I've been working quite a bit on this Natalie because it is a huge problem. Our lack of productivity leads to tremendous physical and emotional consequences that we euphemistically call "stress". What I've learned over the past five years of trying to hack knowledge work and teach those hacks to others could fill a book... Wait, it actually has :) I've got a draft I can share with you if your interested.
The key to becoming more productive is to lower the cognitive overhead you are dealing with so you can FOCUS on what is important in your work. I've developed a system called Real Symple that is based in part on the work of BJ Fogg at Stanford in the area of persuasive technology. The model is as follows:
- Motivation: Do you want to?
- Ability: Are you able to?
- Trigger: Can you remember to?
So, the key is to develop mechanisms that encourage behavior to help you Get Things Done. A mechanism has four elements:
1. It should be Real: Visual + Physical
2. It should be Systematic: So you can scale it and make it routine
3. It should be Fast: So you can work quickly and learn more
4. It should be Simple: Anything too complicated will become Shelf Art
Here are a few hacks for you to investigate:
- Personal Kanban: Check out Jim Bensons book and website of the same name
- Instead of making To-Do lists, create a project list using sticky notes so you can use to rearrange the hierarchy of the list on a moments notice.
- Empty your bag and head of ALL items every day. Sort through all the stuff in your bag and organize. Write all the deliverables and tasks down on sticky notes so you can see them. Organize them according to priority. Do them ONE at a time.
- Plan your week Sunday night and block out every hour of the day for specific deliverables you have to complete. Leave NO time unscheduled. You can always choose to bump something if another item comes up that is more important. The key is to choose the work you do rather than simply doing the work that "comes next" or chooses you because of its newness, urgency, etc.
- Use Lean Meetings for problem solving and ideation meetings (I can send you info on how to do one)
- Make all meetings WORKING Meetings. Updates are fine if they lead to work but otherwise do we really need to have a meeting to just do updates?
- Make default meeting length 45 minutes and have everyone stand.
- The last step of every meeting is to assign Action Items to each person in the meeting.
- Checklists: Google Atul Gwande's Checklist Manifesto article and begin using checklists to scale best practices.
- Templatize every process you can rather than reinventing the wheel each time. Your quality and speed will improve dramatically
Those are a few, there are many more but I don't have to rewrite the book here and you don't have time to read it now :) I hope this helps get you started. Just remember that behavior is the key to results. Behavior can be stimulated with the right mechanisms that motivate us, simplify the process, and trigger us to remember to do it.