Productivity is an oft-repeated word by pretty much anyone in the business world (and most outside of it). We all strive to become more productive, yet we tend to find ourselves all but repeating the procrastinator’s rallying cry: “Procrastinators unite! Tomorrow…”
There are, however, solid and proven ways to increase one’s productivity, and these habits and methods are well worth incorporating into your routine. So without further ado, here is a list of the top 5 ways to supercharge your productivity:
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard applicants in job interviews say that they are good at multitasking. Each time I do, my ears perk up, and I become concerned. You see, a lot of people think they are good a multitasking, and even more than that, they try to be good at it. But quite frankly, there is simply no such thing as multitasking. As Gary Keller notes in his book The ONE Thing:
“Every time we try to do two or more things at once, we’re simply dividing up our focus and dumbing down all of the outcomes in the process. [And to] bounce between one activity and another you lose time as your brain reorients to the new task. Those milliseconds add up. Researchers estimate that we lose 28 percent of an average workday to multitasking ineffectiveness” (Keller 50).
For its part, Wikipedia agrees, “Since the 1990s, experimental psychologists have started experiments on the nature and limits of human multitasking. It has been shown multitasking is not as workable as concentrated times.” And furthermore that “Many researchers believe that action planning represents a ‘bottleneck,’ which the human brain can only perform one task at a time. Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell has gone so far as to describe multitasking as a ‘mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one.'”
The solution is, of course, to single-task. This may sound simple, but it’s amazing how tempting the Siren of multitasking can be. Make it a priority to focus on only one thing at a time and fight the urge to switch to something else when you hit a bit of a roadblock in whatever you are currently working on. I went so far as to put a “single-task” sticky note on the bottom of my computer screen. And when I’ve been able to single-task consistently, it has significantly aided my productivity.
2. Weekly Goals
Much of becoming more productive involves fighting off the various temptations of procrastination. One such temptation is the “looking busy” temptation. “Hey, I just responded to 30 junk emails, so I must have been productive.”
But as the great John Wooden once said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”
Short-term goals help us clarify what we actually need to achieve so we actually perform what needs to be done. It could be something specific such as “analyze and make offer on the Gladstone Apartments,” or it could be just keeping to a routine such as “work out five times this week.”
Now a quick aside: Long-term goals are great too, but there is a tendency for the time it takes to complete a project to expand to meet the amount of time you allotted to that project in the first place. This article is about productivity, so the focus is on short-term goals to keep you on task.
And there is good evidence this works, particularly when you write it down in a place you will consistently see and review.
A study from Dominican University contrasting people who wrote their goals down versus those that who thought about them concluded:
“The positive effect of written goals was supported: Those who wrote their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write their goals” (Dominican University 6.44 to 4.28).
3. Pareto’s Principal and Avoiding Quadrant 3 and 4
Yes, all those words actually mean something, and they work together.
Pareto’s principal is also known as the 80/20 rule. Or in other words, it states that 80 percent of your results will come from 20 percent of your work. And furthermore, 64 percent of your results will come from just four percent of your work, and so on.
This principal has been shown to work in all sorts of things, from company sales (i.e. 80 percent of your sales come from 20 percent of your customers) to even several criminology studies.
So how do you figure out what activity falls into the 20 percent and what falls into the 80? I believe the best method is through the prism Stephen Covey laid out in his great book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Namely, he divides activities into four groups:
Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important
Quadrant 2: Not Urgent But Important
Quadrant 3: Urgent But Not Important
Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important
Much of his discussion is about Quadrant 2 and how easy it is to ignore. But here I want to focus on isolating what activities you consistently do that fall into Quadrant 3 and 4. Candy Crush and junk email fall into Quadrant 4, but Quadrant 3 can be more deceptive. Quadrant 3 is the one to look out for. Yes, it may feel urgent to go look at that deal that wholesaler has been hounding you about, but given you’re almost certain it’s junk, it really isn’t important.
One good way to evaluate this is to keep track of your daily activities for a week on a time card of sorts. Then review this at the end of the week and try to isolate the activities that really were important and those that were just busy work.
Furthermore, it’s a good idea to ask yourself, “How can I cut down the amount of time some of these simple things take?” For example, Ari Meisel, in his book Less Doing, More Living goes through countless ways to expedite the little hassles of life. One example he gave in an interview was:
“The average number of steps required to pay a bill is 27 […] That may sound crazy… If I asked you right now, ‘How do you pay a bill?’ you would probably just tell me ‘Oh well, I just go to the bank website and pay it and that’s it.’ And you have like three things that you do, but the truth is it’s more than that. You go to the banking website, you login, you go to the payee website, is the payee already there? If they are not, you have to add them. And this is the process for adding them. This is the account you like to use, this is the date you like to send them. So on and so forth and it very quickly get to 27 steps.”
Proactively reviewing things like this and trying to create systems to reduce the amount of steps and thereby time they take can drastically increase productivity. This is true for the routine as well as more complicated tasks.
4. Getting Things Done
In one of the most cited articles of all time, George Miller noted that:
“Everybody knows that there is a finite span of immediate memory and that for a lot of different kinds of test materials this span is about seven items in length.”
In other words, you can remember keep about seven different things in your head at once. David Allen found that this had a profound impact on modern life. As he notes:
“A basic truism I have discovered over twenty years of coaching and training is that most of the stress people experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept” (Allen 12).
That quote comes from Allen’s book Getting Things Done, which is the same name as his system for properly managing commitments and creating a “mind like water” that responds “totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input.”
I highly recommend his system and have written a full article on how real estate investors can adapt it here.
OK, let’s delve into some economics. This passage comes from Macroeconomics: Private and Public Choice:
“Consider the situation of an attorney who can type 120 words per minute. The attorney is trying to decide whether to hire a secretary, who only types 60 words per minute, to complete some legal documents. If the lawyer does the typing job, it will take four hours; if a secretary is hired, the typing job will take eight hours. Thus the lawyer has an absolute advantage in typing compare to the prospective employee. However, the attorney’s time is worth $50 per hour when working as a lawyer, whereas the typist’s time is worth $5 per house as a typist… Thus the lawyer’s comparative advantage lies in practicing law [and]the lawyer will gain gain by hiring the typist and spending the additional time specializing in [law]” (McPherson 27-28).
This is the Law of Comparative Advantage, and it puts the lie to an old adage that “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”
Not if you want to become wealthy.
Learning to let go and delegate is critical to growing your business and increasing your productivity. This could mean hiring an employee or perhaps getting a virtual assistant from a site such as Upwork for either business or even just for helping you with personal tasks. Or it could be done by granting an employee or partner more authority. If it’s about giving more authority to someone, this comes with risk, but also a huge upside. Yes, you will need to train and then monitor them, but if you can teach them to do part of what you are doing, you’ve basically replicated yourself.
And what could be more productive than that?
Two more quick bonus ideas:
- Speed Reading: I would recommend trying this as it’s at least doubled my reading speed, although it doesn’t really work with reading off computer monitors. Tim Ferris’s rundown is a really good place to start.
- Minimalism: Too much stuff of the physical variety just gets in the way in my opinion. The less stuff you try to get, the more time you can spend worrying (or better yet, just thinking) about more important things– and the more money you’ll have to spend on real, worthwhile investments. In my judgement, minimalism is a much better way to go than stuffism. They say a cluttered desk reflects a cluttered mind. I think a cluttered house or closet or whatever probably reflects the same.
Now go out and be productive!
Which of these methods do you use? Anything you’d add to the list?
Be sure to comment below!