Wouldn’t it have been nice if time management and productivity were 400-level courses you could have signed up for during your senior year of business school? How cool would it have been to practice dealing with the ongoing stress of balancing work and personal life through a piece of simulation software as part of your final thesis or capstone project before graduation?
The reality is that productivity is not a set of hard skills that can be taught in a classroom over the course of a semester, and there is no standardized way to manage one’s time. As marketers, we face a different set of challenges every day of the week. We pride ourselves on our ability to master long task lists and aren’t against working in to the wee hours of the night if it means winning for our clients.
The December issue of Fast Company attempts to shine some light on the ever-changing landscape of time management and productivity in the business world. Everyone works differently and, therefore, has a different approach to maximizing their time on the clock. While there is no magic bullet, there are recurring themes emerging from the 10 profiles of business leaders presented in The Art of Doing Everything.
In today’s digital age it’s easy to get tangled up in technological aids and productivity apps, but there’s something to be said for a good old fashioned list.
Aaron Levie (CEO, Box) confesses, “I’m a little ADD, so I have one sheet of paper called ’50 Things.’ It’s a list of all the important initiatives, tasks and projects at the company. It sounds very 1980s, but it folds nicely; you can put it in any kind of pocket! Ninety-nine percent of my life is digital, but this is my low-tech way of staying focused.”
If you insist on keeping it digital (or you’re tired of being made fun of for your analog habits) you can’t beat the simple design of Workflowy. Even large projects — like creating a market research survey — can be captured by breaking it down into sub-bullets, such as stating the goal of the survey, defining the target audience, writing the survey, pretesting the questions, editing the questions, distributing the survey and analyzing the results.
As they say, “Make lists, not war.”
Working out becomes increasingly more important as you age. Gone are the days of binge workouts to get ready for spring break and recurring failed New Year’s resolutions. Your body needs a routine source of aerobic activity. If you don’t work out regularly, this is a lifestyle change to consider making immediately. Just like eating breakfast and taking showers, working out can become part of your daily regimen.
In “6 Ways to Train Your Brain”, UCLA neuroscientist Fernando Gomez-Pinilla reminds us that our brain is connected to our muscles and that aerobic exercise — five times a week for 30 minutes — increases electrical activity in the brain and helps it process information faster.
There is no silver bullet here and everyone’s body is different, so experiment to figure out what works for you. Start small (a brisk walk) and build on that slowly over time. Do some online research to decide what activities are best for you, discuss your new goals with friends for both support and advice and consider hiring a personal trainer to keep you on task.
This goes hand-in-hand with exercise. This tip is not news to you either; you’ve been hearing this advice since health and PE class in middle school. Eat out less (especially over lunch), keep healthy snacks in your drawer at the office (fruits, nuts and veggies) and eat slowly so you know when you’re full.
Again quoting “6 Ways to Train Your Brain,” “Your neurons are made up of many things, including omega-3 fatty acids, so reach for nuts, flaxseeds and, most of all, fatty fish such as salmon, which contain more omega-3s than any other food. And since, like the fender of a car, your brain can get oxidized (it’s called oxidative stress), seek out antioxidants, found in dark fruits and veggies.
Science has proven that multitasking is really just rapid task-switching. Instead of increasing productivity by completing two things at once, switching back and forth uses up more energy and attention than completing them individually and sequentially. Rid your work environment of as many distractions as you can and find workarounds for those that you can’t so you can “get in the zone” and stay there until your work is complete.
Stop Facebooking on the company dime. Stop writing emails during meetings (double whammy: that’s also rude). And stop flipping back-and-forth to compile tasks for multiple client campaigns at the same time.
Need help? If Workflowy’s simplicity bores you, consider using Carrot, “the checklist with attitude”, to turn completing tasks into a game. LeechBlock (a Firefox extension) blocks user-specified sites. Nanny for Chrome allows users to set time limits on their usage of particular websites, or set times for certain websites to be completely unavailable. SelfControl (for Mac) blocks access to incoming and/or outgoing mail servers and websites for a predetermined period of time, while AwayFind halts email notifications except for ones that include senders and keywords you designate as urgent.
What’s your best productivity trick, app or advice?
Image credit: Flickr