Upgrade Your Productivity Systems in 3 Steps

Photo by Clint Patterson on Unsplash

It’s been quite the rollercoaster the last year and a half or so. I’m starting to feel a new feeling of normalcy in the abnormal. I’m noticing a general feeling of wanting to feel productive with intention and to finally get some stuff off my plate that’s been there too long.

If you’re like me, you likely procrastinate on the big stuff, doing things that are easy but not very important, then you feel like you’re wasting time and not making progress.

While procrastination isn’t always bad (Effective Procrastination), it is usually a sign that I need to evaluate the tools and systems that I utilize for self-management because I’m either not using my tools or I’ve outgrown them and I need an upgrade.

Just like a computer needs to upgrade its operating system to handle more complex software, you also need to upgrade old systems that worked fine for you when you had less responsibility. Sometimes these systems are no longer effective in the current chaotic world.

Before I jump into tools, do a check-in. How are you feeling? Do you need to rest? Are you feeling burned out or languishing? Trying to solve that with productivity tools and techniques won’t work, instead, start here or here.

If a system upgrade is what you want, it’s important to look at what’s not working for you and start there. Here are a few of my favorite upgrades.

To-Do List

You likely have a to-do list. You might have several to-do lists with notes being jotted down in numerous places.

If you don’t have a to-do list, you need one because you’re wasting too much energy trying to keep it all in your head. Read this if you need more convincing.

A to-do list needs to be an effective tool, but it’s not typically used in an effective manner.  VitalSmarts, a leadership training company conducted a study that showed 3 out of 5 (60%) people are over committers with over 60 tasks on their weekly to-do list (that’s way too many).

These were the top reasons for why those lists are so long:

  1. Desire to be helpful, accommodating, and polite
  2. Tendency to jump in and fix problems, even when they aren’t theirs
  3. Inability to say “no” or renegotiate commitments

Do you recognize yourself in the above reasons?

According to The Busy Person’s Guide to the Done List by Baily Adams, to-do lists are not utilized properly because 41% of to-do items were never done.

What this means is you have too many tasks on your to-do list that are not all necessary.

Step 1: Create a master to-do list to get everything out of your head and use an electronic system that allows you to categorize, set due dates and reminders. My favorite is Asana.

Step 2: Review the list and be brutal about eliminating anything that isn’t yours to do, can be delegated or isn’t directly aligned with your immediate goals.

If you don’t know how to create goals, check out my Goal Crushing System.

Time Buffer

Another frequent problem is you don’t differentiate between the items on your to-do list that take a few minutes and those that require more than an hour. Then when you do estimate the time to get a task done, you’re horrible at it.

For tasks you dread, you think it will take much longer than it actually does, which means you spend more energy and time thinking about and dreading the task than what it would’ve actually taken to get done.

For the task you find doable, you underestimate the time a task takes (even if you’ve done it before), which means you think you can get more done in a shorter amount of time than is realistic, therefore overloading yourself.

Essentialism recommends buffering at least 50% more time than you think a task will take. This means if you think it’ll take you 30 minutes to do something you should schedule 60 minutes to get it done.

Instead, do the task you dread first; this will save energy (and time) by not thinking about how much you don’t want to do it. Then schedule at least 50% more time on your calendar to get the important, less dreaded, work done.

Meeting Purge

If you don’t feel you have time to do your actual work during the day because you’re in meetings, do a meeting purge.

Again, BE BRUTAL when reviewing your calendar. Take everything off and ONLY add in what directly helps support your goals and directives.

If you have a lot of meetings look at what you can:

  • Delegate to others – Is this meeting a growth opportunity for someone else?
  • Delete entirely – if you are multitasking then you likely don’t need to attend.
  • Reduce the cadence and time – if it’s weekly, can it go biweekly? If biweekly, can it go monthly? If monthly, can it go quarterly? If 60 minutes, can it go to 30 or 45 minutes? At least try to end all meetings 10 minutes early so you can get a breather, get a drink, and go to the restroom. You need this bio-reset!

If you must go to a meeting, find out the agenda and what your contribution will be (or is expected to be). If the meeting organizer doesn’t have an agenda, request one be created before attending. This will help focus you (and everyone else in the meeting) and keep the meeting efficient and hopefully effective.

There are lots of productivity hacks but start with one at a time to see what works for you. Play with it and tweak it as necessary. For more tips to upgrade your system, check out Getting Things Done by David Allen.

If you want an accountability partner to increase your productivity with intention, I’m here for you.