Friday Five: productivity tips

I confess: I read a lot about becoming more productive, but I’ve been a slacker at implementing a lot of the things I read. I also confess that whenever I go to a seminar or training session on getting productive (such as the one I attended yesterday in a very crowded hotel conference room), I always feel better — for a while. Then the new wears off and I find myself backsliding to old habits that squander away time.

I’ve tried Day Timers, TimeDesign and Covey systems. I’ve used hybrid systems. I’ve tried going completely electronic. I’ve resorted back to paper. I’ve put together a hybrid of paper and paperless. But to quote Bono, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for in terms of managing projects and information.

It’s frustrating.

But productivity, efficiency, getting things done, whatever you want to call it, isn’t about just having a clean desk at the end of the day, or having all your files neatly arranged. These days, so much of it is about managing the crapflood of data that comes at you electronically, by paper and phone call, and via the drop-in. So here are some techniques I use to try to manage the flow of information. As the fall semester nears, I’m thinking now is a good time to be thinking about how to be more productive. I can always use help, so I’d love to also hear from you guys about how you manage projects and your time, and improve your productivity effectiveness.

  1. Use the out-of-office function on Outlook. Even if you’re not on the road or on vacation, much of your day is probably spent out of the office anyway, in meetings. So why not post a message that says something like “I’ll be out of the office much of the day today with limited access to email.” That way you’re lowering the expectation that you’ll immediately fire back a response, and people won’t be upset at you because you don’t. And if you happen to respond quickly, it will be a pleasant surprise. Bonus tip for managing email: Download and read The Low-Information Diet: How to Eliminate E-Mail Overload & Triple Productivity in 24 Hours.
  2. Use a tickler file. The guy from Fred Pryor talked about using a tickler file during yesterday’s seminar. This is an idea I picked up from reading David Allen‘s book Getting Things Done (highly recommended, but you can also get the gist of Allen’s thinking from the complete set of all his free articles; all it will cost you is your email address). The GTD tickler file is a series of 43 folders, 31 for each day of the month and 12 for each month of the year. The Pryor guy added two more: one for “next year” and one for “completed lists,” where you can file your to-do lists. I may add those two to my system, but so far the tickler file system has helped me to toss projects into a “future” folder to keep them from haunting my every waking moment. It helps me sleep at night. It’ll help you, too.
  3. Ignore your snail mail. Until yesterday, I felt a twinge of guilt about letting my mail lay in my inbox for days. But the guy at the Pryor seminar affirmed my habit. “It’s only mail. It could have arrived tomorrow.” Really, now. How urgent can it be if it arrives in snail mail? If it’s from FedEx or UPS, that’s a different story.
  4. Make use of couch potato time. I routinely take reading materials and unopened mail from work home with me to skim and sort through while watching sports on television or while enjoying a beverage by the pool. If I don’t get to it, I don’t get to it.
  5. Your turn. I’ve left the fifth tip open for you, the reader. What productivity or time-management tip can you share to help us on our way to a productive fall in higher education?

Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

3 thoughts on “Friday Five: productivity tips”

  1. When possible, batch small tasks like replying to email/phone messages, small bits of paperwork, etc. Rather than doing these things throughout the day, which really interrupts your work flow, try grouping them into batches of four or five tasks that can be done once or twice a day instead.

    Of course I don’t actually follow this tip, but I think it sounds good in theory.

  2. I’ve started giving myself time limits for tasks. For example, I give myself about forty-five minutes in the morning to get through my email. Then I’ll give myself an hour or two on a project. If the project isn’t done by the end of the hour, I move on to a smaller task anyway, like returning phone calls. I’ll give myself half an hour before lunch to read blog posts, etc. It keeps me moving through the day. I don’t stick to the time lines by the minute, but it’s a general idea that reminds me to move on and get some other tasks accomplished and not get caught up in just one project.

    Of course, this doesn’t work when there is a major project with a deadline on the go. At that time, you just have to focus on what is at hand. I find when I’m really busy at work, I get the most stuff done anyway. It’s like that old saying, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” The more you have to do, the more you get done!

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