On intention and productivity

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a Cadre lunch, during which Derek Coburn discussed intention and productivity. And if you know me, you know productivity is something that fascinates me. While I will not be able to do justice to everything he talked about, here are some highlights and some of the resources he recommended.

On being busy

–       Being busy and bring productive are not the same thing.

–       Try not saying “I am busy” for a week (I commit to doing this this week).

–       “Being busy is often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.” Tim Ferriss

–       Try saying “I am not doing anything today” and sticking to it once in a while (not surprisingly, this is one recommendation I have challenges with…).

–       “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” Warren Buffet

On reclaiming time

–       Time is our most scarce and sacred resource, and as such Derek recommends seriously pondering how to can reclaim time.

–       Part of reclaiming time involves outsourcing. “Outsource everything possible, in particular what you are neither good nor passionate about,” says Derek.

–       One of the tools he uses is RescueTime. This program helps track your most productive times and how much time you are spending on certain programs (and also lets you block certain websites that may be distracting). I just signed up for this and am excited to see what I can learn!

–       Derek raves about virtual assistants and automation tools. While I have never used this type of service, I am intrigued. Derek recommends Elance and Task Rabbit as two great resources.

–       Use scheduling tools such as Vcita. Indeed, as Derek reminded us, it takes an average of 7 emails to schedule a single meeting.

On managing meetings overload

–       Derek urged us to never take a meeting unless there is a clear agenda.

–       He also mentioned no longer taking “coffee or lunch meetings” but instead scheduling a phone conversation – especially when this is a first meeting. A coffee or lunch meeting can always come as a second step.

On managing email overload

–       I am an emailer. I use my inbox (both of them actually!) as a to-do list. I flag emails, file emails, sometimes I drown in emails. Once per week I usually take my inbox and start at the bottom and go through every email to make sure I have not forgotten something (this takes about 2-3 hours). Yet sometimes things fall through the cracks…

–       Derek recommends Sanebox to help minimize and summarize emails. I have not yet brought myself to try this…

On managing phonecalls and voicemails

–       I hate voicemails. I don’t know why… but I do. I always delay listening to them, which is neither productive nor polite. I wish my phone didn’t allow voicemails, but I can’t quite take that step.

–       I also hate the phone, which I find intrusive. It still surprises me when people call to have a long conversation without having scheduled a phone meeting – although I do the same… And when a call comes in, I have a very hard time not answering. Even from an “unknown number.” Hence I laugh when Derek suggests that answering a phonecall from an “unknown caller” is telling the universe that anyone and anything can interrupt you anytime.

–       Per Derek’s recommendation, I signed up for PhoneTag after this lunch and I love getting voicemails via texts!

On decision-making overload

–       I read once that President Obama wears the same shirt every day (not the same one, but identical-looking ones) in order to remove one decision from all of the decisions he has to make daily. Also, remember how Steve Jobs always wore the same outfit to meetings (jeans, sneakers, a black turtleneck)? Derek mentions this and reminds us that “Cognitive resources are scarce, limited, quickly and easily depleted.”

–       Removing the need to make certain decisions helps to alleviate decision-making fatigue. Try to take decisions off the table every day, remove decisions that are not essential so you can make better decisions on the more important things.

On starting your week one day early

–       Derek starts his week on Saturday because family is most important to him. By starting his week on Saturday he puts time in with family and kids early on in the week and does not feel guilty the rest of the week (week goes Saturday to Friday instead of Monday to Sunday).

–       Start your day the night before; take a look at the priorities for the next day the previous evening and do one or two of the things that are absolute musts that previous evening.

A few other tips

–       It takes you 20 minutes to refocus on the task at hand when you get un-focused because of an interruption.

–       Morning rituals are key in terms of setting your day up for success. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod is a great book that investigates just that.

–       Create your “Superhero music soundtrack,” songs that inspire you and get you going and motivate you to do your best work.

–       Derek listens to podcasts and books on tape, and talked about adjusting the speed of what he listens to – kind of like the auditory equivalent of speed-reading.

–       When Derek leaves for vacation, he sets his out of office automatic email response showing the departure day one day early, and the return day one day after he is actually back in the office, in order to manage the expectations of people emailing him in terms of his response time.

Most importantly perhaps, Derek ends by urging us to put intention in everything we do. To him, success is “being able to say yes to what he wants to do, and no to what he does not want to do.” In the end, all of these productivity tips and tools are ways to get us there…