The 3 Productivity Hacks I'm Using to Get More Work Done

Do you hate the feeling of being overwhelmed? I hate it. There's lots to do at work, people to follow up with, friends to hang out with, kids to pick up from school, gym, eating healthy. All that stuff adds up. I'm sure you've battled it at least once.

The unfortunate circumstance of being overwhelmed is the feeling of getting nothing done. Sure, I do things. but they aren't moving me - or my business - forward. Something had to change.

First, I identified why I was unproductive:

  • Email
  • Phone notifications
  • Not having a to-do list

Then, I went in search of a solution to help me control these 3 "triggers".

Let's tackle each of them using a system (because you all know I'm type A): situation, problem, and the solution I've found to help me (albeit some of them simple).

1. I hate my inbox.

Up until last week, my inbox owned me. The 60-80 emails I get each day controlled my every move during the work day. The little window that slides across my monitor saying I have a new message made me feel like one of the dogs in Pavlov's dog experiment.

I'd click on it immediately.

But, what I found was that 8 out of 10 times, the email was useless. Maybe a sale on Express shirts I haven't purchased in years, a Vistaprint sale on business cards, or some daily newsletter I signed up for 7 years ago.

And only on occasion would I get email I'd have to take action on. Maybe 5-10 a day required a response. The lesson? Email was taking over my day. This created a false sense of productivity.

Going through emails does not equal getting work done.

I started to research what I could do about. I wanted to find a solution that is easy to use and didn't require me to create a new habit. Ironically, as I was wasting more time browsing Facebook, I stumbled on an article my friend Matt Wilson from Under30CEO wrote about email hacks.

In the article he wrote about InboxPause, a Gmail app that pauses your inbox so no new email can't come in. After installed, simply click the blue "Pause" button and incoming emails get sent a hidden folder until you un-pause your inbox.

This has changed my life.

Inboxpause helped me:

  1. Check my email 4-5 times a day (working on making this 2 times)
  2. Process 50-60 emails in 15 minutes
  3. Get work done to move my business forward - not spin my wheels.
  4. Respond to people when I want to respond.

Give InboxPause a try. For the app haters (cough - Dad - cough) you could also log-out and back in to your inbox. However, to me, that's not the same thing. I still would like access to my inbox to process what's already in there while no new email is coming in. It's batch processing and I'm falling in love with it.

2.  Phone notifications

Ok - so this isn't a hack. It's just helped me. And I don't know why I didn't do it sooner. Last week, I shut off all the notifications to my phone except for text messages and phone calls.

The result: I love the silence.

Yes, I could put my phone on silent (which is what I had been doing) but then I miss phone calls and text (some important) from friends, family, and my kitchen manager.  I've had to scramble to solve several time-sensitive problems recently.

While I still have some Facebook notifications popping up (rather mysteriously, I might add), I've eliminated everything else. No twitter, Instagram, email, map, or calendar notifications. My phone is on and it alerts me when it needs to. I have less of an urge to pull my phone out of my pocket. And you know what? I'm less stressed. Before, I'd see a handful of emails, someone writing on my wall, and maybe a comment on Instagram. I'd feel the need to respond. Now, I don't. And I love it.

In summary, I made my phone 90% dumb and 10% smart - because that's how smart it needs to be.

3.  No to-do list

As a small business owner, there are a million things to do. And sometimes that feels like an understatement. One way productivity experts say to get more done is write a to-do list.

I tried that. And figured out I was doing it all wrong.

Months ago when I was on a to-do list kick, I'd write page and a half long to-do lists. I called them weekly lists so that what was on the page (which was usually 2 columns) would get done within the week.

But that just stressed me out.

The plan I'm working to implement now:

  • I hand-write a to-do list in my notebook for each day.
  • My list is no longer than 15 items.
  • The list includes 3 priority (or $ generating) items.
  • I write the time I'm going to stop working.
  • Tomorrow's to-do list gets done at the end of the day.

And now, the reasons behind why my to-do list is so rigid:

1. Why I hand-write:

Writing commits your to-do list to memory because you read it over and over again. Plus, all we seem to do is type on our computers these days. Hand writing is falling by the wayside. My notebook stays right next to me all day. I use it to cross off to-do's take notes during phone calls, and scribble down thoughts to mull over later. During the workday, it never leaves my side.

2. Why my to-do list is limited to 15 items

Big lists are, well, big. They're intimidating. And beastly. I limit my list to 15 tasks because that's enough to get done in a 9-10 hour day. Some are big, some are small. Some get completed in a couple minutes and some require a car trip. 15 is manageable for me so I'm going to stick to it and see how it goes.

3.  Why I include 3 revenue-generating items

I could easily fill my to-do list with 15 tasks that will not make me any money. Or I could mix in tasks that either bring me closer to making money - or make me money. This could be sending invoices, doing follow up calls, or managing Facebook ads. Most of the time these are the prioritized items unless an administrative task is time-sensitive.

4. Why I write when I'm going to be done

I work a lot. In fact, I work too much. The old "unproductive" me used to send emails at any time of day, work from 5am-11pm because I felt like I got nothing done. Plus, I left no time to relax. To think. To laugh. And to have fun. Being productive isn't about working long hours. It's about getting the most done in the limited time you have to do it. That means, if I write down 7:00pm (which includes breaks for lunch and dinner), I'll have a set amount of hours to conquer my to-do list. And sometimes I write 3:00pm as a challenge - so that I can take the afternoon off (ok - I'm kidding - I'm still working on that).

5. Why tomorrow's to-do list gets done today

I used to wake up in the morning, hit the gym, take a shower, eat breakfast, and sit down to my laptop without a thought to what was going to get done today. Now. I try to make a list the night before that is at least 5 tasks long and includes 1 priority item to get me started for the day with some "quick wins". I'm still getting into the habit of this and hope to have it down in a couple weeks.

So that's how I'm increasing my productivity. While it largely centers around a rules-based to-do list, InboxPause has mad the biggest difference in my productivity.

What about you? How do you get more work done?

Photo courtesy of Flickr