Archives for posts with tag: Productivity

What did we call life hacks before we called them life hacks? That phrase has only been around for a few years but already I can’t think of what term we used to describe the short-cuts or tricks of getting by in life that we pick up as we pass through the decades of our earthly existence.

Anything that gives us the inside track on a task and saves us time improves our personal productivity, wellbeing and happiness. There are myriad life hacks we use every day without even thinking about them.

I drive a lot of different cars. I travel overseas once a month and hire a car when I’m over there. Whenever I’m picking up my hire car I generally ask the staff member I’m dealing with if the car has blue tooth for hooking up my mobile phone (they almost all do nowadays) and which side of the car the fuel cap is on so I know how to pull into a fuelling station on the correct side to fill up the tank. If I forget, I have to get out of the car and look for it.

I’ve been driving for over 30 years. Imagine my surprise and astonishment, then, when someone told me earlier this year that on almost every car dashboard there is a little icon of a fuel pump and an arrow indicating which side you dispense fuel from. Brilliant! I’d noticed the icon many times but hadn’t registered the significance of the arrow. I’m sure most of you knew this one already, and are tut-tutting to yourself, safe in the knowledge that you’re probably oodles of life hacks ahead of me.

For me, however, it was another life hack acquired. Another micro-improvement.

When I’m in the UK, one of my colleagues and I travel to the office from different ends of a major motorway. I go north, he goes south, and then we reverse our journeys to go home at the end of the day.

His journey is invariably more snarled up than mine. A daily commute that regularly turns sour is a major source of mental ill-being in my opinion.

The other day I was returning to the office from an event and using the length of motorway my colleague uses, which is unusual for me. There was a stretch of roadworks on the motorway. It was about 20 miles in length and had a restricted speed limit of 50 miles an hour, with narrowed driving lanes and more traffic cones than you get grains of sand on a mile-wide beach.

The total amount of ‘road work’ activity on this 20-mile stretch, in mid-afternoon on a mid-week day? None. Not a single vehicle or worker. Zero activity.

This is the lost productivity of negligible roadworks. It’s the cumulative time lost for thousands of travellers, not to mention the increase in annoyance and frustration – increased enough for me to pen this blog 2 weeks after the fact – coming from having to drive at reduced speed for the guts of half an hour.

Who suffers? As usual, the individual. The private citizen, who is a customer of the infrastructure by virtue of having paid their road tax, and a bunch of other taxes besides.


I came across a new word the other day, courtesy of a link from a friend of mine that I also am lucky to work with occasionally. It’s called deloading. It’s taking proper down-time to recharge the batteries and ensure that when you get back on the horse you’re still super-productive.

The link is here. It’s written by a chap called Tim Ferriss, who many of you will know as the author of the 4-Hour Work Week, and other books on a similar theme. I thought he was a good bit older than he is. Not that he looks older, but that he seems to have packed an annoyingly large amount of stuff into his CV already.

You might know from my own blog that I’ve been an advocate of deloading for a long time, although I can honestly say I’ve never referred to it by that term. I guess I’ve always been practising the exercise of taking regular breaks, but not time-wasting breaks, from more run-of-the-mill activities like writing, work or study.

I guess you could boil it down to the time-honoured phrase that a change is as good as a rest. There is so much to be said for the productivity benefits of taking regular time out. It seems counter-intuitive that you can get more done in less and with less. Perhaps that’s the reason why many employers and managers are keen to get as much work time from their people as possible. But’s never been about the hours you put into work, it’s about the work you put into the hours.

Return on investment is the corner stone of business. We have a number of competing projects to invest in. We can’t invest in them all, so we have to select the best ones for our circumstances and objectives. We measure success by the money we get back for the money we’ve spent.

So what better return on investment is there when your outlay is zero? Yes, I’m talking about getting value and return from other people’s money, or OPM. Not your partners’ cash, your competitors’.

For example, companies often sponsor projects like events, white papers or other publications. If you’ve carved a reputation for yourself as a thought leader in your field, or even someone whose opinion would be interesting, then there’s an opportunity for you to get a platform for your message in something that someone else has paid for.

You don’t need to prevail on your competitor for air time. Often, the event or the publication is organised by a third party, like a journalist, many of whom respond to the argument that a greater breadth of views and opinions makes for more balanced output.

Leveraging other people’s money, legitimately, is always better than leveraging your own.

There is a phrase used colloquially in business: ‘trying to fit 10 pounds of manure into a 5-pound bag.’ OK, so the word manure isn’t usually used, but here it deputises nicely for its much more graphic and vulgar counterpart. You get the message; it conjures up a vivid image of what happens when we don’t prioritise well.

It’s a topic I’ve dwelt on before and it goes back to how well we manage our own time.

You can’t get everything done that you want to during the day, so list the things you have to get done and estimate the time it will take you to do each of them. Then rank them by importance, rather than urgency. Then work down the list and figure out how many you can do in the day. You’ll not get to the others. If item 1 is going to take you more than the full day, then you need to break it up into manageable chunks, which you can then re-rank.

Sometimes I pick off the smaller, less important jobs first, but this is high risk because then you might be looking at a very long working day since you have to get the most important job finished before you clock out.

If you don’t take a prioritising approach to your work, you’ll see your key projects drag on far longer than they should.

So should you be spending your precious time on the advice dispensed in this blog? If it helps you be more productive and successful, then of course.

That said, and from my own personal perspective, I don’t know how this blog gets done 3 times a week. Probably because I don’t view it as work. It’s more like living in another country. The longer you stay, the more used to it you become, and the harder it is to move.

Just imagine how much more we could get done if we didn’t need to sleep, ever.

I’m one of those people that needs my 8 hours sleep, as I’ve mentioned before. If I don’t get my full allocation during the week, then I really need to recoup it at the weekend if at all possible.

I consider myself fairly active for the 16 hours a day that I’m awake, and I often imagine how much more I could get done if I only needed, say, 4 hours sleep a night. There have been plenty of well-known people in history who operated extremely well, with no apparent side effects, on a fraction of the daily recommended amount, but I’m not one of them, either on the famous front or the sleep minimisation front.

But if we didn’t sleep at all, with no downside, we would effectively reach 24/7 productivity. An extra 50% over what I currently get, which sounds pretty attractive, at least when you look at the pure numbers.

I’m not talking about not being able to sleep for long periods, something called Fatal Familial Insomnia, which sounds as bad as anything could be for a person. I’m really talking about not needing to sleep.

On reflection, though, and on balance, I spend about two-thirds of the week working, and the rest on rest and relaxation, so maybe doing the same on a typical day is about right too.

The comment usually attributed to Albert Einstein is that insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting a different outcome, or words to that effect.

For someone who regularly blogs about the primacy of productivity, I have a number of annoying habits that harm my productivity. They’re not mistakes as such, and I’m not insane, but they are silly and for that I am stupid.

One of them is that I almost never unsubscribe to emails from companies that I haven’t re-engaged with after the initial engagement. I argue to myself that I don’t open the email, and it only takes me a second or two to read the subject line and hit delete. When there are 20-50 of those emails a day, every day, it adds up, especially taking its toll on my attention and mental budgets.

Another peccadillo is the process for creating a new text document for writing. I was doing some personal writing the other day and I like to start a new document for each page, because each subject in the project I’m working on is no more than a page. Each new document comes up in the default font, which is not my favourite font, so I write a few lines, highlight them all, and change the font. Every single time.

Finally, I got round to searching the help function for how to re-set the default font and 2 minutes later my new docs were appearing in the lettering I like.

Why didn’t I do that a thousand documents ago? Madness…

Did anyone notable ever say something along the lines of ‘a wise man speaks less, a foolish man does not’?

If they didn’t, they should have, so I’m filling the gap now.

When you’re in a meeting with new people, I think it’s a sensible course of action to keep your own counsel first. This is deferential, which is polite and considerate, but also gives you a chance to gauge the situation, see what they’re like, assess what they know, and generally rate them as individuals, based on your early impressions.

Then, when you’ve given them a chance and you’re surer of the situation, you can start contributing from a more knowledgeable basis.

This approach certainly works well in sales and marketing, when you’re looking to get the customer to do the talking so you can learn more and propose a better solution that builds on your increased understanding of their requirements.

When you understand the situation and the new person you’re talking to better than they do you, you’re in a position to help them better, make a better first impression, and have a better chance of controlling the dialogue and the output.

I’ll keep this post uncharacteristically short. I’m going to put it out there. It applies for work and play.

No meeting, session, presentation and so on should be longer than an hour. Anything more is too much, unfair to the audience, not a good use of anyone’s time. It’s a productivity and attention thing.

Do we really need longer than an hour? If we do, we should split it up into sessions, with breaks. Look at the educational system, which should be focused on learning, absorbing, retaining and using information. Classes are less than an hour, and double classes should have a complete break.

The exception to this is if you, the customer, the audience member, have paid for the privilege. A film, a show, or an evening with someone. Other than that, it should be an hour, max. It’s all you should need.

My good lady’s father has a saying: never leave a room empty-handed. There’s always something you could be putting back, tidying up, or passing to someone.

It makes sense. It feeds directly into our personal productivity; doing a little often, chipping away at something rather than allowing a huge wedge of a thankless job to weigh us down, becoming bigger by the day, hanging over our heads and making us stressed.

I must confess I’m not good at this. These little pregnant pauses are great moments for doing a few leg exercises to loosen a troublesome calf muscle, or filing a few bills away at a time. Too often I let procrastination of the distasteful become the thief of my time as I kid myself that it’s better if I do one big job.

It’s the same in the electronic world as well of course. Even though we feel we’ve never been busier, with our time seemingly accounted for from the moment we wake til the moment we sleep, there are still little tiny pockets of time that we could be using better. We could be getting rid of emails, deleting old texts or unwanted photos languishing in our phones.

In work and life, idleness is a disease. It’s not the same as relaxation. There’s always something we could be doing.