As we approach the end of the first month of the year how are you progressing with your objectives and goals? The chances are you started off the year with great expectations of all the things you wanted to achieve in the first quarter of the year, but one or two things have not gone to plan.

Many of us find ourselves in the situation where we want and need to be more productive – in fact I don’t think I have met anyone in the last 3 years who has not remarked that they have to achieve more with fewer resources.

One of the people I know is constantly researching and applying tips to be more productive is Keith Bohanna. We met several years ago and while we don’t see each other often, I know that this is a passion for him.

Late last year I noted Keith was offering ‘taster workshop’ on the subject of productivity – something he does along side his consulting assignments and his postion as Chair of the Irish Internet Association.

So I thought who better to share with us tips to ensure that we keep the achievement of our goals on track by increasing our productivity. Here are the questions I asked Keith and his responses.

Krishna: One of the challenges many of us have is the issue of email overload. Can you share with us tips to manage or email inbox more effectively?

Keith: Here are four actions you can take immediately.

1. Close your email client and only check from hourly to twice a day. It’s not urgent, no one will notice. Except you – because you will become a lot more focused on your work.

2. Create ‘rules’ for your email folders. If you are in a corporate environment consider an inbox rule which automatically moves into a folder all emails in which you ar receiving copies of emails (where you are included as a ‘cc’). Follow this tip for a month and see if you miss anything important to getting your job done.

3. Use an alternative tool to email. Consider introducing a tool such as Chatter (from Salesforce) or Yammer. They are highly effective for the non-urgent, random, “water cooler” and group list emails from others within your business or organisation. For smaller groups or sole traders you could use these tools for projects that you collaborate on with others.

4. Read each email once and immediately decide what to do with it. That means actually reading it. Slowly. Not skimming over it and hoping the contents get magically “absorbed” into your head. The decision should be:
a) it needs action – move the email into your project/to-do system
b) no action required – delete or archive the email
c) reference – move the email into your reference system.

Krishna: With many people using social media as part of their communications tool kit, what recommendations do you have to ensure that people manage their time effectively in these chanels?

Keith: Social media platforms can be managed effectively and here are three recommendations for you.

1. Make good use of your smart phone. Take the opportunity to install social media applications on your phone and use the periods you have ‘down time’ for the casual interactions.

2. Use tools to manage online mentions. Be methodical around monitoring mentions of your business or brand by using free tools (for example Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are two popular tools) and do so two or three times a day. Once you are happy you have set the search terms, this will save you time.

3. Establish your social media goals. Have clear objectives for your use of social media (unless it is purely personal or useed for peer to peer contact). Record those measures and track them weekly and monthly.

Krishna: Many people communte to work or travel a lot for business meetings. Can you share with us tips to stay productive when travelling?

Keith: I travel for business and and I find these tips help.

1. Use Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) email and not Post Office Protocol (POP). With POP you may read and sort all your new mail on your mobile device, but when you log back into your computer you will be presented with a full inbox of unread messages that you have to re-read and re-organise. This can be very frustrating. You will need to speak to your IT department (or if you are a solo preneur speak to your IT savvy friends) to put this into practice. If you use Gmail you can find out more details here.

2. Get in sync. You need all of your contacts, calendar and key documents to be identical or able to be accessed on every working device you have. Evernote and Dropbox lead the field here with their ability to keep everything you need accessible to you everywhere and without thinking or active effort – thats the important bit here!

3. Make use of your ‘down time’. Whether you are travelling by train, plane or car, you can take the opportunity to do tasks which you do not need to be in the office to undertake. For example, doing a review of your projects is perfect for a train or plane where you have minimal interruptions and a chance to focus. In your car listen to podcast materials relevant to your work or of interest to you.

Krishna: Can you recommended resources or applications to help us be more productive?

Keith: There are a large number of apps and services which can help you – which you choose will depend on your personal circumstances.

1. For Outlook users consider Getting Things Done® Outlook® Add-In by Netcentrics – it layers GTD functionality over the usual Outlook interface. Getting Things Done (or GTD) is a productivity approach pioneered by David Allen.

2. For Gmail users I recommend you try Active Inbox – it is a free plugin that installs into Chrome and Firefox, which helps you manage your email tasks and projects supporting the Getting Things Done appoach.

3. For a tool independent of your email client check out Remember The Milk. It is a free task manager application and a firm favorite in the ‘ThinkProductive’ office and runs across apps on all platforms for example Apple, Android and Blackberry.

Krishna: You have shared thirteen great tipsso perhaps you can share a fourteenth tip for those readers who prefer even numbers! Can you share a bonus tip of something that you are working on to help you be even more productive in 2012?

Keith: My final tip is all about Focus. It is not about ‘doing stuff’ (and definitely not about compiling lists of things to do).

The secret to making 2012 great for us all is to ‘pull up’ out of the day-to-day and give ourselves time to get clear on the key projects that will make a real difference.

Once you have identified those projects, then you can start to shift your ‘day-to-day activities’ to favour those projects. Even if you cannot do so immediately, you should make significant progress over a couple of months.

I do hope these tips help you be more productive in 2012. Thank you Krishna for the invitation to share these tips with you and hope they go some way to making 2012 more enjoyable for your readers!