Category Archives: Productivity

Meetings don’t suck  — you do!

10 strategies for changing the meeting culture


Meetings have an image problem. Ask around and I think you’ll find that almost no one likes them. 

The general perception is that meetings tend to start late, run long, and lack direction; that meetings are usually unnecessary, often purposeless, and generally lack outcomes. 

Study after study has found that on average, meetings are run poorly, are unproductive, and are so unbearable that workers all over the world experience a phenomenon known as meeting-dread. Evidence even suggests that 90% of executives daydream in meetings on a regular basis.

But here’s the problem…, and your opportunity. 

Meetings can only ever be as good as you make them. They are but a reflection of how you run them, how you attend them, and how you participate in them. 

Meetings don’t actually suck! You do. Judging by the data, we all do. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Done right, meetings have the potential to drive and transform any project. Done right, meetings can actually make you more productive and not less. And, since any given meeting’s ability to reach its potential is really up to you, you have the power to change the meeting culture and make the transition from meetings that suck to meetings that are highly productive and even enjoyable.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

Margaret Mead, American Cultural Anthropologist

Transforming the meeting culture in your company is simple, but it is challenging at the same time. It’s simple in that it only requires a few key changes. It’s challenging in that all cultural change is hard. 

Depending on your role, you may not have a lot of influence on how meetings are run across your company. But you do have control over how you schedule and run your meetings, and you get to decide how you participate in the meetings you attend.

There are a number of changes you can implement today that can make a really big difference. Check out these 10 simple strategies for better meetings, and for changing the meeting culture where you work.

1. Avoid unnecessary meetings

“When meetings are the norm — the first resort, the go-to tool to discuss, debate, and solve every problem — they no longer work.” 

Jason Fried

Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself: is a meeting really necessary? 

Meetings are a major distraction in the workplace. Rather than scheduling a large gathering, maybe you can have a few quick one-on-ones. Maybe you can send an email update or a weekly newsletter. Maybe you can ask your team for a written report instead of a verbal update. Maybe you can communicate your message in any other way. 

Avoiding unnecessary meetings is the first step to building a new and more productive meeting culture.

2. Think hard about who needs to be in the room

“For every additional meeting participant over seven, the likelihood of making a sound decision goes down by 10 percent.” 

Michael Mankins

Getting the right mix of people at your meetings can be tricky, but effective meetings require the right people and the right number of people at the table, virtual or otherwise. 

When you have too many people in the room, the time it takes to make a decision tends to increase and the quality of any given decision tends to reduce. When you don’t have enough people in the room, it can be hard to make a decision at all. And, when a key stakeholder is missing from the room, there’s a high likelihood that you might completely miss something really important.

One way to get this right is to first really consider what you want your meeting to achieve and then make a list of the people you need to be present in the room to achieve that outcome. This approach is, in contrast, to simply inviting everyone without thinking at all, which is fairly common in most workplaces.

Another strategy is to ensure every person you intend on inviting will either a) get value out of attending your meeting or b) bring value to your meeting. This approach is in contrast to the norm, in which meeting creators generally only think about what value they themselves can get out of their meeting.

If the people you’re intending on inviting won’t help you achieve your outcome, or won’t get or add value to your meeting, leave them off the invite list and give them an update, preferably written, later if they need it.

If you ensure that only the right people are in the room, your meetings will be more engaging and achieve more.

3. Always use an agenda

“I’ve found that without an agenda guiding the discussion, it’s also common for attendees to ramble, or engage in simultaneous side-conversations — all outcomes detrimental to taking your company to the next level.” 

Cameron Herold

There are a plethora of benefits to having a meeting agenda. An agenda keeps the meeting on track, helps others to prepare, encourages participation, and ensures the most relevant and important topics are discussed.

Your agenda should include the purpose of the meeting or outcome you’re hoping to achieve, a start time, a finish time, a list of topics for discussion, and a time limit for each topic. Include this agenda in the meeting invite, or send it out as early as possible before the meeting. 

The people you work with want to spend their time on things that matter, so sending them an agenda will allow them to prepare in advance and use their time in your meeting as productively as possible. Seeing an agenda in advance will also give people the opportunity to decide for themselves if they need to be in the room, and opt-out if they want to.

During the meeting, it’s the job of your Chairperson to ensure your meeting keeps to the agenda. More on that in №5.

4. Start on time, no matter what!

“If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.” 

Lik Hock Yap Ivan

All meetings need to start on time, even if you’re still waiting for some attendees to arrive or call-in, and even if the latecomer is the boss. 

Not only will starting on time help you get through all the items on your agenda, but it’s also a sign of respect to the people who made the effort to be on time. Don’t waste their time. It’s precious. 

Starting without the latecomers will be a shock for people at first, particularly if a number of people are still to arrive. But, latecomers will quickly learn to be on time in the future, and those who are typically always on time will appreciate you for valuing their time and attention.

5. Every meeting needs a chairperson

“If then it’s not that the things you pursue or avoid are coming at you, but rather that you in a sense are seeking them out, at least try to keep your judgment of them steady, and they too will remain calm and you won’t be seen chasing after or fleeing from them.” 

Marcus Aurelius

Meetings, if done right, will require moderation. Meetings should include sharing opinions and making decisions, both of which can take the meeting off-track if not monitored. As such, you’ll need a steady, impartial hand to correct course, connect dots, and ensure decisions are made and outcomes achieved. 

A chairperson’s job is to keep people on-topic and on time, so make sure whoever is sitting in that seat has the confidence to wrangle the group into line, to close out agenda items in the interest of time, and to ask for a prompt decision to be made.

6. If it’s not on the agenda, don’t discuss it

“An effective meeting is like Burning Man: there are no spectators — only participants!”

Sarah Goff-Dupont

You want to finish your meeting on time, right? Well, this one hack will give you the best chance of achieving that end.

The exception to this rule is that topics that are not on the agenda can only be discussed if:

  • There is a majority-agreement that the topic is important enough to be added to the agenda for immediate discussion; and 
  • That an existing agenda item gets dropped to make time for it.

Make sure to keep a list of off-agenda topics to be discussed either off-line or at future meetings and make sure you follow up.

7. Kick people out of your meetings

“Just because I was invited didn’t seem a good enough reason to attend.”

Greg McKeown

Not everyone needs to be in the room for the entire meeting. Give people the option to stay or leave once the topic that concerns them has been discussed or if no other topics on the agenda will bring them value.

With advanced notice of the agenda, and with the organizer’s blessing, some people may even be able to arrive at the meeting only in time for the agenda item that concerns them and leave straight after.

Allowing people to come for the agenda items that concern them and leave when they’re no longer able to receive or add value will result in meetings that are intensely focussed on high-value topics and decisions and will give your meeting participants the chance to maximize their own productivity. Win-win.

8. Don’t keep minutes, create actions

“The faster we make our ideas tangible, the sooner we will be able to evaluate them, refine them, and zero in on the best solution.”

Tim Brown

Unless your meeting has some type of compliance built into it, like for example a meeting of the board of directors or a meeting of senior executives that requires a formal record-of-conversation, forget about keeping minutes. No one needs a play-by-play of what was said and by whom and few people read them anyway. 

Instead, keep and distribute a list of action items. For each action item, include a deadline and allocate a single meeting attendee who is accountable for the task’s completion and who will report back to the group on their progress.

9. Travel light

“Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood.”

Cal Newport

Technology can enhance or hinder a meeting’s effectiveness. Your laptop and a platform like Zoom or Whereby may be essential for your next virtual team meeting, but that extra window you have open so you can respond to email during the meeting is not. Just like at any other time during your working day, distraction comes at a high cost.

Responding to email or even just reading messages on your mobile phone during a meeting can cause major issues in your team. One study found that when you use your mobile phone during a meeting, most people around you will find it annoying or even disrespectful. Technology distractions slow meetings down and reduce engagement by participants.

Keeping people focused on the task or agenda item at hand is key to facilitating a productive meeting that finishes on time. And, using the opportunity to really engage with one another is likely to pay dividends down the road. 

Really think about what tech is necessary for your meeting to be effective. It’s unlikely that you can hold meetings that are completely tech-free, but you should try to keep them as digitally-minimalist as possible.

10. Finish on time, no matter what

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”

Harvey MacKay

One of the biggest complaints about meetings is that they run late. And since most of us are regularly booked in back-to-back (to-back-to-back)meetings, meetings that run late are a big cause of people arriving at meetings late. It’s a vicious cycle that compounds throughout the day.

When it’s time to wrap it up, please just wrap it up. If you didn’t get through everything you needed to, learn from it. Maybe you had too many agenda items. Maybe your chair could have done a better job facilitating and keeping things on track. Maybe you just needed a longer meeting. Either way, learn your lessons and do it better next time.

Every one of us has a limited amount of time in our day and lots of important work to do, so do whatever you need to do to finish on time. 


Meetings don’t have to suck. If they do, it’s only a reflection of how they’re scheduled, how they’re run, and how people participate in them.

All the steps above are geared toward getting you and your team in and out of your meetings on time while achieving what you set out to achieve. Try to incorporate these principles into your meetings and over time you and your team will be more effective, more productive, and make better decisions.

Meetings may even become something you look forward to.


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What kind of work should you do first thing in the morning?

“Your most important work, your highest-value work is the work that is most important to your team’s mission.”

There’s a lot said among productivity pundits about the power of doing our most meaningful or most high-value work first thing in the morning.

The theory being, and it’s backed by research, that we have the most cognitive potential first thing in the morning, compared to later in the day.

Sounds great. It’s backed by research. Let’s do it.

But, what is high-value work?

For some there’s the idea of eating the frog or, doing the toughest, most uncomfortable tasks first, to get them out of the way.

For others, high value work means diving into projects that require high levels of focus, concentration or a state of flow.

These two ideas dominate the productivity landscape.

But, work that is of high-value depends on your role. Most in the productivity scene would say that email or meetings for example, are not high-value activities.

And, they’d say that these are exactly the type of tasks that one should avoid first thing in the morning. If possible, I certainly do.

But…

As a manager or leader, your highest-value work could very well be attending to email, facilitating communication, or rounding up the team for a check-in.

Your most important work, your highest-value work is the work that is most important to your team’s mission.

So, do your most important work first. Your job is to figure out what that is and don’t worry so much about the literature. Just worry about what’s best for your team.


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Why you need to keep your work space clean and organised

People tend to focus too much on what app they can use to boost their productivity, when often it’s their physical environment that’s holding them back.

150129165925-desk-infographic-2-780x439

Studies have shown that the average worker loses about an hour a day to disorganisation. Consider for a moment what that means in productivity terms.

Let’s say for argument’s sake that you work 5 days per week and get paid $30 an hour (even if you’re a freelancer being paid by the contract you should still calculate what you’re making per hour worked to maximize your productivity).

Losing that hour a day to disorganisation, costs you 5 working hours every week, (that’s more that half a day’s work) 10 hours a fortnight (getting that back could earn you a long-weekend twice per month) and 260 hours per year.

 

“If you’re a business owner with 10 employees, they’re costing you $78,000 a year in lost productivity.”

 

If you work from home for someone else, that’s time you could be spending with your family, working out, tending to your garden, going out with friends or reading your favorite book.

If you work from home as a freelancer, that lost hour per day is costing you $150 per week, $300 per fortnight or $7,800 per year. If you’re a business owner with 10 employees, they’re costing you $78,000 a year in lost productivity.

If those figures don’t make you want to get better organised, I don’t know what will. Try these tips for optimising your workspace for maximum productivity.

Change your frame of mind

Think of your workspace as a command centre. There’s a reason institutions like the military, police or fire departments enforce strict organisational practices. It’s because when the shit hits the fan, they need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Imagine being called to put out a fire, only to find that you still haven’t rolled up your hose and don’t know where your helmet is. If you’re an aspiring high performer, you also need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

De-clutter

Over time, our offices and desks get so full of useless, non-essential garbage it’s not funny. Cull it all and get rid of everything you don’t need. Be ruthless. Old documents — file them or chuck them. Too many pens — keep a few on your desk and put the rest in your drawer or a cupboard.

Also, take some time to organise your cords and cables. Use velcro cable-ties to bunch cords together and pick a spot on your desk (preferably on your dominant hand side – more on that later) to keep devices on charge and on-hand.

Create systems

When I was a younger man, I would use the single bucket technique for organising my affairs. You know the one. Ok, I’ll explain. Take income tax for example.

Receipts and pay-slips came in, I put them all in a single, unmarked shoe-box along with any and everything else (including non-tax related stuff) I thought might be important enough to hold on to, and when 30 June came around, I would spend hours sorting receipts, throwing half of them away because they were useless and usually finding a bunch of important documents missing. What and waste of time.

A few years ago I came to my senses and started trying different processes and systems that actually helped me organise my affairs in a way that saved time, saved effort and which led to better outcomes.

If you haven’t’ read it already, David Allen’s Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity is a great starting point for creating systems that will help you do a better job of managing your affairs (turns out I was on the right track though. He too uses a bucket system, just with more buckets. My friend Paul Minors has written a great book summary, download it free here).

Set up your space

A work space that’s set up in the right way helps to reduce your risk of injury, save you time and energy and make you more productive. Try these tips for setting up your workspace:

  • Get your monitor and keyboard into comfortable positions. Offices often have workspace assessors who make recommendations about how to set up your desk to reduce the risk of injury. While that’s reason enough, knowing how to set up a safe workspace will also enhance your productivity. Do some research on workspace setup and consider getting someone in to set you up properly. Your back, eyes and whichever wrist you use to control your mouse will thank you later
  • To reduce clutter, only keep on your desk the office supplies that you use on a daily basis. Keep supplies you use weekly in your desk drawer and all others in a cupboard.
  • Keep regularly used stationery and your devices on your dominant-hand side of your desk to reduce reaching across your body. Sounds small but it will save you time and energy.
  • Keep your desk clear but be sure to include anything you need to facilitate the operation of your systems ie. in-trays and file holders (don’t go too minimalist). Avoid keeping too many personal trinkets on your desk – they’re just a distraction and you’re already at home so there’s no need to be reminded about how cute your cat is.

Use a clear-desk policy

It’s common for employees in government departments and some big companies to have to ensure that all desks are clear and clean before they go home. You should do the same in your home office. With a clear desk, you’ll be able to focus on work when it’s work time and forget about work when it’s not.

It will be a pain in your proverbial at first, but once you’ve been practicing a clear-desk policy for a couple of weeks it should only take you 5 minutes in the morning and evening to pull out and put away what ever it is you’re working on at the time. If it helps you to save an hour a day, it’s a winning investment of your time.

Schedule cleanups

Even after changing your mindset, de-cluttering, putting systems in place and setting up your desk properly, you’re still going to get a build up of unnecessary papers and things laying around. Schedule a workspace clean up in your calendar once a month or so to keep your desk in tip-top shape.


This post is an excerpt from my article – “How to be more motivated, creative and productive than ever before: a short guide to working from home” – click here to read the whole article.



 

3 Epic Time Management Techniques for New Freelancers

Freelancing is a tough business. Don’t get me wrong, escaping restrictive office hours and horrible bosses and embracing the creative freedom that comes with doing what you love and are truly good at makes it all worthwhile. But, at the end of the day, it’s still work and tough work at that.

As a freelancer you have to be an all-rounder. Marketing, business planning, accounting, sales, networking and then after all that, there’s the actual work of creating and delivering the product or service that brings in revenue. With these pressures and competing priorities, good time management is essential.

Here are my top 3 most epic time management techniques for new freelancers. And since you don’t have the time to sit back with a cuppa and read an essay on the subject, I’ll keep them brief.

Good luck and go get’m!

1. Find your rhythm

You’ve probably read the books and articles online about the ‘8 most important things you must do before 8am’ or how the early bird gets the worm so you must wake up at 5am everyday or your projects will fail. All bad advice, at least for some, possibly most.

The time in the day that you’re most productive will depend on your biology and lifestyle, not someone else’s prescription. Some people are early birds and others are night owls. As a freelancer you’re not obliged to work when people tell you to, so experiment with working during different times of the day and night and find a rhythm that’s most productive for you personally.

2. Schedule everything

Your to-do list and your calendar are your biggest allies in the battle against time.

Start by adopting a system for note-taking and to-do lists. I use Asana for project and task management online and the Bullet Journal system in my trusty Moleskine for being organised moment to moment.

Once your tasks are listed and laid out front of you, prioritise what’s most important, estimate how long each task or batch of tasks will take to complete and schedule them in your calendar. Now, you’ll know where you should be, what you should be working on and how long it will take at any given time throughout your day.

Be sure to keep some time aside through your day for ad-hoc jobs that pop up.

3. Batch your work into pomodoros

The pomodoro is a technique used to complete focused work or batched tasks during specific blocks of time. There are a few different iterations of the technique, but I do it like this.

Know what you want to achieve, set your timer for 23 minutes and go. When the alarm goes off set your timer again for 7 minutes and take a break. Repeat this cycle 3 times and on the third take a 20-30 minute break. Repeat throughout your day.

4. (BONUS TIP) Use Time Management Software

Working alone is tough and it’s easy to get distracted. Email, Social Media, that great match-up on ESPN can all get in the way and before you know it you’ve fallen short of your goals and made zero progress on your important projects.

Using a time management software can help you stay focused and productive. Time management software tracks the time you spend on each task and alerts you when you’re wasting time on unproductive tasks. Click here to find a great little article from Forbes.com with a few of the best options.

*   *   *

Time management is an essential skill for successful freelancers. Whenever you feel like you don’t have enough hours in a day, come back to these techniques and, remember, as H. Jackson Brown Jr, Author of the New York Times best selling “Life’s Little Instruction Book” said:

“…You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” 

 


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Why you should stop worrying about being a procrastinator

I’ve struggled with procrastination my whole life. When I was young, I wasn’t called a procrastinator, I was called lazy. I even referred to myself as lazy.

I recently had a realisation that I think all so-called ‘procrastinators’ should have. One that’s changed the way I look at my work and the way I do it, my behaviours and my output.

As it turns out, I’m not a procrastinator in the negative sense of the word, I’m just intuitively more productive than non-procrastinators. I don’t mean for that to sound self-righteous. Let me explain.

In 1955 The Economist published an article written by Cyril Northcote Parkinson about his experience and observations of the British public service.

These observations included that the public service had a tendency to grow, year on year, not in response to there being more and more work to be done, but because of the availability to resources to grow it.

He also noted that bureaucrats liked to create non-essential work for one another and expand their teams so they would be in the company of more allies than enemies.

Welcome to Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s observations have come to be known as Parkinson’s Law, which over time and within the productivity realm looks and sounds like this:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Essentially, this means that demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource. The reverse is never true. No matter which way you look at it or say it, this law gives incredible power to procrastinators.

Are we procrastinators lazy? Or, as I now like to believe, do we just intuitively know that our efforts to complete a task well before its deadline are wasted? That my efforts will be much greater and the time spent on a task will be much longer if I start a task now, compared to if I start it later.

And, that no matter when I start, the task will inevitably get done, but that by starting it later I’m doing it more efficiently.

The point

Please, stop worrying about being a procrastinator. At least just sometimes. If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.



How to manage your energy, instead of your time

In the early pages of their book The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz share a turning point in the trajectory of their business working with world class athletes.

After years of helping athletes perform consistently at a high level under competitive pressure, Jim and Tony were invited by a number of organisations (including hospital emergency wards and the FBI) to help improve staff performance and engagement. It was while working with these organisations that they discovered, and I quote:

“The performance demands that most people face in their everyday work environments dwarf those of any professional athlete…”

Wow, right? The reason, they say, is that athletes spend the majority of their time in either training or active recovery and only a short amount of time actually performing.

The everyday worker on the other hand spends very little time training and even less in active recovery, yet are expected to perform at a consistently high level 8-12 hours per day, 5-6 days per week.

These expectations put a lot of stress on the mind and the body and, as numerous studies now show, have a negative impact on productivity, quality of work produced and overall work engagement. Worst of all, our addiction to overworking is rapidly degrading our physical and mental health.

It’s easy to feel like we can’t take a break from the things we’re working on or from the place where we work. The excuses are many and easy to find. We already don’t have enough hours in a day.

The work is too important or the project won’t progress without us. The office will fall apart and the world will end if we’re not around to fix every problem. We all like to believe we’re indispensable. As though the office and the people in it just can’t live without us.

Life gets easier when we realise that we’re kidding ourselves. No one is indispensable and we’re doing ourselves and the cause or project we’re working on a disservice by working through burnout. Just think about every job you’ve quit and moved on from. The project, the team, the organisation you left behind are doing just fine without you.

This isn’t to say that you’re not valuable or making an important contribution. After all, you wouldn’t still be employed if you didn’t. But, so can so many others. And, don’t take this personally, but you’re not the only one who can manage a crisis, progress your project or deal with clients and stakeholders.

You’re not the only one who has something to contribute. Who can add value.

The longer you put off having a break, the closer to burnout you get, the less value you add to the cause or project you’re working on and the sicker you become. You, your mind and your body are not designed to withstand the long hours and six day weeks you’re working. You need active recovery to stay healthy and perform at your best.

Taking a break is not a sign of weakness. It’s a matter of self-awareness and it will make you stronger. It’s not just important, it’s essential. Especially if you want to build a strong, enduring career and a happy, healthy life.

So, here’s what I want you to do:

1. Take breaks throughout your workday. 

10-15 minutes here and there can make a huge difference. Go for a walk, make a cup of tea, read the news (in an actual newspaper, not online). Do whatever it takes for you to let go and recover from the intense focus you’ve just given to whatever task you’ve been working on.

To help me take more breaks, I’ve been experimenting with the pomodoro technique. Learn more here.

2. Go on a holiday at least once a year.

And I’m not talking about going back to your home town to visit family. I’m talking about an actual holiday. Get out of the city. Go overseas. Go to the beach, a concert or on a cruise. Scuba-dive, bungie jump or sit for days in a shack in the country side reading great books.

Give yourself the gift of a break from your everyday life. Get away from it all, even for just a week. You’ll be better for it.

3. Always be in holiday planning mode.

Even if you only take one vacation a year, know when it will be, where you will go, who you’ll be with and what you will do. Knowing you’ve got some reprieve coming can help you push through mental blocks and minor crises of motivation.

In the lead up to your vacation, organise your work affairs so that you can forget about work as much as possible. If you can help it, don’t take work with you and don’t check emails.

4. If you’re a manager, make sure your team members are getting the breaks they need.

Encourage them to step away from their desk several times per day. Let them go home early once a month and don’t dock their pay. Actively encourage them to take holidays.

While they’re on holidays do not, under any circumstances call them. Reassure them that everything will be taken care of while they’re away. Not because you don’t need them, but because you need them to be at their best.

Working through burnout serves no one

Especially not ourselves. At the end of the day, we can only give as much as we have. Once that’s depleted our contribution loses its value. Take breaks throughout the day. Plan and go on holidays. Make sure your team are well rested.



 

How to be more motivated, creative and productive than ever before: a short guide to working from home

In 2014, I quit my office job and moved away from my home country (Australia) so my family and I could chase down some dreams. Since then I’ve settled in to life in one of the most remote (and beautiful) places on the planet. You know, one of those places where I could post those ‘living the life of a digital nomad’ type photos from a laptop full of sand.

In stark contrast to the competitive, fast-paced nature of working in an office, I now spend my days home-schooling my daughter, studying an MBA, squeezing in some remote, freelance consulting, working with my business partner to build our own company back in Australia and writing articles for my blog and monthly newsletter. And, I do it all from my laptop in my home office.

Without the structures and restrictions of the traditional office, I set my own priorities, run my own agenda, start work when I want, finish work when I want, follow my own routine and never have the pressure of a boss or supervisor looking over my shoulder. I never get called into last minute meetings, nor am I ever distracted by co-workers or office politics.

Just like almost a million other Australians and around one in five Americans, I work from home and it is awesome. But, I haven’t always done it well. Just like so many others, when I first considered working from home full-time I pictured hanging-out on my couch in my tracky-dacks (sweats) with a laptop and a cup of tea. Sounds great, right?

Ryan-in-Nauru

Well, I reproduced that exact scene for about the first month of working from home and it was terrible. It turns out, doing your best work at home takes more discipline than you’d realise. After trying the ‘slouch-on-the-couch’ approach, I found that my work and the way I felt about it suffered.

I was constantly distracted, always procrastinating and having to push hard right before deadlines to get things in on time. My stress levels were high and my motivation was low. Not a cool place to be, especially since working from home was supposed to be a dream come true. So, I did something about it. I created some rules, started following some routines and redesigned my environment. Now, I’m more motivated, creative and productive than ever before.

After being interviewed by Paul Minors from The Productivity Podcast about how to be more productive while working from home (click here to listen online — or — click here to download the podcast) I put together this post to explore some of the themes and tips that came out of our discussion and share with you what I did and what you can do to become more productive at home.

If you have any tips of your own for being productive while working from home, or if you have any questions, be sure to pop them in to the comments at the end of the article.

Without further ado, here are my top tips for being productive while working from home.

1. Dress for success

Yes, the idea of wearing whatever you want to work sounds amazing, and it is for a while. But in my experience, if you’re wearing sweats on a daily basis (for example) it will only be a matter of time before your mood and your work starts to reflect your attire. You’ll find yourself being lazy and producing sub-standard work.

 

“When you look good, you feel good. And, when you feel good, you do good things.”

 

When you look good, you feel good. And, when you feel good, you do good things. As comfortable as your favorite pajamas or sweats are, they will hold you back from being your best self and doing your best work.

I’m not saying you need to suit-up every morning (that’s for the suckers who work in an office – no offence) but you do need to find a balance between utility (comfort) and professionalism (style). I find that the balance lies in the answers to these two questions:

  1. Would I be comfortable welcoming my father/mother-in-law (alternatively friends) into my home in what I’m wearing?
  2. Would I be comfortable popping down to the corner store or the local cafe in what I’m wearing?

If I can’t answer yes to these two questions, I change. To give you an idea of how this looks for me, most days I wear cargo or dress shorts (I live in the tropics) and a clean, pressed, logo-less T-shirt or polo. When I have in-person meetings I step it up to a pair of jeans and a blazer, or just a polo if the meeting’s via Skype or GoToMeeting or something like that.

What you wear is completely up to you but I strongly encourage you to use the two questions above to help you set the tone for your day. You’ll be happier and more productive for it.

2. Create an energising morning routine

Mornings are the toughest part of my day. I’m a night owl, always have been. I do my best, most creative work after 10pm (and love binge-watching any half decent television series which also keeps me up) so I’m awake until around 2am at least a few nights out of the week.

This makes it really tough for me to wakeup early and be productive from the get-go. All the more reason for me (and you, even if you are a morning person) to have a solid morning routine that helps transition to work feeling strong, motivated, creative and ready to hit the ground running.

This is what my morning looks like right now:

  • 7-7:30am
    • Wake up and get dressed
    • Water on my face and drink a big glass of cold water
    • Make breakfast while my wife gets ready for work
    • Breakfast – usually eggs, a piece of toast and coffee
    • Plan out my day (over breakfast)
    • Spend a bit if time with my wife (morning time, before our little one wakes up, can sometimes be the only quiet time we get together all day)
  • 8:15am
    • My wife heads off for work
    • Tidy up after breakfast
    • Set myself up and get to work

This isn’t such a bad morning routine, and for now it serves its purpose. But, I’m always one to try and improve. If you’ve read anything at all about the habits of the worlds most productive people, you’ll know that most of them have a killer morning routine that includes an early start and some attention paid to the following three elements: physical, intellectual, spiritual.

 

“I persist in trying to make my morning routine better because I know it will make me better.”

 

This usually translates into doing some kind of exercise, reading something that facilitates learning and practicing meditation or some other way of becoming grounded or expressing gratitude for life’s blessings.

So, being the aspirational type, I’ve mapped out what I’d like my mornings to look like, and I’m working towards making this routine habitual. My ideal morning looks something like this:

  • 6am
    • Wake up
    • Water on my face and drink a big glass of cold water
    • Pilates – 20 minutes
  • 6:30am
    • Quick shower and get dressed (hot/cold)
    • Make breakfast while my wife gets ready for work
    • Breakfast – something healthy
    • Plan out my day (over breakfast)
    • Spend a bit of time with my wife
  • 8am
    • My wife heads off for work
    • Tidy up after breakfast
    • Meditation – 10 minutes
  • 8:30am
    • Set my self up and get to work

As you can see, I’m currently far form my ideal morning, but I persist in trying to make my morning routine better because I know it will make me better.

The more I work at the ideal morning routine I’ve designed, the more likely I am to form the habits I need to make my ideal morning the norm. I’ve formulated a process for getting to my ideal morning. To design and stick to your own ideal morning routine, try this:

  1. Write down what your morning looks like now. Being honest with one’s self is the first step toward self-improvement and what gets measured gets managed. So, by taking stock of what you do now, you’ll see what needs to change and how you can take action.
  2. Write down what you’d like your morning to look like. Your ideal morning. Be ambitious and do some research. Pick morning activities that make you want to wake up, which help you to become healthier and happier and that help you transition into your workday. There are a plethora of books and online resources out there that can help. Download Paul Minor’s book summary of The Miracle Morning and see where that takes you. I’ve also found MyMorningRoutine.com’s weekly newsletter useful for inspiration and motivation.
  3. Re-write your current morning routine but with the addition of one new element from the ideal morning routine you’ve just created. The first time I started this process, I added drinking a big glass of cold water. I’d read that doing this every morning would help me wake up and would activate my metabolism, both of which sounded like big impact for little effort. This made it an easy win and put me on track to adding other, more challenging elements to my morning.
  4. Put your new morning routine up on your bedroom wall or cupboard door so you can see it everyday and make it easy to follow when you wake up. I’m incapable of thinking for around half-an-hour after I wake up, so I use it like a morning checklist so I don’t have to think. I just follow. Repetition builds habits.
  5. Stick with this new morning routine for one or two weeks, or until the new element becomes a habit and permanent part of your morning. Then introduce one more new element from your ideal morning and repeat.

By focusing on adding just one new element to your morning routine at a time, you’re more likely to actually do it and make it a habit. Don’t be discouraged if you fail on the uptake of your new morning routine in the short term. Forming new habits takes time and your perseverance will be worth it to start your day with more energy, more focus and better productivity.

3. Create a dedicated workspace

While I was at university, I developed this really bad habit of studying on couches and at coffee tables. As a result, when I got my first office job, I really struggled to focus and work comfortably at a desk.

 

“…when you have relaxed or lazy body language, you naturally become more relaxed about your work and your productivity suffers.”

 

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My co-workers would, on a pretty regular basis find me working with headphones in the staff lounge or the cafe down stairs. I eventually got used to working at a desk (although I still slipped out to more comfortable surrounds every now and then and worked from home whenever I could) but never really felt 100% comfortable in my office.

When I started working from home full-time, I was excited to be back on the couch. Kicking my feet up while reading, laptop on my lap while writing, the TV at a low roar in the background (which I justified by saying it helped my keep up with current affairs). It was wonderful, until deadlines started looming and my focus was nowhere to be found.

So, I did some research. As it turns out, when you have relaxed or lazy body language, you naturally become more relaxed about your work and your productivity suffers. The other thing that bothered me over time about working from my lounge room, was that I had to constantly set-up and then pack-away my stuff before and after working, which was both annoying and time consuming.

Between my lazy posture and spending who knows how long setting up and packing up, my productivity was suffering. So, I built a little nook. I bought some pine from the hardware store and got to work putting together some simple shelves and a little desk.

It was perfect. It didn’t take up a lot of space but it was big enough for me to be comfortable. With that as my primary work option, I was able to move between my nook, the couch and sometimes my backyard or the local cafe (discussed later) as I needed and never had to set-up or pack-up my work stuff again.

I’ve recently moved house and now work at a desk in a room which doubles as our classroom and my office. Knowing that the room is only for work and home-schooling helps me to separate life from work.

When your work is always in sight, it’s always on your mind. Having a dedicated workspace and being able to simply shut the door when I’m not working means I can compartmentalise life and my work and can focus on what’s important at any given time.

4. Keep your workspace clean and organised

This is one of the best ways to boost productivity. People tend to focus too much on what app they can use to boost their productivity, when often it’s their physical environment that’s holding them back.

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Studies have shown that the average worker loses about an hour a day to disorganisation. Consider for a moment what that means in productivity terms.

Let’s say for argument’s sake that you work 5 days per week and get paid $30 an hour (even if you’re a freelancer being paid by the contract you should still calculate what you’re making per hour worked to maximize your productivity). Losing that hour a day to disorganisation, costs you 5 working hours every week, (that’s more that half a day’s work) 10 hours a fortnight (getting that back could earn you a long-weekend twice per month) and 260 hours per year.

 

“If you’re a business owner with 10 employees, they’re costing you $78,000 a year in lost productivity.”

 

If you work from home for someone else, that’s time you could be spending with your family, working out, tending to your garden, going out with friends or reading your favorite book. If you work from home as a freelancer, that lost hour per day is costing you $150 per week, $300 per fortnight or $7,800 per year. If you’re a business owner with 10 employees, they’re costing you $78,000 a year in lost productivity.

If those figures don’t make you want to get better organised, I don’t know what will. Try these tips for optimising your workspace for maximum productivity.

Change your frame of mind

Think of your workspace as a command centre. There’s a reason institutions like the military, police or fire departments enforce strict organisational practices. It’s because when the shit hits the fan, they need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Imagine being called to put out a fire, only to find that you still haven’t rolled up your hose and don’t know where your helmet is. If you’re an aspiring high performer, you also need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

De-clutter

Over time, our offices and desks get so full of useless, non-essential garbage it’s not funny. Cull it all and get rid of everything you don’t need. Be ruthless. Old documents — file them or chuck them. Too many pens — keep a few on your desk and put the rest in your drawer or a cupboard.

Also, take some time to organise your cords and cables. Use velcro cable-ties to bunch cords together and pick a spot on your desk (preferably on your dominant hand side – more on that later) to keep devices on charge and on-hand.

Create systems

When I was a younger man, I would use the single bucket technique for organising my affairs. You know the one. Ok, I’ll explain. Take income tax for example. Receipts and pay-slips came in, I put them all in a single, unmarked shoe-box along with any and everything else (including non-tax related stuff) I thought might be important enough to hold on to, and when 30 June came around, I would spend hours sorting receipts, throwing half of them away because they were useless and usually finding a bunch of important documents missing. What and waste of time.

A few years ago I came to my senses and started trying different processes and systems that actually helped me organise my affairs in a way that saved time, saved effort and which led to better outcomes. If you haven’t’ read it already, David Allen’s Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity is a great starting point for creating systems that will help you do a better job of managing your affairs (turns out I was on the right track though. He too uses a bucket system, just with more buckets. Download the book summary for free here).

Set up your space

A work space that’s set up in the right way helps to reduce your risk of injury, save you time and energy and make you more productive. Try these tips for setting up your workspace:

  • Get your monitor and keyboard into comfortable positions. Offices often have workspace assessors who make recommendations about how to set up your desk to reduce the risk of injury. While that’s reason enough, knowing how to set up a safe workspace will also enhance your productivity. Do some research on workspace setup and consider getting someone in to set you up properly. Your back, eyes and whichever wrist you use to control your mouse will thank you later
  • To reduce clutter, only keep on your desk the office supplies that you use on a daily basis. Keep supplies you use weekly in your desk drawer and all others in a cupboard.
  • Keep regularly used stationery and your devices on your dominant-hand side of your desk to reduce reaching across your body. Sounds small but it will save you time and energy.
  • Keep your desk clear but be sure to include anything you need to facilitate the operation of your systems ie. in-trays and file holders (don’t go too minimalist). Avoid keeping too many personal trinkets on your desk – they’re just a distraction and you’re already at home so there’s no need to be reminded about how cute your cat is.

Use a clear-desk policy

It’s common for employees in government departments and some big companies to have to ensure that all desks are clear and clean before they go home. You should do the same in your home office. With a clear desk, you’ll be able to focus on work when it’s work time and forget about work when it’s not.

It will be a pain in your proverbial at first, but once you’ve been practicing a clear-desk policy for a couple of weeks it should only take you 5 minutes in the morning and evening to pull out and put away what ever it is you’re working on at the time. If it helps you to save an hour a day, it’s a winning investment of your time.

Schedule cleanups

Even after changing your mindset, de-cluttering, putting systems in place and setting up your desk properly, you’re still going to get a build up of unnecessary papers and things laying around. Schedule a workspace clean up in your calendar once a month or so to keep your desk in tip-top shape.

5. Create and follow a routine

Productivity does not come naturally to me. I’ve always been a creature of habit, at times they just haven’t been good ones. That’s changed a lot over the past few years. As the necessity to work either on the road or from home has increased, so has my focus and concentration on being as productive as possible.

 

“As a person of quite considerable laziness, I can tell you that the easiest way to manage heavy workloads, competing priorities and still make room for the important things in life is to create and follow a routine.”

 

Bill Gates famously said, and I’m paraphrasing, that he will always hire a lazy person to do a difficult job, because a lazy person will find the easiest way to do it. As a person of quite considerable laziness, I can tell you that the easiest way to manage heavy workloads, competing priorities and still make room for the important things in life is to create and follow a routine.

Just like my morning routine, which I’ve all but automated and continue to work on, I try to schedule as much of my day as possible. This helps me to know what I should be working on, where I’m meant to be and when. Since most of my activities are scheduled in at the same time most days, my schedule has turned into a very simple daily routine that’s easy for me to follow.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 3.04.08 PM

There are a bunch of easy-to-use apps out there that can help you schedule your day but in the end, following a routine comes down to your own priorities. Here’s how I’ve developed my daily routine.

  • List priorities. We all have priorities, but most of us are terrible at putting the things that are most important to us first. Myself included. So, when I set out to create my routine, I started by listing the top few things that are most important to me, in priority order. For me these are: 1. home-schooling my daughter and supporting my wife’s career; 2. studying and personal development; 3. building my business; and 4. my blog. I keep this list written on a post-it on the wall above my desk to remind me of what’s most important.
  • Allocate time according to priorities. Since there is no question in my mind about what is most important to me, the time I allocate to the activities I undertake on a daily basis is easily prioritised. When I designed my routine, my second step was to allocate blocks of time during my day for each activity, starting with my first priority, then second and so on, and so forth. So, not only am I following a daily routine, the routine I have helps me take care of the things that matter most at a time that’s optimal.
  • Take a self-assessment of energy flows. One of the great things about working from home is that you can set your own agenda and work when it suits you. My third step in designing my daily routine was to take a good, hard look at myself to figure out when I’m most focused and productive. For me, that’s at night time. So I schedule most of my study and work hours in the evening, typically after 10:30pm, when everything’s quiet and my family has gone to sleep (luckily this also suits my daughter who for obvious reasons likes to home-school during day light hours). For you, this might mean getting up at 5am, getting all your work done by lunchtime and spending your afternoon playing golf. However it looks for you, take advantage of your situation working from home by using your most productive hours for work and the rest for play. Life’s too short to slog it out through energy slumps.
  • Set up rules, processes and tools to make your routine happen. I literally schedule every part of my day into my calendar, including sleep. Once something is scheduled into my calendar, no lower priority activity can touch a block of time I’ve put aside for higher priority activities. I set alarms and reminders that go off throughout the day to remind me when certain activities should start and end, and even when to eat.

You can be as detailed (or not) as you like, it’s just a matter of finding what you need to drag yourself into your most productive state.

6. Beware domestic duties

This is not a very sexy tip but it’s one of my most important pieces of advice. When you work in an office, you only have to worry about the cleanliness of your desk. When you work from home the dishes, vacuuming, dusting, cleaning, mopping and laundry will distract you. And that’s not to mention the endless list of errands you need to run and bills that you need to pay.

Here are some strategies I’ve used that might work for you too:

  • First, I (you guessed it!) schedule my domestic duties. I make them part of my daily routine so that when it comes time to do work, I can focus on the task at hand and I’m not tempted to do the dishes when I pop into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
  • Second, I’ve outsourced and automated what I can. I have a cleaner who comes in for a few hours a week to take some of the load off. Depending on where you live this may not be an affordable option but then again, how much work could you get done and how much extra income would that generate if you owned the hours you’d normally spend cleaning? Something to think about.
  • Third, I’ve set up automatic bill payments so I don’t waste energy and time paying bills.

Your home is full of distraction and personal affairs sit atop the list. Unless you have a plan for taking care of your domestic duties, either your home life or your work will suffer (probably both). Scheduling domestic duties into your routine will ensure you can take care of everything you’re responsible for.

7. Get out of the house

Working from home can be the greatest freedom or the darkest prison. I remember, not long after I first started working from home, spending 3 full days inside my own house without a single breath of fresh, outside air or a natural ray of sunlight because I was working to a deadline. I finished the work but by the end I felt terrible.

When you’re loaded up with work, have deadlines looming and you’re working a lot of hours, the advantages of working from home can work against you. Take commuting for example. When you work form home you avoid having to commute to work, which saves you time, money and an unpleasant train/bus/car/boat ride.

On the other hand, that commute can help you get your head into work mode, force you to get some sun and fresh air and allow you to interact with people without having to make an effort or make the decision to do those things.

Try and get out of the house a few times a day for a break and some fresh air. Having hobbies or interests can make this easier. I keep a vegetable patch that I need to water everyday to keep healthy. I keep chickens and collect their eggs from around the yard everyday. I also happen to love good coffee, so (when I’m back in Australia) I’ll pop out to a local cafe for coffee, and sometimes work from their Wi-Fi for a change of scenery.

8. Stay healthy

You can try all the tips and tricks for productivity in the world, but at the end of the day nothing can overcome an unhealthy lifestyle. What you eat feeds your brain and has a direct impact on your concentration, focus, creativity, thought processes and problem solving ability.

When you exercise, you activate information processing and memory functions in your brain that help you to focus and be productive. A poor diet and no exercise needless to say, has the opposite effects.

 

“Living a healthy lifestyle is the number one best thing you can do for your productivity, not to mention your general well-being.”

 

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Living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be difficult, but when you work from home, self-discipline is key. A lot of people I know who work in an office complain about the endless cycle of morning and afternoon teas and how they get in the way of eating healthily throughout the day. If you think it will be easier when you work form home, you’re wrong.

Imagine, an entire pantry full of delicious food and no one around to judge you. Before you know it you’ll be throwing down large plates of pasta, eating chips and sweets for snacks and hitting your afternoon beverage an hour or two earlier than usual.

Try these tips for eating better when working from home:

  • Keep plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your fridge and pantry. Make them easier to access than carbohydrate heavy snacks like corn chips, ramen noodles and frozen dim-sims.
  • Use regular breaks from work to graze. Don’t let yourself become hungry and you’ll avoid binge eating.
  • Eat a balance of macro-nutrients (macros) at every meal. Macros are your three major nutrient types: protein, carbohydrate and fats. By consuming meals that consist of balanced macros, your body keeps the hormones that influence your metabolism in good balance. Get your protein from lean meat and poultry, your carbohydrates from non-starchy vegetables, fruits and legumes, and healthy fats from the likes of fish, nuts, avocado and olive oil.
  • Use an app like Myfitnesspal.com to track your food intake. What gets measured gets managed so keeping a journal of your food should help to keep your eating in-check.
  • Consider a daily multi-vitamin and daily consumption of fish oil capsules, which aid brain function.

When it comes to exercise, all you need is around 20 minutes a day to get the juices flowing. If you have time for two 20 minute sessions or 45 minutes in the gym, great but don’t spend more than an hour working out — your efforts are wasted after that.

I’m ending this article with this tip because it’s super important and I didn’t want it to get lost in the middle. Living a healthy lifestyle is the number one best thing you can do for your productivity, not to mention your general well-being.

*  *  *

Working from home can be a treat if you do it right. You can save time and money on your morning and afternoon commute, avoid the distraction of coworkers and unnecessary meetings and have complete control over how you run your day.

Done the wrong way, the distractions of work will be replaced with even worse distractions at home and you’ll find yourself procrastinating on the couch instead of being productive.

I hope the advice in this post helps you to be more productive while working from home. If you’d like to learn more, I go into more depth on some of these tips in my conversation with Paul on his podcast.

Click here to listen online — or — click here to download.

I’m keen to hear about your experiences and advice on how to be productive while working form home, so please comment below or here on Paul’s post that accompanies the podcast. Thanks.

Paul Minors’ The Productivity Podcast will help you to become a Jedi Master of productivity. Paul interviews leading high performers to explore the secrets behind being ultra productive, super motivated, how to manage your time better, how to set and achieve your goals and more!

Click here to listen to the podcast at paulminors.com!



 

3 quick tips for working smarter

Working smarter is all about efficient systems and processes, good organisation and avoiding distraction. Here are a few ways I keep on top of things based on these work smarter principles.

1. Create systems for managing email

I cut my email traffic in half by using a CC inbox. I created a new folder and called it ‘CC Inbox’ and then created a rule in Outlook that sends all incoming emails that I’m only cc’d into directly to the CC Inbox. I only check that folder twice per day at scheduled times. This reduces the amount of time I spend reading unnecessary and unimportant emails. Learn more about mastering your inbox here.

2. Get organised by sticking to a good note taking system and keep all your notes in one place

I use the Bullet Journal system. It’s easy to learn thanks to a quick video on the website that explains everything. It’s an easy to remember system for taking notes, making to-do lists, and prioritising what you have to do. I’ve used it for years and it works! Just make sure you’re always using the same notebook or it becomes useless. Keeping a single notebook and taking it with you everywhere is a good way to build a professional reputation. Here are some other tips.

3. Avoid distraction by turning off email and social media notifications

I used to hear a ‘ding’ every time a new email came into my inbox. It would make me stop what I was doing to check it. I turned off the notification and it improved my focus a huge amount. In fact, I now close down my email completely while I’m focussed on work to take it that one step further.

I also used to get a push notification on my phone every time someone tweeted at me or when I got a message on Facebook, for example. Even if I didn’t stop what I was doing to check it, it still momentarily distracted me form my work. Now, I’ve turned all notifications off so I only see what’s new when I take the time check each app individually. I’ve scheduled social media time during the day so it doesn’t pull me away form my work. It’s also improved time with family.

* * *

Everyone’s busy, but not everyone is productive. Change the way you work and you’ll get more done in less time and create space in your life for the things that really matter.



 

How to become the master of your inbox

One morning in 2013, my boss came into my office asking for an update on some correspondence I’d been having with an important client.

Taken by surprise and unprepared for the request, I rummaged through my Inbox as quickly as I could while he waited by my desk, but I couldn’t find anything. At least not while he waited.

“As someone who takes pride in my productivity and output at work, I felt embarrassed.”

Over the next hour or so I continued to search through the 5,000-plus emails that were sitting in my Inbox, before finally forwarding him an email with the subject line “Sorry for the wait” and the requested correspondence in tow.

As someone who takes pride in my productivity and output at work, I felt embarrassed. And, I’m pretty sure that for at least a moment, my boss was somewhat disappointed and perhaps even questioning my performance (or so my insecurities tell me).

“I was CC’d in on more emails than I could count and spending large portions of my day opening and reading emails that were non-essential.”

Worried that this may be but the first of many instances in which poor email management might bring me unstuck, I did something about it.

It took some time and perseverance but with a bit of research, planning, dedicated ‘Inbox’ time and a few new rules I got my Inbox down to a more manageable number, kept it there and became more productive.

Here’s how I did it and how you can do it too.

1. Clean up non-essentials

In my last job I wore many hats. I was part of a senior management group, led a team of 5 who managed relationships with around 700 clients and worked in project teams with people from different areas of the organisation.

“Check your ‘CC Inbox’ folder just once or twice a day and when preparing for important meetings, just to make sure you’re up to date.”

Needless to say, I was CC’d in on more emails than I could count and spending large portions of my day opening and reading emails that were non-essential. That’s no way to be productive.

Here’s how I fixed it and how you can too:

  1. Create a new folder, name it ‘CC Inbox’.
  2. Filter your Inbox to find all the emails you’re CC’d in on. Drag and drop all of these emails into your newly created ‘CC Inbox’ folder.
  3. Create a rule that directs all new emails that you’re CC’d into straight to your ‘CC Inbox’ folder.
  4. For convenience, drag your ‘CC Inbox’ folder to the top of your navigation pane and drop it under your Inbox . This will allow you to easily keep tabs on how many CC emails are coming in.
  5. Check the ‘CC Inbox’ folder just once or twice a day and when preparing for important meetings, just to make sure you’re up to date.
  6. It might happen that your boss includes some tasking for you in an email you’re CC’d you into. If this happens and you miss it, let him or her know that you don’t see CC emails in your Inbox and generally only scan them to keep up to date. Then, get onto the task you missed as quickly as you can. Tasking people who are CC’d into an email is poor email etiquette so once you pull them up it’s not likely they’ll do it again.

2. Clean out your subscriptions

I love breaking up my day with short reads, blogs and news. I have always prided myself on being across the issues that exist in the sector where I work.

“…unsubscribe from any subscriptions and updates you don’t need anymore. Be ruthless. I’m guessing you probably don’t even read about 80% of what comes in…”

To save time searching for my favourite reads and sector related updates, I would subscribe at the source to get email updates whenever something relevant was available. The trouble is, daily subscription emails can fill your Inbox quickly, and crowd-out the emails that are essential to your job.

Here’s how I fixed it and how you can too:

  1. Create a new folder, name it ‘Subscriptions’.
  2. Filter your Inbox to find all emails that have ‘unsubscribe’ somewhere in the email content. This should find most of your subscriptions. Drag and drop all of these emails into your new ’Subscriptions’ folder.
  3. Sort through your new ’Subscriptions’ folder and unsubscribe from any subscriptions and updates you don’t need anymore. Be ruthless. I’m guessing you probably don’t even read about 80% of what comes in so try cancelling any subscriptions you haven’t read in the past month (like I said, ruthless).
  4. For the subscriptions you want to keep, create a rule for each individual sender that directs all new emails from that source into your ‘Subscriptions’ folder.
  5. For convenience, drag your ‘Subscriptions’ folder to the top of your navigation pane and drop it under your Inbox or ‘CC Inbox’ folder.

3. Stop using your Inbox as a to-do list

I used my Inbox as a to-do list in two ways. Firstly, I flagged important ‘tasking’ emails as they came in, signalling that I should pay attention to them later.

“…I lost track of tasking emails as they dropped further and further down my Inbox…”

Secondly, while at home in the evenings and on weekends, I’d email my work account from my personal email account with lists and reminders for the next day or the next week.

This process did not make me more productive. Instead, I lost track of tasking emails as they dropped further and further down my Inbox; and my Inbox filled up with way too many emails from myself.

Here’s how I changed my ways, and how you can too:

Stop Flagging

  • Rather than flagging important emails for follow up, create special priority folders that require different types of attention or action.
  • Name them accordingly and be diligent about making sure you’re moving emails between folders at different stages of task completion or as needed.
  • Once a task is completed, delete or file/archive the email accordingly.

Make Better To-Do’s

  • If you don’t already, start taking a notebook with you everywhere and use it to take notes in meetings, make lists and record tasks and ideas. Just make sure you’re always using the same note book, or this exercise becomes useless.
  • Use the Bullet Journal System to keep tasks, lists and ideas organised and accessible in your note book.  I’ve been using this system for a couple of years now and I can tell you it works.
  • If you’re not a fan of notebooks and would rather use your phone or tablet to keep organised, there are plenty of apps out there, it’s just a matter of finding the one that’s right for you. This should get you started.
  • Rather than emailing yourself to-do lists from home, spend some time every evening before you go home from the office making a to-do list for the next day or next week. Even if you end up spending an extra 10 minutes at work in the evening getting this done, this one move will cut down email traffic, make you more organised, and give you a clearer head and better peace of mind at home where you should be thinking about and spending time with loved ones – not thinking about work.

“Talk more. Pick up the phone, set up Skype or Go To Meeting, have coffee or lunch with people more often. Encourage your team to do the same. Set some rules with your team about what email should be used for.”

 

4. Find new ways to communicate

As an introvert, I have to admit that for me email is a very attractive mode of communication. But, it’s not the most effective or efficient. So, to slow the flow of unnecessary emails leaving and arriving in my Inbox, I used and tested a range of new a different techniques.

Try these:

  • Talk more. Pick up the phone, set up a Skype or Go To Meeting, have coffee or lunch with people more often. Encourage your team to do the same. Set some rules with your team about what email should be used for.
  • Try instant messaging. I gave HipChat a good go, and it would have worked out perfectly for my team, but unfortunately my organisation’s IT infrastructure didn’t allow us to use it to its full potential. If not for that it would have been a winner. I hear Slack is also a great way to move conversations away from email.

With these rules and strategies in place I was able to reduce email traffic and keep the number of emails in my Inbox down to a manageable level. Best of all, I became much more productive at work and thought about work less when I was at home. I hope these tips work for you too!

Do you have any tips for managing your Inbox? Sharing is caring so tell us about them in the comments box below.