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Today I’m sharing some of my favourite productivity tips and hacks that help me do more in less time. I’m asked about work-life balance a lot. Often people want to know precise estimates of how much they should be getting done in a day, month or a year. The truth is that there are no simple answers. It’s different for every person depending on their situation. That said, optimising your productivity with these simple tips will allow you to reach your peak performance.
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Before we begin…
List everything you need to do
Before listing my top 6 tips, I’m going to talk about a holistic productivity system to complement the handy pieces of advice that follow. Feel free to scroll past this if you just want the digestible tips, but it’s worth taking the time to read if you can.
The ideas that this productivity system is based upon are found in David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. The process begins by downloading everything from your brain, inbox and 37 or so to-do lists and putting them in a single place. In practice, that means spending two consecutive days of your life doing nothing but getting yourself organised.
Grab yourself a notepad and jot down every single project in your life, both business and personal, as well as every important person: family members, investors, contractors, agents and so on. It’s probably best to have one page per project at this stage. For each project and each person start making a list of every outstanding task you have for them. And I mean literally everything – whether it’s ordering carpets for your latest flip, or ordering a present for your husband’s birthday.
These lists will stay with you until a project is done. In some cases that could be a long time, so once the initial brain dump is done you might want to move the lists across into a digital platform like Asana for safe-keeping.
Decision making: do it, defer it, delegate it or delete it
Allen’s decision making process is broken down into 4 Ds: do it, defer it, delegate it, delete it. Each item on your project lists and every new piece of information you receive, whether it’s your post, emails, phone calls, or self-instructed tasks, should correspond to one of these 4 Ds.
If you can complete the task in less than 2 minutes, then do it now and get it out of the way. If it takes more than 2 minutes, then it’ll fit into one of the other 3 Ds. My favourite option is to delete it. It’s something I’m trying to get better at. Getting distracted and becoming caught-up in unessential projects or someone else’s priorities is the quickest way to lose sight of your own goals.
Knowing your own goals and priorities is pivotal for the decision making process to function smoothly. My favourite book on this topic is Will It Make the Boat Go Faster, by former olympic rower Ben Hunt-Davis. During the training for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, his rowing team asked one question about every part of their training: will it make the boat go fast? If the answer was no, it didn’t get done.
I’d suggest a similarly ruthless approach to your own prioritisation. If the task won’t make your boat go faster, then you shouldn’t be spending time on it.
6 tips to boost your productivity
1. Stop using your inbox as your to do list
(Or any other incoming source of information, like whoever happens to phone you that morning). You need to be the master of your priorities and letting your inbox control your next tasks means you’re not focusing on what’s most important.
In an ideal world your inbox should be empty and every project and task should be listed and managed somewhere else. We use Asana for all of our task management, but a paper to do list works just as well, or some other piece of software like Evernote. Every task should be organised by project and should include a timeframe it needs to be completed in.
2. Review what you’re working on, using the task list
We sit down on a Sunday evening and go through every project on our task list, to work out what we need or want to do in the following week. Doing this at the beginning of every week allows us to see what next steps need to be taken to move each project forward.
If our review highlights that there’s a lot of urgent tasks needing to be done that week, we may leave it at that. But ideally you want as few tasks as possible being left until they’re urgent so that you have plenty of time to work on big, valuable tasks that don’t have a specific deadline.
These tasks tend to be the ones that will push your business forward the most. It could be finding your next deal, or creating a plan for raising private finance.
3. Schedule your day with a calendar app
Each morning we consult our shortlist of tasks for that week to determine what to focus on. We estimate how long a task will take and if it’s more than about 15 minutes we block out a specific time in our calendar to get it done. We also schedule in everything else we want to get done, whether that’s a site visit, a trip to the gym, or taking the dog out.
It gives us a clear view of the day ahead, allowing us to get the most out of it. If there are any conflicts, they’re immediately visible. If there are any gaps we can either figure out what else is a priority, or decide to knock off early. If everything gets done, you’re done.
4. Stop checking your emails
I’m as guilty as the next person of picking up my phone at the sight of the first notification. Nonetheless, it’s a terrible habit: a huge time time drain and a hindrance to us achieving the bigger picture.
Along with scheduling business and personal tasks into our calendar, we also set time aside for our inbox. Checking it once in the morning and once in the afternoon is enough. Outside of those times we try to avoid email, unless we’re waiting on something urgent. Each of our two daily email sessions are based around the 4Ds: do it, defer it, delegate it or delete it.
5. Turn your phone notifications off
I’d suggest even going as far as putting your phone on airplane mode during working hours. There’s no better way to kill an afternoon than through refreshing Instagram to keep track of how many likes your latest post is getting.
As I’m guilty of this, if I’m working on something important, my phone isn’t in the room. Otherwise, I might have my phone next to me, but my notifications are always turned off and my phone usually goes straight to voicemail. You need to work on your terms and control your time. Interrupting your flow to answer someone else’s question is not an effective use of your time.
6. Keep meetings to a minimum.
Starting out, I wasted hours catching up over coffee and attending lunchtime networking sessions that went nowhere. Networking undoubtedly has its place in growing your property business, but it needs to have a purpose.
A few weeks ago I jumped on a train from Stockport down to London for a single 30 minute meeting. It was 100% worth it, but the meeting was well planned, the purpose was clear and we knew what we needed to get done.
The problem with most meetings is that they have no clear aim and drag on for longer than they need to. I refuse to meet someone in person until three things are clear: what the reason for the meeting is, what they want to get out of it and what I want to get out of it.
You might say some of these missed meetings could develop into something else down the line. It’s true, but the biggest driver of your success is going to be how well you execute your plan. You won’t get there by attending innumerable chance meetings, just in case one of them hands out a golden ticket.
One last thing…
You don’t need to implement all of these tips to become more productive, but even incorporating one or two into your routine can have a massive impact. Like any habits they need practice and they’ll take time to become routine. But your career could span another 20-40 years. If you start making these things habits now, the benefits will last long into the future.