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3 proven tips to stay on top of your workload, with productivity ninja Graham Allcott

Get ready for a productivity shake up this week.

grahamIntroducing Graham Allcott, Managing Director of Think Productive and author of the highly acclaimed book How to be a productivity ninja

Graham runs workshops for a wide range of organisations, from large government bodies, giants like ebay & twitter as well as small startups. His workshops involve coaching at the comfort of your own desk, to implement productivity improvements for people there and then. He’s shared with us small hacks to make workload more manageable. Read on…

What 3 tips would you give business owners to stay on top of their workload?
1. Choose what work to do based on your attention level – each day our attention level really varies: we have proactive attention, where we’re on top form, wide awake and able to tackle even the most difficult of tasks; inactive attention, where we’re tired and can’t tackle much more than the simplest of things and then active attention, the bit in the middle. Scheduling your work based on the level of attention it requires and which of those 3 levels reflects you at that moment is much more effective than scheduling your work based on priorities, as counter-intuitive as that sounds.

2. Don’t multitask, monotask. Do one thing at a time, only have paper on your desk or windows on your desktop that relate to that one thing, and only shift to the next thing when you reach a natural conclusion point.

3. Control distractions: turn email off for at least some of the day, become conscious of who or what is distracting you and get all of your ideas and worries out of your head and onto paper to ensure they don’t take over your focus.
How can startups at a more advanced stage encourage colleagues to be more productive?

Good question – it’s funny how many people tell me they’re quite productive but that their colleagues are a nightmare! I think it depends on what someone’s motivation is – productivity itself is only important as a means to an end, whether the end is changing the world, earning more cash, getting a promotion or just being less stressed and having more balance in your life. But I think there are some things you can do to change the culture of an organisation and make them more conscious about productivity as a theme, and perhaps improve engagement and motivation too. In particular, if you can make an effort to actively change the culture of your meetings, email and digital collaboration, it will start to get people thinking much more about impact, efficiency and reducing waste. And likewise helping people to reduce distractions and thinking about their attention – at Think Productive we have a group meditation for 10 minutes every morning, which is a great way to help people to pause and reconnect with their minds and bodies and it certainly reduces stress in the office. I think culture is an important part of productivity – and my experience from working with teams is that the most important motivation to improve productivity is fundamentally caring about the work. There’s no substitute for that!

Entrepreneurs are at risk of burn out, juggling businesses with family commitments and sometimes full time jobs too. Does stress effect productivity?

Managing Productivity is really about managing your own mind – and a huge part of that is dealing with stress. Not least because stress is one of the biggest causes of distraction. If you’re stressed about another piece of work, you’re just less likely to focus on what you’re trying to achieve. Keeping a really good list of all of your projects and all of your available next steps for each of those projects is really important – knowing what you’re NOT doing at any one time is a huge step towards being comfortable with what you ARE doing, and keeping you in the state of what I call Zen-like Calm: the ability to be fully present on one piece of work, without the worry about everything else.

What advice do you give on email management?

Well, put simply, keep your inbox at zero. That doesn’t mean getting to the end or never letting emails build up (as they’ll always be new emails coming in, and the last thing you want is to be sitting there permanently poised for new emails!) but at least every day reaching the point where you’ve read and made decisions about every single email. That single thing eliminates a huge amount of stress for people. Why? Because it eliminates a huge amount of uncertainty and complexity. And also, the default for a lot of people is to leave their email turned on all the time. I personally don’t have access to email on my phone. I turned all the settings off. I have times and even days when I don’t even look at it at all. I even once experimented with a month at work where I only checked email on a Friday! So a lot of it is knowing your own relationship with it and how easy you’d be distracted. I know personally I’m a sucker for new and shiny things, so I try to limit my temptations.

What one action would you recommend us do daily to be well on our way to becoming a productivity ninja?

There’s so many things! You can make profound changes to your productivity just by doing the small and simple things consistently well. But one quick thing that helps is to develop a morning routine which is around being mindful about your own intentions for the day, thinking particularly about your attention levels and developing a simple plan from there. I call this the ‘Daily Review’ because it’s really about reviewing all my projects and actions and working out how to move things forward just on that particular day. I personally write what I’m planning to do on a post-it note – post-it notes are small enough that it’s hard to write too many things! Whilst this sounds really simple, it’s so tempting to start your day checking emails or getting pulled into firefighting – which risks starting the day on a reactive rather than a proactive footing.

Thanks Graham!

We’re delighted to have partnered with Graham at our summercamp 2014. All attendees received a copy of his book How to be a productivity ninja: Worry less, achieve more, love what you do and we’re still in awe of our learnings. Read the EPIC round up of the weekend – you might need a cuppa for this one.

how to be a productivity ninja

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