Inc. Magazine had a very good article on how to improve productivity, based on the characteristics of successful people. The characteristics of these productive people were:
- They have a life. Taking breaks to do non-work things gives one a chance to refresh and exposes you to new problems and solutions that can be used in the work environment.
- They take breaks. Constant work depletes ones mental capabilities. Periodic breaks in long projects gives you a chance to refresh the mind and body.
- They have worked in different industries. Variety in work experience may allow one to bring proven techniques from one industry to problems in another industry.
- They have great outside collaborators. Once again, networking is critically important. These friends bring fresh ideas to problems and may lead to quicker solutions.
All of this is good advice, but I thought I would share a few of my own tips:
- One-hour meetings. I rarely have meetings for more than one hour. Most adults cannot maintain focus for more than an hour. If properly prepared with documents circulated in advance, 95 percent of matters can be well discussed and solutions arrived at in an hour.
- Do important things at your best time of the day. Most of us have a biorhythm that makes us an early morning person or a night owl. Learn which you are and do the most demanding tasks during the best period of the day for you.
- Understand if you should be listening or talking. In most interactions I try to initially set up the purpose of the call/meeting so the time is effectively used and then I basically listen. Give people a chance to talk after setting the objectives and things move more quickly.
- State the solution first. Most people give way too much background in person before they present the solution. Present the solution and then two or three bullet points to support the conclusion. Most people have a lot of background on the matter discussed and can quickly determine if the proposed solution is correct. If the matter is very complex send a short memo or email in advance that outlines the complexity but remember to state your conclusion. You may be able to skip the meeting if the conclusion is accepted based on the writing.
- Learn to write. Many people are afraid of writing and consequently lose a lot of time preparing to write. Remember this simple rule:
- Tell them what you are going to say
- Say it
- Tell them what you said
Put the energy and time into outlining what you are going to say (the first part of the rule). It's easy to write after you outline the topics.
I do not pretend to be a productivity expert, but I have a fairly full schedule between OLPC, consulting, teaching, blogging, book writing, 3-4 workshops and speeches per month and the 4-5 startups and students I typically mentor. In the fall it will be a bit busier when I start teaching a second course at FIU. Always be working on techniques to be more productive. That may be the best tip I can offer.
Image credit: followsteph.com