3 Tactics to Improve Your Productivity

‘If you want a job done give it to a busy person.’ Rubbish!

Time is a precious commodity and I’d like to have more of it, I don’t think I’m alone here. As I get older, my small business grows and I take on more responsibility I’ve ended up with more to do and less time to do it in. I know I need to improve my personal effectiveness and these three tactics have really helped.

On a daily basis I can get overwhelmed by the amount of information I need to consume, decisions I need to make and outputs I need to deliver. I’ve noticed how easy it is to become susceptible to the evils of overwhelm; conflicting priorities, task-creep and intolerance. The secret, I’ve realised, isn’t to get more done in less time, let’s not confuse productivity with busyness here. The secret is to actually get less done.

I bet that sounds counter intuitive to you, right? Getting less done? How can I get less done when I’ve got more to do each day? That did occur to me and that’s when I realised I needed to re-programme my mindset and find a strategy to support this belief, otherwise my current working habits would lead me to burn out.

The three biggest factors that contribute to ineffectiveness are distractions, die-hard habits and reactive thinking. So let’s deal with the biggest first.


The biggest distraction is technology. Before I lambast the technological advancements of the 21st century, I’ll admit technology has helped to create radical efficiencies in the way we work but many of these efficiencies actually contribute to our ineffectiveness. Email, SMS, mobile phones and social media are all perpetrators of the distraction culture. We allow ourselves to be distracted by these culprits and use peculiar rules in our minds to justify these distractions; “I’m waiting for an urgent call, email, text etc..”;  ”If I don’t take this call, read this email or check this text message my boss will get really mad…”; “this might be the call I’ve been waiting for…”. Ring any bells, pardon the pun? I accept that there are urgent matters to attend from time to time but if you live your life on that precipice of urgency  then there’s got to be something wrong.

To beat the big distraction requires  3 disciplines;

1. Solitary Confinement -Turn off Outlook, mobile devices and any notifiers, divert all calls to voicemail. Put your mobile device out of physical reach (the physical habit of picking it up to check will be too strong to resist if it’s on your desk in front of you – habits are that strong.)

2. Task Selection – Focus on one task and one task only until it’s complete. Selecting which task to work on is simple. Only work on mission critical tasks that are directly connected to outcomes and move you closer towards goal achievement. You should know exactly what these tasks are and how they contribute to your outcomes and goals. The very last thing you do at the end of each day is to line up the three mission critical tasks for the following day, so that you know exactly what you need to do when the clock starts.

3. The 50-10-50 Rule - Set a watch or clock in front of you and for 50 uninterrupted minutes work on one task only. When 50 minutes is up, get up from your chair, take a break do something different but only for 10 minutes. Then back at your desk for another 50 minutes and work on the same task until completion. I know what you’re thinking. ‘Hold on, I’ll never complete this task in 50 minutes’,  right? Then let me remind you of Parkinson’s coefficient of inefficiency which states that ‘the amount of time in which one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete said task.’  If you’ve got 5 days to complete a task, you’ll generally take 5 days to complete the task. If you’ve been given an immovable deadline of 1-hour for the same task, you’ll get it done in 1-hour, I guarantee. Set yourself immovable deadlines, become the master of your own deadlines and work to those deadlines, you’ll be surprised as to how focused and effective you can be.

Barriers to entry

It’s all very well for me locked away in my own office with no boss to make demands on my time, it’s easy for me to do, you’re probably thinking. So for those of you who work in a busy open plan office or have a boss that likes to make spontaneous demands here are some techniques to help you stay focused.

The Dead Line

Learn to say no and share your reasoning. This is a tough one, particularly if you are someone who likes to help and be available to others. In a professional environment people need to be accountable, including you. So if Sandy from accounts wanders over to your desk wanting some information that would only take a minute (things never take a minute, by the way) you simply say “Sorry Sandy, I’ve got a deadline which runs out in 50 minutes, come back then and I’ll get you what you need”.  Soon Sandy and others will learn not to interrupt you.

Boss Accountability

If your boss wants you to stop what you’re doing then you need to give them a choice and make them accountable for the choice you are having to make. Present it to them as a dilemma and explain the consequences of each horn of your dilemma. “I can stop what I’m doing but the consequences of doing that are…. What would you prefer I do?” If you don’t do this you’ll just end up feeling resentful and disempowered.

So, in summary.

  • Plan your mission critical tasks the day before.
  • Send all mobile devices and electronic distractions to solitary confinement.
  • Apply the 50-10-50 rule and set immovable deadlines.
  • Say no and make others accountable for conflicting priorities.

So let the experiment begin!

I’d love to get your comments on this article, so please leave them in the box below.

Post to Twitter Post to Twitter

  • Georgia Christou

    It’s a great article. I must try and remember this when I’m writing up my assignments!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your comment Georgia.

      I was asked to write an academic paper last year, which is a bit different from a blog post! One of the biggest challenges I had was actually sitting down and writing the thing! So I searched long and hard for some strategies that would help and found these three the best.

      Good luck with your assignment.


Previous post:

Next post: