Productivity is a loose word as it may mean a lot of different things for different people. As per the Oxford dictionary, productivity is the state or quality of being productive, that is to be able to achieve a significant amount or result. If I need to deliver 10 actions in the course of the day, I want to deliver as fast as possible with the required quality. Therefore, productivity is generally linked to a form of time management (method) and to tools we use.
Make your own productivity methods
Unfortunately for any human being, there are plentiful time management, goal setting, project management methods, just to name a few « buzzword ». The most important method is the one that works for you. I’ve seen many failed attempts to fit a square peg in a round hole. The only way to make any method work is to adapt it to our own existence and adapt our own existence to the method. This means making a conscious effort, but not a too steep one. It needs to make sense for you. If the method does not make any sense, change it!
Make your productivity tool work for you (not the opposite)
As a professional, I keep track of my goals and what I need to do in Microsoft Outlook, because it replicates to all my devices and is easy to capture any new task. But I’m not a classical user of Outlook, I’m a deep user of Tasks and Calendar, on my own terms. However, Outlook may not work in every situation, particularly for team work, for which I am using my own version of Scrum in simple Excel spreadsheet. Because my motto in productivity tool is: Keep It Simple, Stupid! If any tool requires more that one hour to master, I throw it away.
Recently Inc.com published a post entitled The Productivity Secret Behind Bill Gates’s Incredible Success. The title entices you with the idea that Bill’s success is a matter of just a productivity secret, which is, of course, not really true. However, it puts the finger on something that has now been demonstrated numerous times: intensity of focus is a game-changing behavior and increases performance.
For peak performance, the first to get rid of is distraction. Second, you need to concentrate on the one task you have to do. If you’ve ever been totally absorbed in what you do, like coding or painting, or any pleasurable activity, you should have been amazed at how time flies fast and how much you have done. This is the power of dedicating all your energy to one activity and one activity only. Of course our brain and body are multitasking: we breathe without thinking about it, we digest, we do all sorts of things without being conscious about them. However, dedicating our conscious energy to one thing only is what I’m calling monotasking here.
When you are about to do something difficult, you often need to concentrate. This moment of deep thinking allows to focus our mind and energy on what we are about to do. Unfortunately, with all distractions, many people have lost the ability to concentrate and dedicate oneself to deep work. If you are prone to distraction, you may need to start with short period of concentration, like 10 minutes, and increase slowly to be able to sustain an hour or more of deep concentration. Concentration will bring you to the next performance level.
Meditation can help you reach your concentration goal. By bringing back focused monotasking in your daily work, you will soon be amazed at your results!
Day 706 This idea is not mine but Andy Groove’s former CEO of Intel. In his book High Output Management, written in the 80’s, he describes how to create a successful organization and goes through all aspects of management and leadership. For a long time, it has been a model and still is in many aspects, whether you are in manufacturing or not. On all the concepts he describes, the decision-making one is so elegant and simple, it’s the best I came to see. It is described through three steps:
Free discussion. This is probably the most important step. All parties that need to come to a decision need to speak up. They need to provide their concerns and ideas. Free speech is essential and everyone needs to go as deep as possible. Nothing should be left on the table. If the ideas exchange is too shallow, the decision risks to be not that well accepted.
Clear decision. Because the discussion has been to the right depth, consensus is reached with the right balance, having heard all parties.
Full support. Once again, because a consensus has been found and a decision made, all parties need to support the action following the decision. If something has not been said, or things have been left on the table because somebody did not spoke up, it may be necessary to go back to the free discussion step. Pay attention though to not end into an analysis-paralysis infinite loop. Trade-offs have to be made sometimes.
The interesting piece about this process is the first step. Free speech is essential, therefore the leader of the discussion has to ensure all parties are heard and has to establish a trust environment. If trust is not present, some persons may not feel right to speak up, they may fear retaliation if they disagree. The leader does not have to impose his/her idea but let all parties to talk. It may end up by a decision that is at the opposite to what the leader of the discussion thought at the beginning. So be it, if it’s the best consensus found.
I am not sure though all companies or group of leaders are ready for this kind of decision-making process. However, to evolve into a growth mindset, this kind of behavior is essential and will contribute to better decision and a more pleasant work environment. Once again, simple, not easy!
Day 657 If multitasking is bad for productivity, it happens that some things can be done simultaneously, here are a few I could think of :
Running and listening to music
Driving and listening to an audio book
Cooking and learning a foreign language
Walking and looking around with deep attention
Talking while talking (walking meeting are awesome)
Working out and watching you favorite series
Hiking and thinking
Painting and singing
Reading your emails while having a coffee…
Actually all that you can do on autopilot, without deeply thinking about it, can form the base of another task that will require more attention. This is not multitasking, this is real parallel processing.
Day 655. A friend of mine asked me over the week-end how I was doing all that I am doing: blogging, working out, travelling, doing my CTO job, etc. I told him there was no extravaganza here, just simple and powerful discipline. I revealed him that I was actually defining how much time an activity was to take me and therefore was finding ways to go fast, as fast as I can, without taking any shortcuts or compromising on quality. Having thought about it over the week-end, here are the early thinking of my « no-shortcut theory of ultimate productivity », or « how to do all you have to do, without compromising on quality »
First and foremost, let me qualify what do I mean by not compromising on quality. It’s actually meaning two clear things:
Content quality. If I ever have to product something, it has to be of top quality. Cheap is low quality, cheap is crap, and cheap has to be avoided!
Time quality. We all have 24 hours every day and we all have/want to do a sum of things every day. Ask yourself how you want those to be done and to consume the allocated time. Then do them in the allocated time.
Time quality also means that I need to take time to take care about myself (health, physical quality) and my relationships with others (people who matter, friends and family). None of my professional or personal activities should put my health or my relationship at risk. And this means, that I had to learn to say « no » to some activities. Superman does not exist and No is the most powerful word when it comes to keeping your commitments.
With this baseline, the no-shortcut theory of ultimate productivity comes to my six simple and proven axioms:
What’s not planned does not get done. Every morning, take 5 to 15 minutes to plan your day and ensure all your activities are aligned on your short, mid and long term goals.
Every activity has to have a time limit. If you do not put a stop sign, you will eat into the next activity and your schedule will get sidetracked.
What’s not finished needs to be planned again. If you reach the stop sign and your activity is not finished, reschedule it for the next day or for the next available slot. Some activities are shorter than expected, others are longer.
Never, ever plan back-to-back activities. You will need bio breaks, unexpected events will happen or you will just need to breathe and go for a walk.
Plan no more than 80% of the day. A little bit like axiom number 4, you should always keep buffers between activities or sometimes free slots. This will allow some mundane tasks to happen or unexpected phone calls/emails to answer. Eventually, if everything works flawlessly, you’ll have free time to do more things or to go for a walk.
Do not tolerate interruptions. Multi-tasking has been proven counterproductive time and time again. When you do something, do it with 100% focus. Unplug the internet, silence the phone and close the door.
Now, this is working for me and has been working for many years now. It goes down to being disciplined to follow them every day, starting the day with your planning activities. Now, do you have to read your email first thing in the morning, wake up at 5 or practice meditation? The choice is yours. I know the same activity may mean different things for different people, and each needs to define his or her own routine. But, with these axioms at play, I can deliver 100%, sometimes more, of what I planned to deliver, day in, day out. As you can see, it’s not rocket science, it’s pretty basic, actually, very basic, but efficient, actually, very efficient!
Whether your next PC should have a touch screen is not even a question. It becomes obvious. Whether it should have a keyboard is although not a question. The ubiquitous tablet is the new PC. Said I as I type on my Surface Pro 3. The holy trinity of IT, Microsoft, Apple, and Google have all their offerings, each with its benefits, apps, ecosystem and user interface. But let’s see why touch has become an obvious choice.
Moving from one apps to the other has never been so fast. Swiping from one app to the other is a natural gesture.
It’s faster to point directly to the screen that to scroll the mouse to the point you want to reach.
Swiping to read through a document is natural.
The day you have a screen that is not « touch » you will regret you cannot touch it.
Why carry a PC and a tablet when you can have both in one device.
Of course you may want a lot of processing power to do picture or movie editing for instance or require a bigger screen. Not all applications will be 100% adaptable to the tablet world, I bet though first that a vast majority of usage can be fulfilled on a tablet and second that processor power will increase in the coming years to make the choice even easier. The tablet PC will be one of the few segments that will grow as well, allowing Original Equipment Manufacturers to come with creative designs. The future is just wonderful, don’t you think?
Day 635. The world is big and diverse. Imagine we now know there’s water on Mars! And we would ignore our neighbors, our customers and even our friends have different interests in life than ours. When you are making money selling a certain type of products or services, you may not imagine others are making money selling other products and services. You may not realize there are millions of opportunities waiting to be seized. But we tend to be blind and deaf to those opportunities, busy we are.
There’s no scarcity on the planet. Despite huge debt value, despite wars, despite pessimists, opportunities are everywhere, fortune are made every day and people are constantly growing. Every day, you can open your door, physically, walk around your home or your office and watch. Then come back to your desk and note down every idea you had. Do this for the next 30 days. You will come with hundred ideas of new businesses or opportunities to deliver valuable service. There should one or two that will excite you. Wealth of experience is everywhere, just for you to grab. What are you waiting for?
J 617. Ecouter quelqu’un parler. Depuis combien de temps ne l’avez-vous pas fait sans regarder votre téléphone, votre portable ou parler vous-même à votre voisin. Je sais, vous allez me dire que parfois, c’est dur d’écouter quelqu’un de barbant, que parfois vous savez déjà de ce dont il s’agit ou que tout simplement, vous avez quelque chose d’urgent sur le feu. Cependant, si vous avez la moindre once de respect pour la personne qui parle, écoutez-la ou allez-vous en !
Cela peut sembler violent, mais en tant que présentateur, il n’y a rien que je déteste plus que quelqu’un qui fait quelque chose d’autre quand je parle. Quand je suis de l’autre côté de la salle, je me fais donc un devoir d’écouter ou de partir. Certes, vous allez me dire que partir n’est pas montrer du respect au présentateur. Si ! C’est lui signifier (s’il vous voit partir) que le sujet ne vous intéresse pas et que vous préférez le laisser à son audience. Si vous restez, écoutez. Depuis plusieurs années, je pratique l’écoute active : je prends des notes, je conforte mes connaissances, je note des idées et je prépare des questions.
Écouter est une question de respect pour celui qui parle, et aussi une question de respect pour le temps que vous passez à écouter celui qui parle. Et puis, on ne va pas revenir sur les qualités de ne faire qu’une tâche à la fois ! Malheureusement, le déficit d’attention est en augmentation. Alors si vous voulez apprendre à écouter, ou réapprendre à écouter, coupez toute forme de technologie (oui, éteignez votre téléphone), focalisez-vous sur celui qui parle, au début quelques minutes, puis augmentez petit à petit. Au bout de quelques jours, vous pourrez écouter quelqu’un parler pendant une heure ou plus sans être distrait. La qualité de votre écoute augmentera la qualité de votre compréhension et celle du temps qui passe. Enfin, admettons qu’écouter ne coûte rien, mais peut rapporter gros.
Day 608. There are thousands of articles on the web and dozens of books on time management that all emphasize why multitasking is not as efficient as planning, serializing tasks and focusing. Easier said than done in an era of constant distraction and attention deficit disorder. Actually, as much as I like focus and concentration, it happens that I multitask, particularly when a task, like a download, does not require my attention. However, as soon as a task requires your attention, you need to give it 100% of your attention. Not less! We could argue over and over the benefits and the downsides of multitasking, here are 8 reasons I found useful to not multitask when tempted:
Respect. When I speak to somebody and that person replies, I am 100% in the conversation. No phone, no tablet, no interruption. If I am waiting for an important phone call, I warn the person I may get interrupted, but other than this, I pay 100% respect. I feel horribly rude to watch an electronic device when speaking. If I am boring, let me know, if something annoys you, let me know, just be respectful!
Speed. When getting on one task, you set the bar higher to make it faster. Just do it, like the slogan says. Because you are 100% focus on that task, you will want to come to its end faster, and this is the third reason.
End. If you define the end, you define the speed and time will generally just be right. If it happens you need more time, just define another end time or plan another slot accordingly. When a task has a defined end, you will want to end it because of the fourth reason, dopamine.
Dopamine. Dopamine is the neuro-transmitter for satisfaction. When you tick a done task on your task list, your brain releases a shot of dopamine that makes you feel good. By monotasking you’ll have multiple shots of dopamine every day, each reinforcing this feeling of pleasure. At the same time, you’ll decrease the fifth reason: cortisol.
Cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone of stress. The more stress, the more cortisol. The more cortisol, the less immune system, and potentially the more illness. You get the picture. By serializing and finishing tasks, you keep your cortisol level at the right rate.
Creativity. I discovered that when I am planning and acting accordingly, my days end up with more free time to unleash my creativity. This provides great additional ideas to do things faster or better clarity on how to deliver more value.
Control. You are in control when you plan and focus, and are not driven by others’ priorities. Yes, sometimes, you need to answer outside requests, but by setting the time and pace, you gain control, better satisfaction and better return on relationship.
Procrastination. By doing one thing at a time, with a define end and a tick in the box when done, you end up your days with a clean sheet and procrastination is an habit of the past. Just simply powerful!
If you apply monotasking to 80% of your days, your productivity and satisfaction will increase at least two-fold! It can even go to three times higher. I’ve seen many instances during which I could do in one day (one normal day, not overworking) what I thought would take three days. Do you know what can derail a good planning? Human interaction. You can never spend too much time with people, but as any other tasks, set expectations, define outcome and be 100% there.
Make it a habit to monotask, to dedicate time and energy to get better day in day out. You’ll discover by doing this you’ll get more free time you would have never expected. Above all, have fun!