My #1 Productivity Tip (and 5 Others)

As you continue to grow as a leader, the invariable happens. You get put in charge of more. Whether you’re promoted to a higher position or have your level of responsibilities expanded in your current role, there’s simply more to oversee. In fact, as unemployment rates fall and Baby Boomers continue to retire, there is a good chance your new leadership opportunities will come before you feel ready.

Receiving a promotion or an increase in responsibility usually comes as good news. It’s positive recognition of a job well done. But with it can come an uncomfortable anxiety: now what? How am I going to find the time to get everything done?

If you’re in a situation with more responsibility than than you know what to do with, let me share my number one productivity tip – and a few others that will help you manage the load.

#1 Tip: Stop Doing Things That Don’t Matter

Have you ever decluttered a closet, an office or a messy garage? Invariable, you found items that were taking up space that served no purpose. The same thing can happen with our schedule. The most important thing you can do to increase your productivity is to stop doing the things that aren’t on the critical path to your objectives. In fact, don’t allow them time on your calendar to begin with.

We all have the same amount of time in any given day. How we spend it is up to us. Once you’re clear on what must be accomplished, you can decide in advance to cut out not only the time wasters but also the activities that add no real value.

Note that clarity about what is most important is always the precursor to productive execution.

Do Similar Tasks at the Same Time

One way to streamline your productivity is to group like tasks and complete them together, rather than spread out over several different times. I always try to schedule multiple meetings back-to-back so I can save the downtime to focus. Instead of reading and responding to emails as they come in, wait to address them together at certain points throughout the day. Leading means breaking out of “managing the queue” mode – even when the queue becomes quite large.

Have a System for Storing for Key Information

All of your important information needs to have a home. I use the Evernote app as my information hub. All my meeting notes, ideas, lists, etc. get recorded as soon as I have an update. This saves me from having to determine where to store new information and allows me to reference it immediately when I need to. Some people still use a pen and paper journal. The medium isn’t as important is simply having a system.

Read Articles Together

One of the upsides (and downsides) of living in the information/social media age is the wealth and breadth of information we all get bombarded with each day. In any given day, I receive articles from colleagues, find news items, see social media shares or do my own research. As with emails, instead of reading each article as it comes in (and interrupting whatever else I am working on in the moment), I save them to an article clipper (I use Get Pocket) and read them together when I have time.

Set Key Routines

Some of us like structure more than others, but routine enables certain critical tasks to get done in a timely manner. Consider these routines:

  • What time you go to bed each night
  • What time you get up each morning
  • What you do between the time you get up and the time you arrive at work
  • How you spend the first hour at work
  • How you spend the first 30 minutes after returning from lunch
  • How you spend the last 30 minutes at the office
  • What time you leave work each day

Some of these times likely represent opportunity to reduce variability and set a routine you can use to streamline your key tasks.

Delegate Critical Tasks

The #1 productivity tip is to eliminate non-critical tasks altogether. This last tip is to delegate the tasks that are critical, but do not need to be completed by you.

A few weeks ago I met a virtual assistant at a networking event. (Yes, they actually exist!) She explained that she helps leaders accomplish as many tasks as possible to enable them to focus on the few critical tasks (e.g. revenue-producing) that must be completed by them.

The challenge for many leaders who have been given new responsibilities is that many became successful because of their careful management style. New responsibilities mean learning the new skill of delegation, which can be very uncomfortable at first.

At the end of the day, your productivity is your responsibility. Some leaders figure it out and rise to the challenge. Some struggle and reach their leadership ceiling. All of us have opportunities to improve. The good news is that as you commit to improving your productivity, each incremental improvement will increase your effectiveness.

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, speaker and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.