The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Peak Productivity

Happy, Productive, WomanAre you having an unproductive day, week, or perhaps – life? I’m guessing you’re looking for some quick ideas or a no-nonsense plan to help you get back on track. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here, right? You’ve come to the right place. Weekly, we share tips to help everyone, from the productivity novice to the productivity expert, to explore new and sensible ways to get things done so they can do the things they really want to do with their free time.

Busyness does not equal productivity. Are you the first one into work every day and the last one to leave? Are you rewarded for this behavior? That’s just plain nonsense. Working smarter, not harder is the key to a balanced, happy, productive life. Keep reading to find out how you can amaze your boss and family with your productivity brilliance.

Cheat 1: Fill in Time Gaps with Tasks and To-dos

The Getting Things Done® (GTD) method from David Allen outlines countless ideas for time management. One of those ideas is “contexts.” In GTD, contexts are used to tag your tasks and to-dos so you can better choose what to do and when to do it. Using contexts is a great way to find tasks to do when you’re in between meetings, waiting for kids during their activities, or during other time gaps.

Contexts are typically based on a physical location, resource, or the equipment that’s necessary to complete a task. For example, in your to-do or task list, you could assign a context of @office and @phone for phone calls to complete at the office. Another way to use contexts is to tag those tasks with contexts such as 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, and so on. This way, you can pick up tasks (such as paying bills or answering email) during these time gaps and get more done throughout the day. Consequently, you can go home from work at a reasonable hour and have more time to spend with your friends or family.

Cheat 2: Reclaim Your Schedule

What are some of your biggest time wasters? Discover and identify the black holes of where your time is going. Are you getting lost in news articles online when you should be finishing your TPS reports? Are business trips out of hand? Are you wasting your time in unproductive meetings? Do you have chatty coworkers who don’t respect your time?

Your time is one of your most important assets. Guard it like a mama bear guards its cubs. Block time on your calendar for “Focus Time.” Limit the time you spend on online shopping sites, social media, and news sites – put “Internet Time” on your schedule to remind yourself to limit it. Don’t attend conferences that won’t be beneficial for you during busy periods – send an employee, or request that a peer attend, instead. Request an agenda before all meetings to ensure that the meeting will be beneficial for you. Ensure the people who need to make the final decisions attend your meetings; otherwise, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Use body language to communicate to overly-chatty and gossipy coworkers that you don’t have time to talk – walk to the bathroom, avoid eye contact, or pick up your cell phone.

Cheat 3: Don’t Use Email


What? Don’t use email? I can see the baby boomers and gen-Xers snickering as they read this line. Unfortunately, email is a necessary tool of life and business. In fact, it’s one of the most important instruments in business communication.

The problem with email is it takes personal interaction out of the equation, and the quality of relationships, communication, and team comradery suffer as a result. In fact, some large companies are attempting to eradicate internal email altogether, such as the French information technology company, Atos.

It’s a fact of life that we cannot completely eliminate the use of email, but we can certainly explore other, more efficient ways of communicating. Face-to-face is always the best form of communication; however, in our connected world it’s not always easy to be in the same room with the person to whom we’re communicating, which forces us to use other forms of communication.

After email, the next best form of communication is the phone or a video conference (such as Skype); however, in our modern world, phone conversations are becoming old-fashioned. Consider using instant messaging and text messaging (when appropriate) to get answers quickly or to communicate important information.

If you’re required to use email due to company culture or the nature of your work, eliminate compulsively checking it. Turn off the instant notifications, and check email in blocks of time to avoid context switching, which kills productivity. Reserve email for times that you need a paper trail of conversations or when you’re sending large documents or reports. Foster an open-door policy and open workspaces in your business or organization to encourage face-to-face communication.

Cheat 4: Simplify Your Choices

Being required to make too many choices and decisions burns away at your time. For example, I canceled memberships to warehouse stores years ago because it simply takes too long to shop there with the multitude of choices – and not to mention the unreasonable crowds. There are too many selections, and I spend more time looking at things that I don’t need, like a six-pack of 44 ounce bottles of barbeque sauce, instead of buying the essentials. Farmers markets and smaller grocery stores are better choices when you’re trying to maximize your efficiency.

Another way to limit your choices is to simplify your wardrobe. Consider basing your wardrobe around a few basic, neutral colors like black and white so everything goes together. Downsize your wardrobe or put pieces away that you’re not using in the current season – stick to a few favorites. What haven’t you worn in the last year? Will you need to lose or gain more than 10 pounds to wear those items? If you don’t like something you bought and you’ve never worn it, give it to charity or sell it through a consignment store. Fewer clothing choices result in less time getting ready for your day.

Cheat 5: Chill Out

By lululemon athletica (Flickr: Balance!) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By lululemon athletica (Flickr: Balance!) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t have the time to take a break? Keep in mind that those who take regular breaks are more productive because these breaks allow them to recharge in order to have the energy to get things done. Have you ever been working on a difficult task and you take a break from it or sleep on it – and magically the answer comes to you? This is a great example of why breaks are important.

Don’t try to do everything – you’re not Superman or Wonder Woman. Review your schedule and prioritize. Find tasks and to-dos that can slide so you can give that time back to yourself to nurture your health and wellness.

Feeling stressed? Focus on meditation or practice yoga to reduce stress and anxiety. Numerous studies show that yoga and meditation can help you to manage your stress, lower your blood pressure, and improve chronic health conditions.

Your Turn

What’s on your Productivity Cheat Sheet? Let us know in the comments below!

1 reply
  1. Michelle Rober says:

    For Productivity Cheat Sheet……Daily re-alignment with the CLEAR vision of what you want. Ask yourself this question frequently “Is what I’m doing right now going to get me to where I want to go?”


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