When I learn about an especially successful business leader, I study their habits to learn the secrets of their single-mindedness. I read every article on efficiency that I run across. And I’ve put many ideas into practice during decades as a journalist and public relations consultant.
I think it’s important that we evaluate which of these ideas work for us in our particular circumstances. A lot depends on whether or not we’re organized, detail-oriented or survive best in a chaotic environment under severe deadlines. All of us have unique work habits that can’t be expected to fit into any expert’s mold.
I’ve created my own list of ways to be more productive. Taken together, one or more items here may help you discover new ways to conquer distractions, work simpler, check items off of your to-do list, and save some time.
1. Less noise and fewer distractions. Even though I came of age in a noisy, smoky newsroom, I appreciate the value of silence when I’m trying to comprehend something complex. Now that I work in the middle of my home it can be challenging to carve out some quiet time, but each of my family members understand that my business is a priority, so they usually cooperate. Then, there’s the dog…
2. To-do lists: to do or not to do? Many people love to make lists and some of them have elevated list-making to an art. I find that it makes sense to write all my projects and deadlines by client in Basecamp. For a small monthly fee I can have 10 clients or projects open, and each of them can have multiple to-do items, discussions and deadlines. I find that by calling up my Basecamp calendar I know immediately what my most pressing projects are for that day.
3. Be punctual. When you arrive late to see a client or are tardy to a meeting, you give the impression that you are too busy to care about anyone else’s priorities. I used to be chronically late. But when I realized the impression I was making, I consciously determined to leave early for every appointment. Naturally, I also make sure I have reading material available in case I’m a little too prompt.
4. Avoid multitasking. The argument over juggling multiple assignments rages on. And while it’s true that most of us balance several projects at once, it’s also a fact that we must set and keep priorities to keep our sanity. This is where the Basecamp calendar or to-do list can come in handy – we can estimate the time we must devote to each project and try to ensure we can treat each one as a priority. It doesn’t always work, but that’s the plan.
5. Flexible workplace and work hours. Nothing distracts from one’s work more than the nagging feeling we get when we know we can’t be in two places at once, and that a loved one needs us right away. I’ve treasured my time as an independent consultant largely because it’s allowed me to be useful to my aging mother.
6. Time sheets. Time sheets can teach a very valuable lesson. Time is money. Track all your activities one day and see where you waste time and when you are most efficient. See if you are putting in the long work hours you think you are, and tally up what your time is really worth.
7. Increased communication. There’s a vast difference between receiving an assignment in a quick email and having a strategic discussion with your client about the audience, tone and purpose of your next project.
8. Positive atmosphere. Do you work better while you listen to music? Can you cope with many different background noises, or will the neighbors’ barking dog distract you? Knowing the conditions that are most conducive to productivity allows you to set the right tone when you tackle a project.
9. Eat a frog. This is an old expression but it still rings true today. For many of us, starting each new day by tackling the least-liked project on our to-do list frees us up for a creative, productive environment full of much more pleasant tasks.
10. Stay off social media. Easier said than done. While our LinkedIn postings are waiting to be tracked and our Twitter feed is silent, real work can engage our minds for maximum efficiency. Yes, social media provides us with important marketing tools – but it has its place.
I hope that this list prompts you to think hard about the ways in which you can be most effective. Many of these ideas were standard practice in bygone days, but they still provide a framework for productive work. And now, let’s get to work!