10 books about Productivity & Effectiveness in 14 weeks, that’s a lot. Too much for me to be able to apply as much as I would like to after reading them. This is the main hurdle of my crazy Personal MBA Challenge, and I knew this from the beginning. Fortunately, one of the things that motivated me to try this adventure anyway was that every book has ideas and tricks that are immediately applicable, without having to wait a while before putting them to work or going more in depth with them.
Here, I am giving you 10 from among those that seemed to me the most relevant, with a link to a summary of the book in which I found them:
1. If something requires less than two minutes to do, do it immediately. This will increase your productivity considerably without much effort because if something takes less than two minutes 1) it takes almost as long put it into a to-do list than to complete it, 2) given that it is small, these things can quickly add up to a number that is hard to manage, 3) bog your mind down uselessly when they are not on a to-do list and 4) not doing them can have consequences that are disproportionate with regard to the time it takes to complete them. Be careful all the same, sometimes you must map out large spans of time to focus on a project, time which cannot afford to suffer interruptions.
2. Try this trick when you can’t sleep at night. Lack of sleep is a terrible way to lose productivity, as well as the reason for being out of sorts, in a mad mood, lack of focus and other maladies which can have even more dramatic consequences on our relationships with others. To fight against occasional insomnia – for chronic insomnia, it is better to seek medical treatment – try this trick to free your mind and stem the continuous flow of thoughts which begin to invade it:
- Keep a pen and paper beside your bed.
- As soon a thought enters your mind, write it on a piece of paper and write next to it the very next action you must take to progress to the level of this thought.
For example, if you say to yourself “I must send this quote to a client,” write:
Quote customer – find supplier costs in the catalog
If it’s “I think that our marriage is on the rocks,” write:
Marriage – Talk about it with [best friend]
You get the idea. As long as you put your thoughts down on paper, and the first actions to take, you will feel more at peace, and these ideas will leave your brain alone, because they have no further reason to bother you since you have made a decision. For more detail on these two pieces of advice, read the review about GTD.
3. Cultivate a “Let’s go and look!” attitude. Sometimes a quick visit to the field can teach you more than a week spent analyzing numbers, sitting comfortably at your desk. The next time that someone comes to make you aware of a problem, stand up and stay “Let’s go and look!” This will save you precious time.
4. Abstain from using bad language in the workplace. This advice can seem incredibly old hat in this modern, liberated world, but it stems from pure common sense: not using bad language will never offend anyone. Using it sometimes might offend someone. Abstain and you will perhaps avoid conflicts or difficult situations that will eat up energy and time. For more details on these two pieces of advice, read the review of The unwritten laws of Business.
5. For everything you do, ask yourself “Why am I doing this? Is it necessary?” Sometimes we carry things out entirely by force of habit, without asking ourselves whether it is necessary or if it necessarily needs to be done by us as opposed to someone else. This can be a big reason for wasting time and energy, because we end up doing things that aren’t worth the time we spend on them or quite simply aren’t useful. Ask yourself this question regularly when you carry out a task: “What would happen if I skipped this?” If the reply is Nothing, then you should put a stop to the activity, if not, ask yourself: “Would it be better if someone else carried out this activity?” Your reply will give you an indication of what you should delegate.
For more detail, read the review of “The Effective Executive.”
6. Just Begin.
Whatever you can do or dream that you can do, begin. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!
7. Close the loop. Have you ever dealt with someone who tells you “we will call you if we run into problems?” Two weeks go by and still no call and you begin to ask yourself if everything is really all right. When people don’t close the loop, they leave others waiting, which is distracting and can even subtely change the relationship. Don’t be like them. Keep others up to date. They will be grateful to you for respecting their time and will repay you one way or another.
8. Don’t let your Blackberry become your master. You should not let technology keep you connected 24 hours a day just because it allows you to. You would not give a hammer or a wrench the power to decide when it should be used. Don’t give this power to your phone or your PDA. Define a schedule and limits for using them. Turn them off when you are in meetings or working on something else that involves other people or demands concentration. Let people know that you don’t check your emails or phone messages after a certain time or on weekends. Thus you will define a clear boundary between times when you are working and others will let you be more focused on what you are doing.
For more detail on these three pieces of advice, read the review of Cut to the Chase.
9. Backup your electronic files regularly. There are two types of users in the world: those who already make backups, and those who will do so some day, usually after having lost weeks or months or years of work. Having worked for more than 8 years in the field of information services, I can only confirm that backing up is one of the subjects most frequently neglected, especially by small or specialized companies. It always amazes me to see that someone who has spent 20 hours writing a report or a document won’t even spend one minute backing it up… I have already seen enough number of people who were left with only their eyes to cry after losing essential data due to negligence – including one student who lost his master’s thesis one month before having to present it – to be disgusted by so much unnecessary suffering. Backup often and backup a lot, backup too much even: it is better to backup too much than not enough. Check Carbonite, an excellent online automatic backup utility that is not expensive.
For more detail, read the four part summary of Bit Literacy.
10. Recognize when it has all been said.