Category Archives: Time Management

Productivity Tip: Early to Rise

Improving your productivity is more than just implementing solid processes, it’s building solid habits. One of the most important habits I’ve built to improve my productivity by gaining time is to standardize the hour I wake/rise every morning.

A consistent early start time will improve your productivity. While not everyone is productive at the same times of day, and not everyone’s work conforms to early rising in a traditional sense, moving your wake up time earlier should result in more productivity, regardless of your schedule. I happen to wake at 4:55AM every day; my work day can start at 6AM (many of the folks I work with are also in the office that early, and on days I’m on the road, I’m often headed out the door earlier than that).

So here’s what I do…

I set my Blackberry alarm to go off every morning at 4:55. I don’t have a set routine every morning as I often have to get up and get out the door right away to get somewhere; but on the days I don’t have an early AM meeting, it’s pretty standard.

When the alarm beeps, I turn it off, take a big deep breath, stretch, and get up. Even if I don’t want to get up. Even if I was up until 12:30. Up. Now. Continue reading


What’s in your inbox?

A quick productivity tip.

This is my email inbox.

What does yours look like?

Process your email just like a paper inbox.  Don’t be a slave to it, process it a couple of times a day, and every email you read gets put in your system and moved out of the inbox.  If it’s under 2 minutes, handle it.  If it needs to be read later, put it in your ‘to read’ folder.  If you need to do something with it, put it in your ‘to do’ list.  If you need to schedule it, put it in your calendar.  If you might need the information later, put it in the appropriate reference file.   If you read it, don’t need it, and don’t need to do anything with it, delete it.

Catagorzing ToDo Lists (GTD)

I’m a big fan of David Allen’s GTD, and apply much of the GTD approach to maximizing productivity, time management, and organization. I highly suggest reading both Getting Things Done and Making It All Work.

This post would make more sense if you are familiar with the ideas in these books. (I’m also a big fan of Merlin Mann’s ‘Inbox Zero‘, which is highly related to GTD).

I use Lotus Notes and a Blackberry for work, so I fit the system to those.  Works pretty well.

My To Do Categories

Phone Calls
Waiting For

The system is set up to categorize To Do lists in context, not by priority.  That way, when I’m in the office, I can look at the list of things I have to do while in the office; when I’m at home, I can see the things I can only do at home. The system also gives me the freedom to do things when time and energy are appropriate; it eliminates the stress caused when the next most important task is something I don’t have the energy or am not in the right place to complete.

I’ve recently added additional categories based on an estimated time to complete. I have 15, 30, 45, 60, and 90 minutes, then 2, 4, and 8 hours. That way, I can quickly find things that match up with the amount of time I may have, or the amount of energy and focus I have.

At 4pm on a Friday, I’m probably busting out a couple of 15 minute phone calls, not a 4 hour analysis.

It’s working great, and coupled with keeping my inboxes empty, I’m even more productive.

I’m sending this link to my boss

According to Reuters, surfing the internet at work may make us more productive.

The University of Melbourne study showed that people who use the Internet for personal reasons at work are about 9 percent more productive that those who do not. 

Study author Brent Coker, from the department of management and marketing, said “workplace Internet leisure browsing,” or WILB, helped to sharpened workers’ concentration. 

“People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration,” Coker said on the university’s website (

“Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the Internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days’ work, and as a result, increased productivity,” he said. 

According to the study of 300 workers, 70 percent of people who use the Internet at work engage in WILB. 

Among the most popular WILB activities are searching for information about products, reading online news sites, playing online games and watching videos on YouTube. 

“Firms spend millions on software to block their employees from watching videos, using social networking sites or shopping online under the pretence that it costs millions in lost productivity,” said Coker. “That’s not always the case.”

I guess it depends on a lot of factors, but I think an hour or 90 minutes of surfing might help me do more for just that reason.  My company blocked internet mail (so I can’t get to gmail from my work network), I use Facebook now to communicate with friends, which is far more distracting.  I also use my work email for things I would never have in the past.

Via the jerkstore.

Urgent vs. Important

One of the new directions I’d like to take with my blog is to include posts on productivity, time management, and personal development.  This is one of those posts.

I’ve got a job that by it’s nature is reactive.  I’m in customer service operations, and a big part of my job is reacting to things that haven’t gone as planned.  The trick to time management is balancing the firefighting with the really important stuff you need to get done.

Gina Tripani from has a blog post up today with a couple of tips for mitigating the urgent, and I would like to add a few of my own (and maybe repeat one of hers that’s one of my keys to success.

Prioritize.  I use Covey’s 4 quadrants (High, low, urgent, not urgent).  Do the most important thing that is the most time sensitive first.  Then do the things that are most important, but not time sensitive (that’s the key!)  Just because something is important to someone else doesn’t mean it should be the most important thing for you.

Minimize email interruptions.  Email is a distraction.  You wouldn’t send the fire department an email that your house was burning down, so don’t send something via email that needs a response in the next 10 minutes.  Conversely, don’t check your email ever 5 minutes.  I process my email in box (to empty – everything goes in a to do, to read, or calendar entry if I can’t take care of it in 5 minutes) 4-5 times a day.  First thing in the morning, then mid morning, lunchtime, mid afternoon, and at the end of the day.  I like to end the day with an empty in box.  (On days I’m not in front of my computer, it’s less than that).  Turn your email notifications off, or if you have to, shut your email client down. 

Schedule and Plan.  As much as possible, schedule and plan your work.  You can’t avoid that emergency phone call, but you can control and organize all of the things coming at you.  I try to schedule time for everything, from the 30 minutes to process my in box, to an hour reading articles, to time to work on a project.  Everything I do is tracked on a to do list or in my calendar (I use Lotus Notes and a Blackberry Curve).  It’s so easy to take an email or phone call and create a new entry on a to do list.  I also schedule a weekly planning session on Friday morning (with myself) for an hour to review the previous week and set up the next week.

Start your day by completing one thing.  This may seem a little counter intuitive, but it’s worked for me.  I try to start every work day by completing one task.  It gives that feeling of accomplishment, that even if my day goes to shit, I still got one thing done.  Sometimes, given the nature of the beast, that one thing isn’t the most important or time sensitive, and maybe shouldn’t have been the first thing to do.  But I find it sets me up to be more productive and get the important stuff done.  I’d try to make it whatever is at the top of your prioritized list, though, and the less firefighting you do, the easier that is to do.

The ability to set these systems up is critical to achieving and maintaining a work life balance.

Ideas and feedback?  Well that’s what the comments are for.

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