Practical Productivity Hacks

By Dan O'Brien | Updated: 29 Jan, 2016

We are all allotted the same amount of time each day. Personal productivity is the art of spending our equal amounts of time well, and that art is what sets us apart.

Like all great art, executive productivity takes a lifetime to develop. You can take classes on it; you can read volumes of books filled with individual tips or that map comprehensive productivity systems. We love comprehensive systems, but no one size fits all. Here is our list of individual tips that will help grow your business based on the (hundreds of) thousands of hours that we've been observing the high-performing executives we support.

1. Simplify: If you have 10 productivity tools you are using, you've created more work and less free time. Make your primary productivity tool your personal assistant or virtual executive assistant. Have your assistant power the tools you'll never have time to adopt. 

2. Create and follow process and routines: The cliché of the disorganized creative is often a lie. Process is about organization. It does not dampen creativity, it enhances it. When you follow a process for getting things done, you create free time and energy to think and act creatively. When you constantly reinvent how things get done (and where you put things), you zap the energy you might otherwise put toward creation.

3. Automate tasks that are simple and frequent: At the end of each week, ask yourself if you’ve done any task more than twice. Put it on a list. Then, at the end of every month, take those list of tasks and find a tool to automate them or train someone to do those tasks on your behalf. This is what Bill Trenchard calls “creating playbooks.” Create just one each week and you’ll quickly see your productivity improve.  

4. Leverage your downtime: When you're traveling, you’ll find yourself with time on your hands between meetings and flights. Have your virtual executive assistant schedule catch-up calls for this time. Better yet, when your assistant schedules the trip for that primary person you are going to meet, have them create a list of other potential people you can connect with; then, have them reach out to schedule a meeting. Keep a short list of back-burner projects that you can do when you can’t sleep on a flight or when you find yourself unable to sleep in a hotel due to a time difference.

5. Don't multi-task: Young workers often pride themselves on the ability to get many things done at once. Job postings for desirable entry-level jobs in areas such as banking and consulting often emphasize the ability to multi-task. However, quality work usually gets done by focusing on one thing; and quality work is what sets you apart. This is what Cal Newport calls “Deep Work,” and he reveals the secret of people like Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at Wharton. When you do things well, you move forward and never have to circle back. You’ll move more quickly than when you did several things at once.

6. Do multi-purpose: Doing something (or going someplace) to realize several goals is completely different than multi-tasking. It is, in fact, one of the best work life balance tips. Most of us have a need for personal and family time—for spiritual fulfilment, time to develop ourselves, and time to pursue our financial and professional goals. The problem is that the more you separate these things, the more they compete with each other for a finite period of time. Combine, combine, combine. Frequently explore your life-balance wheel and adjust.