Five Productivity Tips From a Project Manager
Many people will tell you that you will instantly be a productivity wizard if you follow a certain number of steps. Let me be the first to say that’s not true. Yes, some of their tips are surprisingly helpful, but what we need the most are the correct habits that will get us into a productivity mindset. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy, and there are days when you will fail.
In his book “Productivity Ninja”, Graham Allcott says, “decisions made during periods of panic are likely to be the ones we want to forget about”, which leads me nicely to my first tip.
Tip Number 1: Practice Mindfulness
Before I start work, I take 5 minutes to practice mindfulness. I take deep breaths and list out what I am grateful for. This is a super important step in getting into the right mindset for the day ahead. It’s about seeing things from a positive perspective instead of collapsing into a vortex of panic as soon as you see your inbox.
Tip Number 2: Focus on What Matters
There’s no doubt that your inbox will be full of people clamouring for your attention; this is where a fantastic set of tips from Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky come into play. The former Google engineers have created an amazing guide packed with common-sense approaches for blocking out the time drain vampires and focusing on what matters.
- The first step on this journey is to choose your highlight of the day; this is the task that the authors say is your “focus point” for the day that’s ahead. Simply put, it’s the one task you want to “make time for”. To get this one task done, you will need to write it down and then “prioritize your calendar” so people know to leave you alone. Graham Allcott’s tip of “going dark” (which means protecting your attention) will also greatly help with this.
- The second step is to laser focus on the said task; this means “adjusting your technology” so that you can get your highlight done and dusted and move on to some more urgent tasks.
- The third step is about reflecting on the productivity system you have in place and deciding “which tactics you want to continue and which ones you want to refine or drop”. I generally do this once a week, where I block out time to improve on getting the essential items done.
- Finally, the authors speak about the importance of energizing your body (this is something I will touch on in a bit). It’s about looking after your body so that your mind will follow. As the old saying goes, “fitness of the body is fitness of the mind”.
One thing I have found that helps to get into focus mode is music, particularly lo-fi focus playlists that will help you keep your focus.
Tip Number 3: Exercise
I cannot stress this enough; exercising is one of the most critical tools in my productivity toolbox. So, I start my days at 5:15 am and here’s what I will do.
- I get up, warm-up and exercise for an hour
- Then I will meditate before journaling and getting rid of all the junk from my mind
- Finally, I’ll shower, clean my work area, turn on my work laptop, and have a chat with my partner before starting work
If focusing on what matters is your catalyst to getting things done, exercise is like the special sauce that makes it all worthwhile. In fact, according to a 2014 article in the Harvard Business Review,
regular exercise is proven to impact the way we think and work. According to the research, regular exercise helps improve your concentration, learn tasks faster, have “prolonged” periods of “mental stamina”, and helps to decrease your stress levels.
Tip Number 3: Practice Inbox Zero
For many, the idea of a zero inbox is a pipedream. However, what I find is, having your inbox under control means you can keep both stress and anxiety at bay. When I see an inbox full to the brim, I have a minor breakdown (figurately, of course). Get control of your inbox by doing the following:
- Create folders so that each of your emails have a place to live
- Briefly summarize an email and see if there’s an action item for you. If not, it goes into its folder
- Use a flagging system. If something is urgent and needs to be responded to, make sure you flag it. Otherwise, it will get lost in the sea of emails you have.
- Daily, before you wrap, make sure you only have the items you have not actioned yet, or are in the process of actioning
- Finally, every Friday, take the time to review the inbox and bring some organization to it. Sort items into folders if they are not already, and keep on top of them.
These are tips that have worked for me. As a Project Manager, it can be hard to see past the noise. Using the above system will help you focus your attention and ensure that your email does control you.
Tip Number 4: Invest in a Good Notetaking App
Note-taking apps are a dime a dozen. But having a central hub where you can store all your information is super helpful. I look at mine as my central encyclopedia.
- Select a note-taking app that works for you (I would recommend Evernote)
- Create notebooks based on your core work topics (for me, they centre on process)
- Then start to populate your notes and keep them ordered so you can easily reference these for any project you are working on
Some of the most popular note-taking apps are OneNote, Evernote, and Apple Notes. Apple has improved their note-taking service over the years. So it doesn’t matter who you choose, just that you find a place you can store your important notes; this will help you when it comes to being on top of your game.
Tip Number 5: Control Your Impulses
has a whole chapter on the advantages of what they call “infinity pools” these are anything that will distract you from your core goal of being more productive and organized. For example, the work feature on iPhone is my best friend; it mutes all notifications until I am done at work; this helps me focus on my core tasks for the day and limit the number of times I get distracted. That’s not to say that people at work won’t try to do the same to you (Teams and Slack are devils for this). But once you control your impulse to reply and ignore the infinity pools, you will get more done.
I hope these tips will help you get more of the essential tasks done. If you’re interested in reading more on productivity tips and habits, you can take a look at our references below.
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day
by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky (2018)
How to be a Productivity Ninja
by James Allcott (2019)
The Daily Stoic
by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman (2016)