Welcome to our third challenge. This is a 5-day series where you a small task to do every day. Each day’s task will take you closer to achieving a larger goal.

 

Day 1

Today’s task: Define what you use to stay productive

What to do:

Make a list of the tools you use to stay productive. Perhaps you have a master To Do list, or you use Trello, or capture everything in an electronic notes app. Or several of those.

I’m thinking that you might have more than one – I do.

Why:

It’s worth doing an audit of the productivity tools you use because sometimes they are stopping us from being productive after all. Tomorrow we’ll look at the list and see what streamlining you could do.

 

Day 2

Today’s task: Audit your productivity tools

What to do:

Go through the list you made yesterday and see if there are any “savings” to be made. For example, I use a notebook, my diary, my inbox, my PM software and an Excel action log. I’m trying to standardise to ditching the Excel action log and doing everything in Triskell, the tool we use at work. I’m trying to rely less on my notebook for task management and put everything in my diary instead. I’ll keep the notebook for taking notes and doodling ideas etc, but not for daily task management.

Why:

Because too many tools make us less productive, not more. Even doing the thinking around this will help you end up using them more efficiently, even if you choose not to take any tools away. That’s fine – we use different tools for different things. But if you aren’t consciously using them, you’ll find that their application overlaps and you aren’t benefiting as much as you could.

So, do a quick audit every so often to ensure they are still working for you.

Day 3

Today’s task: Tackle your inbox

What to do:

You have several choices with incoming emails: action them, keep them for reference as they relate to something important (e.g. a project decision) or delete them. That’s it.

Pick 50 emails and delete/file/action them today.

When I say file, you can drag and drop an email from Outlook (and probably from other systems) and put them in your normal document storage folder. For project decisions, for example, or copies of budget-related emails, I drag and drop them to the relevant project folder, then I can delete the original. This is great if the original came with a massive file attachment, as it also saves disk space in your inbox.

If 50 seems unreasonable, do 30 or even 10.

Why:

Inbox overwhelm is real. Try to get into the habit of actioning, deleting or filing emails as they come in, or put aside some time each week/day to get them out of your inbox. It’s truly a case of out of sight, out of mind.

 

Day 4

Today’s task: Cancel a meeting or decline attending

What to do:

Go through your calendar. Review your upcoming meetings and make some choices!

If you are hosting the meeting and feel you can manage without it, then cancel it. This is a good thing to do for recurring project team meetings. If you’ve met with everyone for other reasons, and have little to update, don’t make people come to a meeting for the sake of it.

If you are supposed to attend a meeting and don’t have time or don’t think you can add value, or you can provide a contribution in another format e.g. send in written comments in advance, or you can delegate to someone else… then decline the meeting.

It’s OK. The world won’t end. You don’t have to go to every meeting you are invited to. It’s in your power to decline. You are in charge of your calendar.

Obviously don’t decline if it’s a meeting organised by your project sponsor or some other senior exec has requested your presence. But for everything else, consider if you are really required or whether you are simply going because someone who didn’t know better asked you to.

Why:

Your calendar is your own. Protect it fiercely. You can’t be productive if you are in meetings all day. So don’t be in too many meetings and be selective about the ones you attend.

This might feel out of your comfort zone, especially if you have an office culture where no one declines meetings ever. Start with one of your own meetings then, something you can manage without. That’s an easier way to ease into protecting your time so you can actually do some work.

Day 5

It’s Friday and we’re on the last day of the Productivity challenge. It might not feel like you’ve made massive steps to getting super productive, but hopefully this week will give you some food for thought to allow you to consider longer term shifts in your mindset and habits.

Today’s task: Plan for next week

What to do:

Take 20 minutes and plan what’s happening next week. You’ll be more productive if you can start the week winning!

Look at:

  • What meetings are happening and what you need to prepare in advance for them
  • Where you are going to be – if you have work travel to do, have you organised the journeys you need?
  • Personal commitments – be clear about the times you need to keep free for school drop offs, personal appointments etc. When I don’t overlay my personal calendar with my work one I always seem to double-book myself

There are more some suggestions in this article:

How to get ready for next week

Why:

Organisation is the key to productivity. The more you can feel organised, the easier it will be to start the week and get some quick wins done.

I try to note down the major things I need to achieve each week and make sure I have time on my calendar to do them. When I know what they are, I can prioritise them, and keep my projects moving forward.

That brings us to the end of the challenge! I hope you’ve had a fun week and feel like productivity is within your grasp.