Answering my own questions since 2001

Ten productivity tips from a slacker

I’m not a productivity zealot. I have read Getting Things Done. I picked up a couple of habits from it, but I didn’t really deploy the whole GTD ethos.

I was recently thinking about the strategy and shortcuts I employ to make my life and work more efficient. I try a lot of different tools, tactics and tips, but these are ten that have stuck. If you’re a productivity fiend, you probably know all of these (except maybe #10).

  1. Make approval requests opt-out, not opt-in. When I require somebody’s input or approval over email, I always include a sentence like this: “If I don’t receive your feedback by end of day on August 28, I’ll assume you’ve approved this document as is.” This old trick from technical writing rarely fails to deliver the result you want.
  2. Train your colleagues that if they need something urgently from you, they should call you. Maybe it’s because I work in the technology industry with a lot of email-obsessed introverts, but people seem to expect a response to an email within a half-hour of their sending it. I prefer to maintain a healthily asynchronous outlook on email.
  3. Get the instant messenger gospel. I’m amazed by the number of workplaces where everybody sits in front of a computer all day that do not use an IM system. It’s also an excellent solution for distributed teams, remote working and people who hate the phone.
  4. Process every email as soon as you read it. If you can respond and archive it in less than two minutes, do so. Otherwise, I assign myself a task in my task management tool, associate the message’s URL (I use Gmail for my sundry email accounts) with the task and archive it. The email is no longer occupying space in my inbox, but I’ve got a reliable way to find it when I’m going to work on the associated task.
  5. If a task is too daunting, reduce it to smaller tasks. Are those smaller tasks too big? Sub-divide them again. Work gets done bird by bird.
  6. If you’re somebody who likes notebooks and paper lists, consider implementing Kanban as a real-world, sticky-note-powered project management system.
  7. When I want to change a habit–eating, exercising, spending–I measure it obsessively. To apply a liberal arts interpretation of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, looking at something changes it. It’s rewarding to track the number of kilometres I walk, ride and run each month. Knowing how the number of calories in a slice of bread encourages me to mix up my daily sandwich for lunch. Related tip courtesy of James: wraps work like sandwiches, but with fewer calories.
  8. I find it quite useful to have my calendar emailed to me every morning (that’s another tip from James). I am less likely to forget about calls or meetings until my calendar displays a pop-up reminder ten minutes before the event.
  9. Deploy rigorous email filters. Lately I’ve been loving the Bulk feature in Gmail, which filters all my bacn out of my inbox. If an email is sent to more than you and a couple of colleagues, you probably don’t want to read it as soon as you receive it.
  10. Floss in the shower. Seriously. You know that 30 seconds or a minute at the end of the shower when you’re just standing there, reluctant to get out into the cold bathroom? Take that time and floss.

7 Responses to “Ten productivity tips from a slacker”

  1. Emily E

    I like these suggestions. Breaking the task into smaller tasks, and using IM at work are both good ones.

  2. gillian

    Flossing in the shower is a horrible waste of water. If you’re done rinsing yourself, turn off the tap and get out of the fucking shower already.

    I floss in front of the computer screen or TV.

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