Daily Tricks & Tips to Greater Productivity 

As a practice, whenever I speak to a group of businesspeople, I always offer them a 1/2 hour free coaching session with me.  No matter the level or position in the organization, the majority of the time, the coaching topic is “time management.”  I work mainly with business managers and directors and, due to the number of “hats” many of them wear, the sense of being overwhelmed and out of control is predominant.  The experience can appear as some of the following:

  • I feel like I can never get caught up
  • I fear that I am going to miss something
  • I feel scattered and disorganized
  • I feel tired and overwhelmed
  • I come in to work each day and I’m not sure where to start

What does your day feel like?  Do any of these statements resonate with you?  When you close your eyes and think about your schedule and all you have to do, how do you feel?  Peaceful, relaxed, hopeful; or stressed, anxious and worried?

The common parlance is to use the phrase “time management” to refer to an ability to organize our activities and get them all done in a productive fashion.  I believe this is a misnomer.  Time simply is.  You cannot manage it; you can only manage yourself and what you do in the hours that you have.  This may seem simplistic and obvious.  But looking at it in this way allows us to observe the specific activities and behaviors that have the greatest effect on our productivity.  I believe that, while you can learn to organize more effectively and learn other tools to assist you in managing your workload, the place that you must start is by managing your energy.

Energy management has a huge effect on “time management.”  Imagine you come into work very tired.  How well do you work when you feel that way?  How much do you get accomplished?  Likely it is significantly less than when you feel rested.  And the quality may diminish as well.  There is a direct correlation between your energy level and the amount and quality of work you do.

In this example, your energy level is low due to lack of sleep.  But your energy can also be sapped in many other ways.  Low energy that has a mental/emotional source is the most common.  For example, when I asked you to close your eyes and think about your schedule, how did you feel?  When you are overwhelmed, you will literally start to feel tired.  This is true whether you are in the middle of the overwhelming situation right now, or even if you simply think about it.  The way you think and feel about your work and your schedule has a profound effect on your energy.

How to Achieve Greater Productivity

Following is a simple tool that, if you use it daily, will serve to increase your energy level by improving the way you see (and feel about) your workload.  Increased energy means increased focus and productivity.

Completion Gives You Energy

Ineffective  time management is not solely about having too many things to do.  It is largely about having too many “open loops.”  In other words, from a mental standpoint, it is not necessarily the size of your “to do” list that causes you the most sense of overwhelm.  It is really the number of things in your life/business that are incomplete.  For example, you may have 10 things on your “to do” list and under normal circumstances, this may be a manageable amount.  But you notice lately that it is feeling overwhelming and you are working slower than you  typically do.  The difference may not be obvious as you look at your “to do” list.  It may in fact have to do with what is not on your list – those projects that you started 1 month, 2 months, or a year ago that are as yet incomplete.  Add that to your “to do” list and you will find you have too many open loops.

Completion gives us energy.  It might be better to say completion releases energy.  Every open loop in any area of your life is tying up some part of your energy.  “Open loops” are projects or tasks that are “incomplete” – those that are not done and which you do not have a satisfactory plan for finishing.  In this context, “complete” does not mean “done.”  Completion is a way to close the loop so you feel good about your ability to finish the job in the future and release the energy tied up on the project.

While there is a small number of incompletions we can comfortably and effectively manage, there comes a point when it is just too much.  How will you know when you have too many incompletions hanging over your head?  The main sign is a lack of energy, enthusiasm & motivation.

So what can you do?  The way to claim that energy is to “complete” whatever projects you can complete.  Begin to close those open loops.  You will know you have completed something when you feel a sense of energy and your mind begins to ask, “what’s next?”  This is an indication that some of your energy has been released from the incompleted project and you are ready to take on the next thing.  Just think what it feels like to check something off your “to do” list.  It feels good because you are completing something, which gives you energy.  Completion is an internal state of peace, where you do not feel anxious or apprehensive toward whether or not the project will get finished, or whether it will be finished on time.

Here is a tool to use at the end of each day to generate a feeling of completion so you have energy for the next day.  I recommend doing this each evening before you leave work.

Exercise – Completing Each Day

Step 1:  What projects were you involved in today?  Start with your “to do” list and add to it anything else you worked on today that doesn’t appear on your “to do” list.  These are your open loops.

Step 2:  When you are done with the list, go through it and mark each item “I” (incomplete) or “C” (complete).  “Incomplete” means there is still action for you to take.  When you are complete you will feel complete.  At this point in the process, the likelihood is that you will only mark as “complete” those things that you have finished.  In step 4, you will learn another way to be complete.

Step 3:  Take a look at all the things you marked as “complete.”  Take a moment to notice how much you got done.  Consider not only those things you finished, but all those things you did today even if the projects themselves are not yet done.  Find a way to acknowledge yourself for finishing what you did.  Do not skimp on this step.  Self-acknowledgement creates the excitement and firepower to go complete something else.  Remember we said time management is really energy management.  Many busy professionals feel a slump in energy at the end of each day when they feel they have worked hard all day, but nothing is done.  So make sure you acknowledge all that you did.

Step 4:  Take a look at all your “incomplete” projects.  Go through this list and for everything that is incomplete, write down what action you will take to be complete.  If it is something small and easy, go ahead and do it and claim that energy!  If it is a larger item, state the actions still needed and – this is important – put them on your calendar or in a reliable place so you know for certain when you will take the action to finish the project and you trust that you will take that action.

Here are some examples:

1.  You have been meaning to call back a client who contacted you yesterday.  You have been avoiding it because you don’t really want to talk to him.  Because you’ve been avoiding this, if you schedule it for tomorrow, you may not have confidence that you are going to actually do it.  With this type of task, the best thing is do it right now and get it completed and off your plate.  Brian Tracy calls this “eating the frog.”  When you have tasks that are daunting and that you avoid, do them right away.  This will make you feel not only complete, but good about yourself, which also will increase your energy.

2.  You have a project to complete that consists of multiple steps.  On your “to do” list for today, it says “work on Smith project.”  There is no way that you will have the project done by the end of the day because it is too big to finish in one day.  At the end of the day, there are aspects you have finished and aspects you have not finished.  Acknowledge yourself for all you did accomplish on the Smith project today.  And schedule the other aspects in your calendar to be complete.  (On another note, it may be more effective to delineate all the steps involved in the Smith project and calendar when you will do each step separately.  Energetically, it may feel better for you to see on your “to do” list a distinct piece of the project that you can easily finish today rather than the entire project, which you know you cannot finish in one day.)

3.  You have a meeting tomorrow and you had set a certain number of tasks to do today to be prepared for that meeting.  You have completed most, but not all, of these tasks.  The opportunity here might be to ask yourself “am I prepared for the meeting?”  If you feel that you are prepared, even though you did not finish all the preparatory steps you set for yourself, you can “declare yourself complete.”  This is a way to be and feel complete simply by saying, “I am done with this.”  This will work as long as it is true for you.  A classic example is the person who for years has been saving pictures to put in a photo album.  This is “hanging over her head” as an incomplete project.  But she looks at the pictures one day and says, “They are fine in that drawer.  That is where I will keep them.”  Then she feels the sense of relief that comes with letting go of a long-held incompletion.

It is most effective to do this process in writing each day until it becomes a habit.  After doing this process in the evening, you will be ready to release all that you have worked on today; to leave work at work; to go home, be present at home; and return to work energized in the morning.

Email Cami at cami@mclarencoaching.com for information on time management team and individual training.

Cami McLaren