In 2011, a good friend and I coached a varsity boys basketball team at an international school in Myanmar (Burma). Leading into the pre-season, I created a rule book which outlined how the team was expected to conduct themselves during the season.
The rule book was inspired by thoughts and principles that were originally developed and used by legendary basketball player and coach, John Wooden. A former teacher and now member of the basketball hall of fame, John Wooden was an extraordinary basketball player and coach. As a player, he went All-American in college. As a coach, his high school and college teams won an extraordinary 80% of their games with him at the helm. He won 10 NCAA National Championships over 12 years as head coach at UCLA and was named National Coach of the Year 6 times. That’s a hell of a record.
Coach Wooden’s success came from his unique approach to basketball, to coaching and more pertinently to life. He believed that being a great player and a great team required more than just a well-drilled set of technical basketball skills.
He believed that to be a great player and a great team, you also need the right values. Values that, when translated into action embody, promote and facilitate altruism, fairness and humility.
I recently came across the rule book by accident, while trawling through some long forgotten folders on an old hard drive. Reading through it again, I couldn’t help but reminisce about how impressed my fellow coach and I were with the conduct and behaviour of our team that season.
How after winning the Myanmar national tournament, we travelled to Bangkok for the South East Asian Schools Athletics Conference (SEASAC). How at that conference, playing against bigger and more established schools from around South East Asia, we punched well above our weight, coming within 4 points with two minutes to go of beating the eventual division one tournament champions in a group-stage game.
How the boys personified sportsmanship, cheering for other teams during game breaks and being gracious in both victory and defeat, shaking hands and congratulating teams before and after every game. And, how after winning the division two championship, the boys were voted Best and Fairest by the other team’s coaches.
We may not have won it all, but I consider that season to have been a very successful one. When we arrived in Bangkok for SEASAC , it was clear that we were under-dogs. From what I could gather from the snarks and sneers of some of the other teams and even coaches, we were also widely considered a joke and an also-ran.
We were younger, shorter and nowhere near as resourced as the other richer and better connected international schools. While most students from the other schools came from comparatively privileged backgrounds, our boys were from a country widely recognised as third world/developing and that had been locked down by a military regime. A country that had shut out the rest of the world for the previous 20+ years (long before these boys were even born).
A country where until recently, most citizens weren’t allowed out and most foreigners weren’t allowed in. Where foreign journalist were banned and cameras and laptops were confiscated at the airport. A country where some of the world’s longest running civil wars have raged for decades. And, where military personnel with rifles stood posted at every intersection in the former capital, Yangon (Rangoon), the city where the team was from.
Despite these challenges, by the end of the tournament our boys were looked up to by everyone. Why? Because of their respectful conduct, their leadership on and off the court, their heart and courage, and their never give up attitude.
They were honoured as Best and Fairest because they practiced what Coach Wooden had taught them in that rule book. They were honoured because they behaved in a way that embodied, promoted and facilitated altruism, fairness and humility. Because despite not being crowned champions, they behaved like champions.
Today, those boys are following their dreams. Some are just finishing up high school while others are studying in their chosen field at universities around the world. Some are working in their family business back in Myanmar and others are blazing their own trail, making a difference in their community or building companies. Needless to say, I was and still am a super proud coach.
As I was reading through the rule book again, it occurred to me that the principles therein aren’t really about basketball or even sports, at all. They’re about how to conduct yourself in life. They’re a framework for success in any field you wish to apply them. They will never get old, outdated or irrelevant. And the best part — anyone can practice them.
So here it is. This is the exact rule book I gave those boys, with the exception that I’ve added links to some articles, blogs and videos to get you thinking and acting on each one. Work on establishing these behaviours and you can be successful at whatever you put your mind to.
Read right to the end to watch a TED Talk by the man himself Coach John Wooden, in which he talks about the difference between winning and being successful. It’s well worth your time!
“A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player. Losing yourself in the group, the good of the group, that’s team work.” – John Wooden
If you’ve got a few minutes (17 to be precise), watch this awesome TED talk by the legendary John Wooden about the difference between winning and success. With almost 4 million views, it’s one of the most watched TEDs in history. You’ll learn something, I promise.
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?
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.
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:
Would I be comfortable welcoming my father/mother-in-law (alternatively friends) into my home in what I’m wearing?
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:
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)
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:
Water on my face and drink a big glass of cold water
Pilates – 20 minutes
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
My wife heads off for work
Tidy up after breakfast
Meditation – 10 minutes
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Living a healthy lifestyle is the number one best thing you can do for your productivity, not to mention your general well-being.”
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.
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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.
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!
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.
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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.
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:
Create a new folder, name it ‘CC Inbox’.
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.
Create a rule that directs all new emails that you’re CC’d into straight to your ‘CC Inbox’ folder.
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.
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.
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:
Create a new folder, name it ‘Subscriptions’.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
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.
Everyone makes mistakes, but what separates the successful from the unsuccessful is the ability to deal with them positively. In fact, the truly successful don’t just deal with mistakes, they embrace them and learn from them.
Use this four step process to embrace and learn from your mistakes.
1. Recognise it
In many ways this is the most important step. After all, how can you learn from your mistakes if you don’t know you’re making them?
To recognise mistakes, you need a keen sense of self-awareness which let’s be honest, not many of us have. So, now’s the time to start working on it.
Paul Jun, author of Connect the Dots says that self-awareness is the “condition of being constantly aware of your thoughts, beliefs, emotions and actions.” Follow Paul’s lead and practice these habits to become more self-aware:
Self-analysis. “Self-analysis is a stepping stone to become aware of your strengths and weaknesses, bad habits, opportunities seized or missed, and things you said or didn’t say.”
Acknowledgement. “You have to admit to yourself that you are obviously not perfect – no one is.” Once you do this, you will start to master yourself.
Paying attention to the details. Especially your emotions. “In a situation where you’re angry or frustrated … pay close attention to your emotions and thoughts when they arise.
Ask yourself: What is the difference between these emotions and what needs to get done? Let this shed light on where you should invest your energy.” As this becomes a habit “you unlearn the habit of doing something ineffective such as yelling and complaining…”
Daily Practice. Paul says “practicing self-awareness can be the start of living life the way it was intended for you to live.”
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them” – Bruce Lee
2. Own it
Mistakes are made everyday and they are never nobody’s fault.
At first glance, passing the blame can seem like an attractive option and you may very well get away with it. But, if you don’t the fall out will be way more than you bargained for.
Firstly, if after claiming your innocence you later admit to the mistake or worse, are found out, you will lose people’s trust. You will be known as a liar and a cheat. Your relationships and possibly your career could be put at risk. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Secondly, if we don’t own our mistakes we can’t learn from them. From birth, our knowledge, abilities and judgement are developed through the process of learning from our mistakes. From trial and error. At the end of the day, that’s what this process is all about so put your big boy pants on and own up!
3. Learn from it
Studies on the science of learning show that we are more likely to learn in an environment where we feel it’s OK to make mistakes.
To get the most out of our mistakes, featured LifeHack expert and author Paul Sloane, encourages us to look on the bright side and ask ourselves these questions:
What can I learn from this? There is a learning opportunity in every mistake and failure. Paul says “try to look at the experience objectively. Make a list of the key things that happened. Analyze the list step-by-step and look for the learning points.”
What could I have done differently? You know the old saying about hindsight being 20/20, well now’s the time to put it into action. Paul says to ask “what other options did you have? What choices did you make? How could you have handled it differently? With the benefit of hindsight, what different steps would you have taken?”
Do I need to acquire or improve some skills? We should all do a bit of a skills audit every now and then, and post-mistake is the perfect time to figure out what you should work on. Paul suggests starting with “books or courses or people you could turn to. Make a self-development plan to acquire the skills and experiences you need.”
Who can I learn from? At some point or another we all need the inspiration, guidance and help of role models, mentors and supportive friends. Is there someone you know that you can turn to? Paul says “if they are constructive and supportive, then ask them for some feedback and guidance.”
What will I do next? Think of your mistake as a “diversion rather than a halt” to your journey. Draw up an action plan and get on with the business of being successful. You’re the only one standing in your way.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana
4. Move on
There is no exact science when it comes to getting over things. From feelings of loss and grief to feelings of inadequacy or a loss of confidence, moving on is difficult under most circumstances.
If you’re struggling just remember that people out there in the world are moving on from their losses, failures and mistakes everyday. Therefore, it’s not impossible. If they’re doing it, you can too!
Try these tips for moving on:
Forget about it!
Not the lessons you’ve learned, but the fact that it happened in the first place. This takes a little bit of mental toughness or a ‘shooter’s mentality’ but it can be done.
If you’ve gone through all the steps above, there is no reason to keep letting your mistake hold you back. Let it go!
Do it again!
Practice makes perfect. So, what better way to prove you can be trusted than showing you’ve learned from your mistakes and can now do what ever it was you got wrong as good, if not better than anyone else.
Become an expert at it!
Read. Research. Talk about it with experts. What ever it is, you can learn what others know and never have to worry about repeating your mistakes.
Do you have any tips for dealing with mistakes? Sharing is caring so please share them in the comments box below.