Steps to increase your productivity today: Ask Amber

By Amber Alarid, JVA Consulting

If you’re staring at your to-do list wondering how to get everything done, then this blog is for you. This blog is also for you if that large lunch you just devoured has you in an afternoon food coma. This week, I want to focus on increasing productivity—no matter what the situation might be. After consulting some great sources on the subject, I am ready to share my favorite tips with you. The best part? These are all strategies you can start using today!

The two-minute rule

Thanks to a great post from Jessica Williams on the Ms. Career Girl blog, I now vow to abide by the two-minute rule by checking things off before they even make it on my to-do list. The rule is simple: if an action can be done in two minutes or less, do it now. Don’t spend time agonizing over a to-do list that took longer to create than half the items on it will take. Tackle small projects in the moment so they don’t plague you later (when you likely won’t even remember what needed to be done in the first place!).

Mange in-baskets effectively

In his book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen advises individuals to “have as many in-baskets as you need and as few as you can get by with,” and to “empty the buckets regularly.” In-baskets should include any items that require further action on your part. You may be a tech-savvy professional who prefers to keep virtual in-baskets on a Blackberry or iPad, but the idea is the same. Limit the number of lists and files you store tasks in to prevent confusion when filing or deleting a task. However, I personally believe in using at least some physical in-baskets because the clutter that results when you procrastinate on emptying the box is a constant visual reminder of the tasks you have yet to complete. Physically disposing of an item after completing a task also adds to the feeling of accomplishment for some. I use sticky notes or bright markers to mark the items with specific actions and dates and to cross them out when they are done.

Group tasks together

Sarah Kessler offers 37 tips on productivity in her Mashable article, including advice for those working outside the office. A tip I find to useful whether you are in the office, at home, or at a local coffee shop: “block [the] like-minded tasks together.” However you decide to organize your day, set aside a specific amount of time to do each task and then move on.  This prevents you from being stuck on one project too long and feeling as if other projects are being neglected. Allow yourself a set amount of time to check email, return calls, go through your in-baskets to complete old tasks and organize. That being said, if you are on a strict deadline allow for some flexibility on this rule, dedicating as much time as needed to the project.

Do you have rules that keep you moving toward completing tasks and goals each day? Have you read any interesting articles or books on productivity recently? Share your successful strategies with other nonprofit professionals in the comments section below.

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5 Responses to Steps to increase your productivity today: Ask Amber

  1. Brandi says:

    I love the book “The 4 Hour Work Week”. The biggest take away for me was only checking my email 2 times a day. Constant email checking is such a time sap! He even recommends putting up an automatic reply that says something like “I will check my email at 11am and 4pm, if your message is urgent please call me” or something like that.

    • jvaconsulting says:

      That’s a great point Brandi and a great suggestion. “The 4 Hour Work Week” sounds like another wonderful resource for our readers to add to their summer reading list.

  2. Thanks so much for the mention in this awesome article. It’s all about productivity!!

    • jvaconsulting says:

      Jessica thank you for sharing your incredibly easy and efficient strategies for being more productive. Your blog has a lot of helpful content!

  3. When I need to be productive, it’s also a priority to make my breaks really count. Whether it’s a quick walk around the school or eating lunch, that time needs to be free from the projects and tasks I have been working on. Half-focusing on a task (like checking email while eating lunch) during what is supposed to be a moment of peace eliminates both the feeling of accomplishment from focused, efficient work and the feeling of relaxation from the break!

    I also break my “to do” list into two columns: tasks that need to be accomplished by a certain time or date, and tasks that have no firm or immediate deadline but need to stay on my radar. Sometimes those are as quick as sending an email or doing 20 minutes of research, and accomplishing one of those fast tasks is a great way to stay motivated while simultaneously working on larger projects.

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