, for a phone call).
- I work to my daily list; however as other items come in during the day I triage them. Quick stuff goes in a pile and throughout the day, as I need a five-minute break or find myself with a small amount of time between meetings, I knock off a couple of short tasks. But longer incoming projects need to have time allocated. They don’t necessarily get done the same day they arrive unless they are urgent. Instead, I’ll determine when I can do them within the next week, and they go into the appropriate daily file folders.
- Keep small tasks small and fast. I’ve seen lawyers collect lots of small tasks, believing they need a large chunk of time in which to do them. So they keep building, and the tasks don’t get done until they suddenly become urgent. Then, they take time that should have been spent on more important matters. Instead, clear out as many quick, small tasks as you can throughout the day. Start be recognizing they are a three minute or five-minute task at most. This will make them far less intimidating.
There are just a few of my secrets to being as productive as possible. One last suggestion: consider that you may have trained yourself and those around you to be inefficient with your time. You’ve done this by allowing yourself to get away with unproductive behaviours (which is endorsement), and you may have rewarded people for doing activities that lower your productivity by allowing them to do so repeatedly. It will take time, patience and discipline to correct these behaviours. But the benefits of perseverance are worth it!