No B.S. Productivity – 7 Techniques That Really Work

It’s important to be productive – we all know this.

But most productivity advice is cliché B.S.

Here are 7 productivity techniques that I pulled straight from the trenches of business warfare.

I use these daily; others use them daily; and they just work.

Ignore them at your own peril…

1. First things first

“First things first, second things not at all.” – Peter Drucker

Do first things first, and second things not at all. – Peter DruckerClick To Tweet

‘Ol P-Druck knew a thing or three about business and management.

He knew, for instance, that we all have a million things to do and that it’s impossible to do them all.

Thus, the most logical course of action is to do the most important things first.

The unimportant will then fall away of its own accord.

What does this look like in practice?

Every morning when you start your workday your first order of business should be to look at your to-do list and determine what the 2 or 3 most important items are.

We use Trello, so it’s simply a matter of dragging the most important cards to the top of each team member’s to-do list first thing in the morning.

first-things-first

This begs the question: how do you decide what’s “important”?

Enter consultant and business coach, John Logar.

John’s framework for how to spend your scant, precious time is to categorize tasks into two groups: income primary and income secondary.

Here’s a short vid of John expounding upon this:

As John mentions in the vid above, income primary tasks are those tasks which contribute directly to your business cashflow.

An example would be sending out reminders for clients to pay invoices, scheduling/taking sales calls, following up with leads, making an offer, and so forth.

“What are income secondary tasks?”, you axe. Everything else.

Of course, it can be argued that certain activities, such as writing a blog post, for instance, are really income primary but just take longer to bear fruit.

Fair enough. Content marketing, like podcasting, can certainly be a profound investment in your business.

Done right, it has the almost-magical effects of:

  • building trust
  • generating leads
  • cutting sales cycles
  • bolstering your brand
  • driving coaching requests
  • connecting you with influencers

…and other goodies.

That’s all fine and dandy but you need cash to survive and cash to grow TODAY (not 6 months from now if-‘n’-when your blog post gains traction).

I say this with a tear in my eye because writing is my favorite business-related activity.

crying-indian

Maybe that’s because it doesn’t really feel like work.

Either way, since it ain’t directly and immediately paying the bills, we can’t put it into the income primary category.

However, the beauty of John’s framework is that if you spend your day crushing income primary tasks, you’ll probably finish out the day feeling pretty good that you got something worthwhile accomplished.

josh-fist-bump

My good friend and colleague Josh Denning of AuthorityFactory.net giving me a virtual fist bump as we polish off a super productive day!

2 – Use Google Inbox

Google Inbox rules.

It rules because it encourages you to archive as many of your emails as possible.

Unlike Gmail, inbox is deliberately minimalistic.

You simply go in, carpet bomb all non-essential messages in a matter of minutes, and you're left with a clean list of emails to action without various doodads, buttons and widgets distracting you.

Inbox bundles messages of a certain type together, e.g. "Social", "Trips", "Promos", "Updates", "Purchases".

You can then open a bundle, quickly see if there's anything that needs your attention and if not, "archive all" that puppy!


Another clever feature of Inbox is snoozing, AKA "da snooze".

A client sent you 13 emails and you don't want to deal with them until Wednesday?

Snooze them all and they'll disappear from your inbox and reappear on Wednesday.

Got all your tax forms but don't plan on doing your taxes for another few weeks?

Snooze them all for a fortnight.

Snoozing non-essential communications puts them out of sight and out of mind, which clears your headspace (it really does).

The asterisk is that Inbox isn't a Swiss army knife like Gmail is; it's a sharp scalpel.

It's intentionally feature-sparse and that's what makes it so goll dern useful.

If you happen to need some of Gmail's functionality you can simply pop back over to Gmail.

And when you do, you might find yourself wondering how you ever used Gmail to begin with!

3 - The Pomodoro Technique®

pomodoro-timer

The little plastic thing in the shape of a tomato? It's a Pomodoro timer. Clever branding/marketing, no?

My great friend Lesly Garreau - founder of Rapid Bear Design - turned me onto this time/energy management technique.

Pomo 1 Pomo 2 Pomo 3 Pomo 4
25 min
25 min
25 min
25 min
5 min
5 min
5 min
30 min

It works like this: you set your timer and get to work for 25 minutes.

Then you take a 5 minute break.

This 2-part cycle equals one "pomodoro".

Then you work for another 25 minutes.

Then you take another 5 minute break.

This comprises the second pomo.

Repeat the cycle again for a third pomo.

And on the fourth pomo you take a longer break, say 25 minutes.

And you do this for as many cycles as you want.

While this technique on its own is pretty awesome, it gets truly powerful when you sync your pomos (or "pomi", if you prefer) with one or more other people.

For example, Lesly and I sometimes co-work on the rooftop of my condo building here in Phuket:

the-blue-coworking

Working up here really fails to suck.

We set up shop on this little bar, set a timer, and buzzsaw through a ton of work.

We take breaks in the pool.

We're watching each other so we can't go on Facebook or indulge in any of the other distractions that we typically allow when we're working solo and nobody's around to judge us as the lazy bastards that we are. ๐Ÿ™‚

And that right there is really the glue that holds this method together: accountability.

When I'm at home doing Pomos solo I often get sidetracked by Facebook and other crap.

That doesn't happen when I'm doing them in tandem.

I'm simply too ashamed to waste time on petty things like social media when a friend who respects me and holds me to a high standard is standing right there next to me.

Likewise, when I consult on-site in Bangkok at my good friend Josh Denning's digital agency, Authority Factory, he and I sit opposite each other at his desk and smash through pomos all day long.

We know we only have about 25 minutes to get shit done before a break comes in and spoils the fun.

And the ever-dwindling clock in the shape of a red, plastic tomato ticks menacingly, reminding us to put aside distracting thoughts and to focus.

I can't overstate how much more effective this technique is in groups of 2 or more.

Two heads are better than one

Two heads are better than one

Now we can yak about The Pomodoro Technique all day but you won't actually "get it" until you try it.

I'm the first one to admit that I thought Pomodoro was a bunch of B.S. - "pft, I can manage my own time..." - and then I actually gave it a whirl.

I then realized why people are so gaga over this simple method...it works!

And there's some rather clever psychology involved, too.

For one thing, you'd think that 25 minutes couldn't possibly be enough time to get something substantial done.

And in truth, it kind of isn't.

But that's exactly why it's so ingenious.

When the alarm goes off to signal the start of a break you often think "Drat! I'm right in the middle of this thing..."

You actually feel eager to finish your break so you can get back to work.

So when the next pomo kicks off you're all over it like white on rice.

Do you have to follow the Pomodoro method exactly as it's laid out?

Of course not.

I've been experimenting with longer pomos and longer breaks.

And while I find it yields bigger chunks of work, it's somehow less rhythmic.

Something about the 25/5 pomo format just flow for me.

But it may not work for you, so experiment!

tomato-bath

After a week of smashing through pomos...

Now here's the other thing:

When the break starts you have got to take it!

And by "take it" I mean completely disengage from work.

Go outside, have a cup-'o-tea, meditate, flirt with a coworker, play some guitar (my personal fave).

Just make sure you leave the physical space where you're working, and don't look at any screens during the break!

It's hard to measure the effectiveness of this approach with scientific rigor but I'll offer my n=1 observations, which my fellow pomodoroers tend to echo.

  1. Your time is limited so you have to prioritize the most important tasks on your to-do list
  2. You can't spend your already-limited time wanking off on social media/Tinder/whatever else
  3. You enter a state of rhythmic flow (the concept of complete engagement followed by complete disengagement in an oscillatory fashion is explored at length in one of my favorite books, The Power of Full Engagement.)
  4. Your buddy is sitting next to you, either in the flesh or virtually, and you mutually discourage distraction
  5. You get into the same rhythm as your pomo partner(s), which has a bonding effect and nurtures a mental "broadband" connection in which you get a little mind-reading thing happening (seriously)

My experience is that the Pomodoro Technique just plain works.

Your mileage may vary, so in the words of my old vocal coach, "try it before you buy it!"

4. Batch Your Work

cookies

It doesn't make sense to bake cookies one by one, so it's best to make them all at once in a "batch". Mmmm....cookies...garglegrglgrggh

You know John Lee Dumas, the now über-famous online entrepreneur and host of the Entrepreneur on Fire daily (yes daily!) business podcast?

Of course you do!

How the heck does he manage to record 7 podcasts per week?

Batching, that's how.

He schedules and records all of his interviews on one day of the week in one, big-ass chunk.

The reason batching works is because our minds have to get into the swing of a certain kind of task.

Conversely, switching between different kinds of tasks incurs a "cognitive switching penalty".

In other words, there's a setup cost to switching between tasks and interrupting your flow and mental "configuration", if you will.

So therefore it makes good sense to stick to doing one thing at a time in nice, meaty chunks.

That's what Emma and Carla Papas - aka The Merrymaker Sisters - do in their business as well.

Emma-Carla-Papas

«We breakdown EVERY part of our business into batching but for example, we produce loads of podcasts so we batch all of our recording one day each week (rather that setting up and being in 'podcast mode' more than once a week).

It makes scheduling interviews easier as well. This is scheduled through Calendly with our interviews, with reminders going out 24 hours prior to each interview. Then when recording day comes (every Wednesday) we get our coffee and are ready to SMASH out those podcasts!

Another example is that we write ALOT of content. We schedule in writing days every week into our calendar with a list of content that needs to be written. We allocate it to each team member and ensure that it's ticked off at the end of the day.

So all in all, we batch in 'days of the week'! We schedule using Trello and Google Calendar/Calendly and then we stick to it with the help of coffee and Pandora/Spotify.»

5. Eliminate

The most effective way to increase productivity is to eliminate work.

Obvious but elusive.

In Tim Ferriss's perennial classic, The 4 Hour Work Week, Tim wrote:

Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined. Otherwise, you waste someone else’s time instead of your own, which now wastes your hard-earned cash.

Tim is basically saying look at your big-ass to do list and get rid of everything that isn't absolutely critical.

Meryl Johnston, co-founder of the Xero-based accounting service Bean Ninjas, did this in a rather bold fashion:

meryl-johnston

«We changed from phone support to email support. When we first launched about half of our customers had my mobile number and could call me when an issue came up. This meant that my day was regularly hijacked by 'urgent' client work.

By changing to email support we are able to have team members monitoring the support email address and replying to the majority of emails (rather than me and my co-founder). This has been a game changer and has enabled me to block out chunks of my day for project work and marketing, rather than being reactive to client requests.

It took some work to implement this change. We needed to reset client expectations around our service. We also needed to review our service offering. A business critical service like payroll actually needs phone support, so to implement this change we had to make some tough decisions about what to cut out of our service offering.»

I did a similar type of surgery on one of my consulting businesses with fantastic results.

I had started out setting up WordPress membership sites and charging for my help on an hourly basis.

But I wound up with a lot of clients who would only send me little tasks here and there, which distracted my attention from my most engaged clientele who were always giving me work.

Even though my best clients sent me a good chunk of work over the course of a year, I still faced the perennial issue that every freelancer encounters: drastic ups and downs in income from month-to-month.

So for these and other reasons I decided to eliminate hourly consulting from my business.

I then packaged and "productized" my skills into an unlimited WordPress & membership site support service called MemberFix.

MemberFix was a game changer for me both in terms of reduced stress and consistency of income.

And it was the direct result of eliminating consulting from my business, saying "no" more than I said "yes", and limiting the kinds of tasks I would agree to do.

Elimination feels gooood.

It's destructive, it's primal, it brings out the Shiva in you.

By the way, if you need WordPress and/or Membership site support, I continue to run MemberFix happily to this day! ๐Ÿ™‚

Check it out at http://MemberFix.rocks

6. Work The System

contraption

Personal productivity is a moot point if you spend your time reactively putting out fires instead of proactively working on the high impact tasks in your business.

There are several elements that enable you to cast off your fireman's jacket.

Chief among them are automation, documentation, organization and applications.

I call these the 4 Pillars of a Solid Business Foundation.

When you have these various systems in place things run more smoothly and enable you to grow.

Obviously, you need a good team in place but that's a whole 'nother can of worms.

Lucas Meadowcroft, founder of Crofti.com.au grew his IT support company from $0 to $550k and 9 team members in just 2 years.

Unsurprisingly, his approach to problem solving is systems-based:

lucas-meadowcroft

«Systems are the biggest things we have always stuck to.

This doesn't mean sticking to 1 system but when we come across an issue we search for what system we can implement to solve that problem.»

Systems allow you to carry out complex chains of tasks correctly and on a consistent basis by reducing and/or eliminating human error.

Best case scenario: many tasks can even be completely automated using tools like Zapier (especially now that Zapier features multi-step zaps, which truly kick copious amounts of posterior.)

There are 2 classic business books that illustrate how systems catapult business growth and the productivity of every member of your team, chief among them: you.

The first is Work The System by Sam Carpenter.

work-the-system

Sam tells the story of his Oregon-based call center operation and how he turned it from an unprofitable cross to carry into the most successful call center in the US that only demands a few hours of his time per week.

How did he do it? Systems.

I won't ruin the rest of it for you because this is required reading for business owners!

But suffice it to say that the road to success is littered with the carcasses of businesses that could've made it big but neglected to make systems a fundamental part of their approach.

The second book is possibly the most entertaining business book I've ever read to date.

It's called Built to Sell by John Warrillow.

built-to-sell

What makes this book such a fun read is that John presents the lessons of the book in a story format; a parable if you will.

You don't feel like you're reading a business book, that's for sure.

But sneaky Mr. Warrillow manages to educate you under the radar.

The main idea that John looks to communicate in Built to Sell is that you should be building your business in such a way that it can run without your constant, direct involvement and can be sold for a handsome multiple of profits (should you choose to sell it).

I won't go into the mechanics of how to actually do that but if you guessed that systems are a big part of a profitable exit, you guessed right!

As I wrote in my wildly popular "4 pillars" post, acting as if you're going to sell your business - even if you never do - has incredible positive effects upon your company, your team, and you personally.

7. Use a task management app

Think you're going to remember all the stuff you have to do without writing it down?

Not bloody likely!

There's a huge field of scientific inquiry devoted to understanding the myriad ways in which we humans overestimate our capabilities, our memories, our performance, and our ability (or utter lack thereof) to change ingrained habits (this field is called automaticity).

Trello - for which there's a free, accompanying iPhone app - has been an absolute life saver for me both in business and personal affairs.

It helps me remember and organize thoughts and actions around a proven task management framework called Kanban (more on this in a sec).

Allow me to venture a guess: you have waaay too much to do.

I can relate. Here's just one of my to-do lists:

my-trello-board

But even with everything I've got to get done, I'm not stressing out.

That's because as soon as I imagine a task, it goes straight into Trello.

I can then forget about it because it's written down, which clears my headspace.

And because I prioritize tasks using a proven framework, I know that mission-critical items will always get completed sooner rather than later, and unimportant tasks will always get pushed down into the depths of my Trello to-do list.

Using Trello in conjunction with the other productivity hacks in this post comprises a simple but solid little system for consistently getting things done (and, crucially, getting the most important things done first).

You don't have to use Trello; there are more task management tools out there than you can shake a stick at.

I personally like Trello for a few reasons:

  1. Teams tend to adopt it pretty quickly and readily, which makes my consulting work easier.
  2. It's very simple yet very effective (I use 3 boards for each team member: "to do", "in progress", and "completed".)
  3. It's modeled on a proven methodology called Kanban, developed by Toyota.
  4. It integrates with most every other app
  5. I'm used to it!

Just find a task management app that you and your team dig, and stick with it.

A major hurdle I encounter in my consulting work is that some team members rely heavily on pen and paper (*cough* sales *cough*).

I get it and I love jotting stuff on paper, too.

It has a uniquely cathartic and clarifying effect.

However, if you and your team are jotting a lot of action items down on paper, make sure you transfer those things to Trello and throw out the piece of paper.

You never want to keep things in more than one place.

Your "to do" tasks go in Trello.

Leads go in InfusionSoft.

Team messages go in Slack.

Files and folders go in Drive.

And so on and so forth.

If you're writing down to-dos on a piece of paper, and in text files on your laptop, and in your task management app, and on your iPhone, and on a whiteboard...

You're just going to create stress for yourself because in addition to having a lot of stuff to do, you're going to waste energy and time trying to remember and looking for WHERE you wrote down said stuff.

Don't be messy: one place for each thing.

Anything to add?

What are your best productivity techniques and tips?

Leave a comment below and share what's working for you!