20 practical tips that will make you more productive

October 31, 2016

How many times have you asked yourself how other people can do so many activities when they have the same amount of time that you have? I have already asked myself this question many times, and I am very interested in the subject. I don’t see myself as having the best time management skills in the world, but I can say that I have improved them greatly over the last 10 years. Our day has 24 hours. Everybody has that same 24 hours. We need to organize our time efficiently in order to work, do some physical exercise, go to Church, relax, sleep, socialize with friends, look after our family, and take holidays. Once again, everyday we only have 24 hours. We cannot forget also that our body needs rest, and needs to be fed.

In my opinion, there are three main factors that you should consider when it comes to managing your time efficiently: time organisation, time implementation (good use of time, avoiding wastage) and decision processing and making time. I will try to concentrate my advice on how to best use your time mainly during your working hours in order to increase your work productivity, but I will also mention personal time management a few times, the reason being that your personal life is inextricably connected to your business life. I do not see a way to manage one whilst excluding the other from thought.

Let me start with time organisation. There is no way you can organize your life without also organising your activities. All of us have daily, weekly, monthly and sporadic activities. We also need to know how long each of these activities takes. For this reason it is important to organize our calendar in advance, to avoid interruption or surprise. These will inevitably happen, but we should try to minimize the number of surprises as much as we can. There is no excuse for not having and using a digital calendar. I remember many years ago when we had to buy a hard copy calendar and write down all of our activities and commitments with a pen. We also needed to have a separate list of contacts in a contact list book. Nowadays, any smartphone comes with a calendar, a digital watch and a digital contact list. We also have ways to make and store notes in our mobile phones, to make our lives even easier. The problem is that not all of us use these features as we should. Let me give you an example, and explain how I manage my weekly activities:

During the week

8 hours’ sleep

3 meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) – One hour each, total 3 hours

10 hours’ work

1 hour personal hygiene (teeth brushing, shower and toilet)

Total: 22 hours. In this case, I still have 2 hours of reserve time.

I try to use my reserve time as best as I can; I go swimming three times per week for one hour, and I study for 1 hour per day, everyday. Twice per week I use my reserve time for work or social activities.

During the weekend

Saturday – some Saturdays I work for 5 hours. I prefer to write articles on Saturdays, as I am not interrupted by anyone.

Sunday – Church (religious activities) and socialising with friends (time to relax)

What I am trying to explain here is that you need to prepare a list of your most important and essential activities, and organize them on a weekly basis. Stick it up somewhere, and don’t change it too often; alter it as little as possible, only when it is really necessary.

You have started very well. You have an agenda, and your activities are organised there. Now, you need to efficiently implement the activities you have organised. You need to make sure that you avoid wasting your time. You need to find ways to use your time better. What is the distance between where you live, and where you work? How long does it take you to arrive at your workplace? How close is the place were you do your weekly shopping to where you live? How close are your gym and your Church to where you live, or where you work ? You should always try to reduce your journey time as much as you can, as travel time can take up time that should be spent on your important life activities. You don’t deserve this, so you should always try to find ways to improve your time usage and avoid wastage.

Why did I include decision processing and making time as an important factor? It’s simple: we always need to improve our decision-making processes. You could be in a situation in which you have organised your time well, and are implementing your activities as agreed, but yet you have the feeling that things are not really moving forward or progressing as they should, and your small steps are not getting you to your ultimate goal. Have you made all the decisions you should be making, or do you still have 100 more decisions to be made?

The decision making process is time sensitive, and you should have a good understanding of how to improve it. Ideally, you should separate your decisions into three categories: daily operational or common decisions; occasional management decisions; and strategic decisions. The operational decisions are the ones we need to make everyday, and they will not have a huge impact on our personal or business life. Example: What clothes should I wear? What should I eat? What time should I reply to my emails? What time should I have lunch? What time should I have dinner?

These decisions do not have a huge impact on your life. Believe me. You should use automatic decision rules for all of them. You don’t need to spend 20 minutes choosing the clothes you want to wear, plus 1 hour to wear it. Start thinking about the ways you can reduce time wastage, and how you might be able to use your time more efficiently.

Now, occasional management decisions are more important, and they have a medium impact on your business and personal life, because most of the time they are related to relationships. These decisions could be: Should I socialize with this individual? Should I have lunch with one of my employees? Should I change my home electricity provider? Should I organize a social activity for my company? Should I get involved in this social project? Obviously you need to spend a little more time thinking about these decisions in comparison with operational ones, but you also need to make sure that you make the decision quickly. It could take between up to 24 hours to make the decision. Moreover, the decision should be always a YES or NO decision, and never MAYBE. MAYBE is a waste of time. Sometimes, a MAYBE decision will waste not only your time but somebody else’s as well.

The strategic decisions are the most important ones. These are the decisions that could make a huge contribution to achieving your personal and business goals. You need more time to make these kinds of decisions. Examples: applying for a loan; bringing a new partner/investor into your business; selling business assets; buying a new business; implementation of a new product or service; software acquisition.

You need to make sure that you allocate some of your time to each of them. You must avoid the situation of becoming trapped into only making operational and occasional management decisions, and delaying or forgetting about strategic decisions.

Now, let me share a few time management tips that I use in my own work life:

1) Keep a well organised and clean workspace. You must be working in a well organised environment. Let’s start with your table. How many documents do you have on your table now? I hope not many. Ideally, you should keep as little paperwork on your table as possible. You should always organize the documents on your table in order of importance. If they are very important, keep them to your left, if they are not, keep them to your right. Avoid having too many photos or toys on your table, they can pull your concentration away from your work.

2) Keep your eyes on the clock. You should frequently pay attention to what time it is. Many people have a poor awareness of time and the speed at which they work, and because they don’t look at their watch very often, they can miss or be late to appointments.

3) Set reminders on your digital calendar to remind you of your appointments. If you know that you will forget, or be unable to look at your watch, you can also set automatic reminders on your mobile phone. You could automatically remind yourself 10, 15 , 30 or even 60 minutes before your next activity. Don’t forget that sometimes you also need to take travel time into consideration.

4) Be careful of using too many sticky notes. I always use them, but ideally you should only use them in the short-term. You can write anything on a sticky note, but you should destroy them as soon as possible. Never write anything important on a sticky note, and make sure you don’t accumulate them either.

5) Concentrate on one task or process at a time. Let’s say, for instance, that you have three main activities: bookkeeping, accounts payable and receivable, and filling in application forms. You should concentrate on one activity at a time, and not skip from one to another too often. Let’s call the bookkeeping activity (B), accounts payable and receivable (A), and filling in application forms (F).

Let’s analyse two work scenarios:

First : B B B A A A F F F

Second : B A A F B F A A

I am sure that you will be using your time more efficiently in the first work scenario.

6) Create templates for emails and text messages. I am sure that you have many people sending you emails asking the same questions. You should create standard emails and text messages in order to avoid repeatedly writing the same messages to different individuals, or in different situations.

7) Call clients rather than exchanging emails or text messages. I have had situations in which I have exchanged 10 emails with the client in order to resolve an enquiry. You can save a lot of time if you call the client directly in these situations and resolve their enquiry in just one call; it will take 5 minutes of your time, rather than 20 minutes replying to emails.

8) Allocate time specifically to check your marketing progress. Your most important responsibility is to bring new clients and keep the ones you have happy. Make sure that you use 1 hour of your time everyday to follow up with your existing clients and find new ways to attract new clients. Marketing is the single most important activity in your company; you should always make time for it.

9) Always organize your computer files. How many times have you been looking for a computer file, and it took you a long time to find it? Worse than this, have you ever lost some of them? You must organize your computer files as best you can. You can also remove files that are no longer needed. Ideally, you should not need to click more than 3 times to find the specific file that you are looking for.

10) Avoid long meal times. Unless you are having a special meal, such as birthday, Christmas, or a special meal with a special individual, you should keep your meal time to one hour. This is more than enough. Also, you should always respect whoever is taking the meal with you; are they expecting a long meal? Perhaps not.

11) Avoid wasting your team’s time during meetings. Company meetings are very important, but you should structure and plan them in advance, and make sure you send this plan to all the meeting participants, explaining what will be discussed during the meeting. Make sure someone also takes minutes of the meeting. If you feel that the meeting is going nowhere, stop it and book one for another day. You can also do this if people are not properly prepared for the meeting. Have you thought to calculate how much each company meeting costs? Please do this, you will be surprised.

12) Emails and phone calls. I would advise you to avoid spending all day behind your computer replying to emails. You should re-educate yourself. You could allocate three 30 minute slots to replying to your emails during the day. Ideally, you should reply to your emails before everybody else starts working, half an hour after lunch, and half an hour before you finish your work day. If you are personally dealing with clients during the day, return your calls at the end of the day and not between seeing clients. You can also leave a message for your clients explaining to them that all calls will be returned at the end of the day – but if you promise this, do it.

13) Make notes if an idea comes to your mind and you believe it might disappear – don’t forget to follow up. How many times have you been walking with your dog and a new idea entered your mind, and you got excited? They come to me all the time. I would recommend that you write a note on your mobile and follow up on your notes at least once a week. This way, you will feel more comfortable and more relaxed doing something else.

14) Be careful of time wasters. Always remember that, unhappily, there will be people who will not bring anything worthwhile to you, and will only waste your time. Think carefully about people who you have met many times and have never given you anything. I am not saying that all people should give something to you, but life is a cycle of paying forward and paying back. You should always give first, and never expect anything in return, but if you are only giving, giving, and giving to a particular individual, and they have never given you anything you believe is worthwhile, then think about removing this person from your contact list. There is another name for these time wasters: energy vampires.

15) Don’t waste other people’s time. People hate when you waste their time. You don’t like it either. If you promise something, please, do it. Make a note of any promise you have made, to avoid forgetting it. If someone asks you something, please, say yes or no. If you need time to think before you can answer, please explain this to the individuals waiting on your answer. Make sure that in any email you send to someone you don’t copy in other people who have nothing to do with the email content.

16) Make time to help people. You should always find time to help people. This is what makes life interesting. Make sure you send a positive message to at least 5 people close to you. If you give your time to someone, I am sure that your time will also be saved in the future. Trust me.

17) Install a calendar system, and use it. If you don’t have an integrated calendar and email system with tasks and notes, I would advise you to get one. Try Outlook from Microsoft; I have been using for 10 years, and it is very easy to use.

18) Be careful of social media and other distractions. You must exercise tight control over how much of your time you dedicate to social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and other similar sites. They are very good for socialising, but please avoid spending a long time on seeing what your neighbour is up to. Do you really think it is important, honestly? I always ask a question before I click on anything I see on Facebook: Am I getting something from this that will be worthwhile for my personal development? If yes, I click, if not, I don’t.

19) Contract a personal assistant. If you are in a situation where you have dozens of calls to be taken and to be returned, and countless emails to be replied to and sent, I would definitely advise you to contract a personal assistant.

20) Continuous improvement programme for your time management. Make sure you always find ways to improve the way you use your time. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but I promise you, you will be more satisfied, relaxed and less stressed in the end.




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