What sets truly productive people apart from their counterparts is not working more, it is working smarter. In this post, I want to highlight the difference a simple list can make on your productivity.

If you are anything like me, you have a lot of “dead time” in your schedule. Ten minutes waiting here, five minutes there or maybe even a 15 minute block when waiting for someone. How you spend these, seemingly utterly unproductive short blocks of time, can make a world of difference.

Five minutes isn’t that short. You have more time than you think to get some small task done, which you then don’t have to do later. Don’t feel pressure to complete everything though. Even if it is just one email, or a quick phone call, you will have reduced the time required to tackle this later on, freeing up time for something better and more enjoyable.

What can you do in these short blocks of time? The most obvious is get some email done, but other useful things include reading, communication in general (social media, phone calls and of course email), writing a blog post, networking (check in with friends or connections), do some project planning, take a walk (refresh your head) or start doing some research.

Of course, doing work in these small blocks of time is not always the best things. Note that taking a walk was on my list of things to do. It is important to take breaks and to refresh and enjoy yourself. Without energy, you are going nowhere.

The key to being able to do either of these items though is having a list of what to do. When you find yourself having an extra five minutes, you need to be able to pull out the list and tackle an item. If you need to think about how you might best spend your time, you have used it before you have your answer. Just pull out the list, start with an item and you’ll be surprised at how much more you get done during the day, without working many more hours.

Procrastination. This is something I battle with every day. I know that I am not alone either. Student or professional. Consultant or employee. Manager or not. It is hard to stay focused when we generally want to.

I am convinced that part of the problem with productivity is that we tend to mix environments. When was the last time you lay in bed really early with your laptop for a few hours before going to bed. How easy was it to fall asleep and actually go to bed when the time came? Not so easy, right?

We can learn from this. By designating workspaces, we can achieve separation from focus areas and therefore gain better focus. Make your bed mainly a place for relaxation, not work. That way, when you go lie down in your bed, you are all about relaxing. Make your desk a place for work and try not to eat there or fall into unproductive habits.

If you, like me, both study and work, I have found much benefit in separating work and schoolwork by actually having an office for work and not doing schoolwork there. It’s the little things that help shape the day. When I’m in the office, I’m working. When I am “at home”, I don’t (as much).

My advice to you. Try it. Make home all about relaxing and make a designated work area all about work. You will feel better and less stressed, your relationships will also be better, and, you can be sure to reduce procrastination by a little bit.

Some people mock planning saying that planning just takes time and doesn’t add value, but creates a plan, a guess, up front which you then need to stick to. I disagree, at least in part.

Planning is very valuable. Ask any senior manager in any company and they will say that there is a lack of people who can plan their work and communicate it clearly, weather to colleagues or customers. However, the value is not in the end result, in the document that is the plan. Rather, the planning process itself is where the value is.

By planning, you get to think through what you want to do and how you are going to get there. Through thinking, you realize any eventual problems and can evaluate weather you need to address them right away, take a different route around them, or just keep them in the back of your mind. When (or if) you hit them, you will at least be aware of them and can act better and faster.

Even though you might not necessarily always keep to the plan, the process makes up for it. As long as you then clearly communicate with other stakeholders in your project what is happening, you may deviate from the plan if it makes more sense. Communication and planning goes hand in hand and makes for happier coworkers and customers.

In conclusion, in every time of scenario where any type of planning is involved, it is the process that creates the real value for you, where you get to think through the project or the task ahead of time. Every hour of planning as they say, are returned several-fold over the course of any project.

We all have our own way of reading news and keeping up with the latest in our industry and interest fields. I used to subscribe to tons of different sites in my RSS feed, until I noticed that it became far too much to deal with and it just sat there and gathered unread articles. You too? Thanks to the iPad and the Flipboard app, I now read more than I used to and don’t have to put up with the bad feeling of 1000s of unread items.

The select few sites that I want to subscribe to are placed in Google Reader. This makes for a solution that works in Flipboard but will be easily migrated if something better comes along, or if I can’t use Flipboard. Thanks to Flipboard I don’t actually have to read every article but can skim over the ones I like. This is what saves me time.

I know this is very iPad-focused, but it is my workflow for news and I suggest it to anyone that has an iPad, although it might just work fine for the iPhone too, given that Flipboard does have an iPhone app.

Gmail Priority Inbox
The new Priority Inbox for Gmail

Throughout the week, Google has been rolling out its newest Gmail feature, Priority Inbox. This is basically a replacement for your regular inbox and will help you to read the mail you need, faster. To do this it relies on an algorithm that over time is trained to recognize the important email after starting with only a couple ones that you help it define.

I haven’t had the time to play with this a lot since I saw it popping up in my Google Apps account the other day so I will continue to play around with it for a while before posting my full thoughts on it. Before I do, check out the very slick video that Google made, after the break.

In the meantime though, I am interested if you have started to use it and what you think?

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