Productivity is not activity

Productivity without activity, is it possible? I want to challenge you to think about how you work.

The author of ‘Free to focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less’ Michael Hyatt explains:

“Most of our breakthrough ideas actually happen when our minds are at ease. Being productive during the week means we gain the freedom to do nothing in our time off, and that’s when the creative juices really begin to flow.”

This means having regular breaks. I know I have talked a lot about short breaks in my previous blogs, such as setting up boundaries and workstation changes. This is because working all the time may be counterproductive, and a 5 to 10-minute break can help boost concentration.

Do you feel like you are always busy and overwhelmed and that you never have time to think? Do you have a to-do list you never cross off? If that’s the case you might find these time management tips helpful.

I work full time and I’m a parent, so I have had to learn about time management along the way. I still find new ways of working or improving how I do things and that’s what I’d like to share with you. I’ll also include some techniques my colleagues use.

Ignite your productivity

Improving your time management can benefit both your personal and professional life, and reduce stress. It will free you to do more of the things you like.

I could suggest waking up earlier (have you heard of the 5am club?) to do journaling, meditation, exercise and drink a green smoothie, but everyone has different needs and some of you are super productive when starting the day later. Find out what works for you.

Why not start by writing down how long it takes you to complete individual tasks, for a whole week. Include your breaks and phone calls, everything. This will help you identify any time-wasting activity and give you an idea of where to improve.

Plan tomorrow today

What do you do when you get up in the morning? Do you rush for your emails, mobile phone in the bedroom? Or do you already know how your day is looking? How does it feel to know exactly what you are about to do?

The key to productivity is better time management and prioritisation. Know your priorities – identify them each day. Make a list each evening for the next day and stick to it. You could also take your main goal, for the week, and break it down into 3 tasks.

Be realistic. Allocating time for each task will help you:

  • prioritise: by choosing the first step and what is the most important one to do first, this will feel like progress
  • focus: break your task into 25-minute chunks (see the Pomodoro technique), and you will increase your confidence in achieving your goal
  • find work more manageable: by scheduling time to complete it, this will show you how efficient you are if you finish the task in the time you allocated to yourself

Lists work

Write your list on paper and then update your online calendar to reflect it by time-blocking. That way you know you won’t be disturbed by other queries. Look up ‘time blocking’ for videos with more hacks.

You can also check out online productivity tools such as Trello, Asana and Google Keep. These can help you create digital to-do lists and plan your day.

Online calendar showing time blocked in colour code for each working day.
Beginning and end of day, as well as lunch, are added as time-blocked

Organise time by prioritising and delegating

There are time management apps you can use, but setting reminders in your calendar or on your phone works just as well. Ask your colleagues how they work better; you might discover things you can easily put in place for yourself.

Paul, Project Manager in the professional standards team shares this tip:

“It can be useful to hunt the elephants, not the ants! Meaning do the big, difficult things first and then come on to the smaller easier tasks. Our natural inclination is to do the opposite and in doing so we put pressure on ourselves by leaving things too close to deadlines and having the big things hanging over us.”

You can find out more by watching the webinar he delivered, which is on-demand: Introduction to project management (GCS members only).

Another colleague, Yvonne, uses the 4Ds model:

  • delete
  • delegate
  • defer
  • do

And my colleague Michal, likes to use the Eisenhower Matrix which helps see what is urgent and not urgent.

The Eisenhower matrix helps prioritise tasks by urgency and importance with 4 sections: do first, schedule, delegate, don't do.

And finally, my colleague Ayesha says:

“Make sure that you organise your tasks by deadline date and/or duration. Give yourself a shorter deadline than the required one where possible. That way you will have extra time in case large pieces of work come in.

Communicate regularly on priorities with your team and stakeholders, to ensure you are on track or if you need to adjust deadlines. If you are aware of how your work links in with others, it will be possible to make adjustments.”

There is also training on Civil Service Learning, search for ‘delegation’.

Save time by structuring your meeting

If you are the organiser, make sure you have an agenda and that you get the right people in. What will they contribute? Do they have an action to complete before the meeting? Do they need to attend the full session?

Even a meeting for a brainstorming session needs structure: what is the goal of the brainstorm? Looking at options, or getting feedback for example.

For a productive meeting, consider:

  • sending an agenda, and task, before the meeting
  • articulating a clear goal that outlines what you want to do
  • allowing time for questions and suggestions

Take time for strategic thinking

Perhaps the most useful tip I have implemented every week is to take time to think and to self-reflect. I’ve been working on my self-growth for many years. I always want to learn new things and improve my skills.

Block time in your calendar for thinking. Ask yourself powerful questions to stay motivated:

  • am I focusing on the right thing?
  • could I be doing something better or in a different way?
  • how will I feel when I complete this project?
  • what would happen if this task did not get done?
  • what is one thing I could improve?

My colleague Sara reflects:

“Remember that what works for others might not work for you. Find your own rhythm. Figure out what your creative time is – it might be early in the morning or late afternoon. Then protect it. Use that valuable time to focus on your strategic thinking, or that piece of writing you need to do.”

Pat yourself on the back after each task is completed. This helps you evaluate your project and will make you feel confident that you are making progress. Share your productivity hacks with your colleagues and with us.

I’d like to leave you with these 2 quotes

Maxine Builder who wrote an article, in 2018: The 10 Best Books on Productivity, According to People Who Get Things Done said:

“Deciding to “be more productive” is one of those goals that sounds really good — because who doesn’t want to get more done in fewer hours or waste less time on social media? — but is actually hard to do well. That’s because productivity is such a slippery concept, with a different meaning for every person, depending on what they ultimately want to accomplish. And what helps one person stay on track might be the productivity tool that successfully guides another.”

And finally, James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits”, book in which he talks about the 4 laws of behavior change to build better habits:

“The ultimate productivity hack is saying no.”

    Image credits:
  • Shutterstock / Vadi Fuoco (1)
  • Stephanie Hill (2)
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  • Shutterstock / TarikVision (for homepage image) (4)