Over the last few years of writing this blog and recording my podcast, I’ve repeated myself more than a few times.
In this post, I’d like to consolidate all the most common advice I seem to keep repeating into one place. I’ve included lots of links below in case you’d like to learn more about any of these ideas.
Don't want to read this post? Listen to the podcast instead:
This episode of the Paul Minors Podcast is sponsored by TextExpander.
- 1. Block out time for tasks on your calendar
- 2. Archive your email (email is not a todo list)
- 3. Stop switching tools
- 4. Do what works for you (and stop comparing yourself to others)
- 5. Sleep lots, exercise often and eat well
- 6. Learn how to automate things
- 7. Learn as many keyboard shortcuts as you can
- 8. Build discipline to overcome procrastination
- 9. Organise in “real-time” (instead of catching up later)
- 10. To get more done, have less to do
- 11. Follow “just in time learning”
- 12. Set your future self up for success
1. Block out time for tasks on your calendar
I seem to talk about this all the time, so let’s get it out of the way first. Time blocking is the most useful method I know to plan your time. It helps you to take all your tasks and actually plan WHEN you’re going to do them, down to the hour (this is why I rarely struggled with procrastination).
It’s quite an involved way of planning your time and requires a bit of extra effort, which is exactly why it works. You have to think. You have to be intentional.
While it seems like a very strict system, it’s actually very flexible. As I’ve said many times before, I keep my calendar in view at all times on my MacBook screen to the right of my primary display. This allows me to quickly change and update my plan throughout the day.
2. Archive your email (email is not a todo list)
It still amazes me how many people DON’T do this.
The premise is simple. When you’re done processing an email, archive it. Even if you’re waiting for a reply. Archiving is not the same as deleting. Archiving simply means the message is no longer in your inbox.
This helps to make your inbox a lot less overwhelming and easier to focus on new or important messages you still need to process.
3. Stop switching tools
A lot of people think the solution to their productivity problems is to find a better task management tool or email application.
I hear from people all the time who have tried countless different apps but nothing quite worked the way they want. Let me save you some time… The perfect email/notes/calendar tool doesn’t exist. Each one has their pros and cons but at some point, you need to find a system of tools that works well for you and stop trying every shiny new app that gets released.
I’ve been using the same tools for years now. Occasionally, I’ll make a change (like when I switched from Evernote to Apple Notes) but I think very carefully before I do to make sure it’s worth learning something new.
4. Do what works for you (and stop comparing yourself to others)
Along the same lines, stop trying to copy other people. Everyone’s work is different and the tools and process you use to manage your work is likely to be different as well.
My advice… look at what other people do and incorporate the bits that you like into your own system.
5. Sleep lots, exercise often and eat well
I’ve talked before about how sleep, diet and exercise are “productivity multipliers”. Meaning if you keep everything else unchanged and you improve these three things, you’ll notice an improvement to your focus and output.
CTT: Keeping everything else unchanged, optimising these three “productivity multipliers”, will drastically increase your focus, efficiency and output with no other changes to your routine or productivity systems required.
It’s pretty simple:
- Go to bed around the same time each night and aim for 7-8 hours minimum. Getting good sleep should be a non-negotiable.
- Exercise 4–5 times per week. Run, walk, swim, cycle, lift weights, join a class, play a sport. There’s no hard and fast rule. Just move your body in a variety of ways and get a good mix of cardio and strength work in.
- “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much” – i.e. Eat whole food and avoid processed foods. Eat lots of fruit and veg and not too much meat or dairy (a bit is fine). And don't stuff yourself at each meal.
6. Learn how to automate things
Whatever you do, I bet there are dozens of little things you do each day that a computer could do for you.
My business wouldn’t be where it is today without the automation that I have in place. I save dozens of hours each week by using tools like Zapier, Hazel, Keyboard Maestro and Alfred. These tools are like little robots that do things for me and make my life easier.
Learn how to use these tools and it’s amazing what you can achieve.
» Keyboard Maestro field guide by Mac Sparky (I’ve purchased this and can vouch for it)
» Hazel field guide by Mac Sparky
7. Learn as many keyboard shortcuts as you can
An easy way to do things faster on your computer is to learn as many keyboard shortcuts as you can. Your goal should be to touch the mouse as little as possible.
Recently I started using Keyboard Maestro to string together a series of shortcuts so I can execute a series of steps with a few buttons.
I also highly recommend TextExpander (affiliate link) for spitting out blocks of text for things like email templates and saved links.
» Sign up to TextExpander with my affiliate link to save 20% on your purchase
8. Build discipline to overcome procrastination
A huge part of good productivity comes down to personal discipline, plain and simple. When I hear from people who struggle with procrastination, they often turn to website blocking tools so they can’t go on sites like Facebook during work hours. To me, this feels like putting a bandage on the problem. Instead, focus on building self-control and solve the problem at the source.
Again, this is why time blocking (mentioned above) is so powerful. By creating a clear plan of when you’re going to do things, it’s harder to procrastinate.
9. Organise in “real-time” (instead of catching up later)
When it comes to organising email, tasks, your calendar, files or notes, a lot of people wait until the end of the day or week to “clean up” their stuff. This creates situations where your calendar or your todo list is out of sync. It’s not up to date and so it looses some of its value.
Instead, keep things organised in “real time”. For example, when you download an email attachment, decide if you’d like to keep it (if so, file it away) or delete it. Don’t just leave it on your Desktop.
What many people don’t realise is that taking the extra time to be organised now improves your efficiency later on.
10. To get more done, have less to do
Instead of being “busy” with lots of little things that have a small impact, you should be focussing your time and attention on the one big thing that’s going to have the biggest impact on your goals.
Often I’ll spend time on things that I later realise were a complete waste of time. Now my goal is to try and catch myself before I do something so I can put my energy to better use or not work at all.
11. Follow “just in time learning”
In today's fast-moving world, there’s an overwhelming amount of new books, articles, email newsletters, videos and online courses out there.
We often consume this content to trick ourselves into feeling productive when really we’re using it to put off more difficult tasks.
Instead, you should follow a “just in time” approach to learning and only read a book or take a course if you have a need to do so. For example, I just signed up to Brennan Dunns new ConvertKit course because I’ve just started using this platform and I’d like to learn how to take advantage of the tool.
12. Set your future self up for success
I like to “set myself up for success” as much as I can. For example:
- I keep good notes about the clients I’m working with so I know where each one is at and what I need to do next. This means it’s faster to pick up where I left off without having to dig through emails or refresh my memory.
- For recurring work and tasks that I have to do on a weekly or monthly basis, I include instructions on what to do and useful links so it’s easier to follow the same process each time.
- At the end of each day, I review all my tasks for tomorrow and set them up in the order I’m going to do them so that in the morning I can get started on the first one without any input needed.
What have I missed from this list? What productivity advice do you follow that I haven’t included, leave me a comment below!