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5 Steps to High Productivity

Every few days I get asked the question, “How do you get so much done?” The inside scoop and truth about my productivity is actually a lot simpler than most people know. It’s true that I need less sleep than a lot of other folks – so that helps. But the rest comes down to five tips I can share with you.

1. Know your Story

Have you noticed that there are things you’re pretty good at that you still would rather not do? For me it’s cold calling or tough customer service calls. For whatever reason, two of the worst jobs I had in college left their imprint on me. So those days of going door to door to ask people for money for CalPers (“the nation’s leading environmental lobby” – I still remember my lines), or calling Berkeley alumni during dinner, actually paid off. I can get on a call with an irate customer and talk them off the ledge pretty well. I can walk up to someone and sell them something. But you know what – I don’t like it. Just because I can do it doesn’t mean I should.

So for me, knowing who I am, and what I’m about  – knowing my story – helps me say yes to things and no to lots of other things.

The best book I read was fifteen years ago – a book called Microsoft Secrets. It’s not even in print anymore and frankly the Microsoft it describes may not even exist anymore. But the line in there that grabbed and changed my life was pretty simple. It said that Microsoft knew how to find and hire programmers – that was easy. They also knew how to find and hire marketing people – again, no one has ever struggled to hire MBAs.

But what was truly challenging was the role of people who had to glue those groups together. They had to be able to create vision and products, guiding by knowing what was truly possible. And that’s when I decided I wanted to do that – so I spent almost two decades digging deep into both worlds.

I know who I am – and that helps me know what to say yes to and what to say no to.

2. Have a Strategy

To get a lot done, in a short amount of time, means I have to make sure I don’t waste time. That means not wasting time in the wrong job. That means not wasting time on the wrong project. So knowing how to walk away is huge! Most of us get stuck doing something we know is a waste because we are scared of the unknown. Having a strategy means you know which direction you’re going. That helps you know what to do next.

My strategy includes a job that lets me work on lots of new product development and product launches. It includes helping a series of start-ups that are in the middle of new product development. It includes helping people learn to use WordPress more effectively by writing examples and giving talks. And it includes writing books on engineering management.

My strategy helps me constantly have a clear sense of which projects fit into the bigger story that will move things along.

3. Keep Multiple Projects Going

I don’t know about you but in every project there are slow times where I get tired or bored of the effort. That’s why I keep several projects running at once (much like I’m constantly reading three or four books at once). It lets me pause on one project and jump to the other – not because I have focus problem, but because I can let one project stew in the back of my mind while I crank forward on another. After many years I’m comfortable juggling many projects at once. So if you were to look at my desk, at the sheet of paper that has all the stuff I’m on, you might be a bit surprised. But in some cases, I’m still waiting on others to do their part – so I’m completely on hold with those.

4. Know what’s Next

I remember watching West Wing and always hearing the President ask, “What’s Next?” It’s a question that constantly runs thru my head. Thankfully, I have lots of tools and technologies that help me stay focused. One of them is Evernote. I just love that app. It’s with me everywhere I go and I use it for everything. Another is a product being developed by friends at a start-up in the Bay Area. I’ve been watching and working with them for a while and I think they have a fantastic take on the evolution of task management.

Initially they came out with Astrid as a simple task solution for Android phones. Then they worked on making to-do lists social. The upside? As you might have guessed, people who share the items on their to-do lists get more of their to-dos completed. There’s natural peer pressure (which I’m a huge fan of). And recently, they’ve been working on an enhancement – a premium offering – that will allow me to outsource some of my tasks (another thing I’m a huge fan of).

So you’ll notice at the bottom of this blog that I’m helping by doing my part. I always want my friends to be productive, and if they’re using Astrid already, I want to help them take action from my articles. So I’ve worked on a simple Plugin that lets me create reminders – calls to action – at the bottom of each post – which can be loaded into your own Astrid app.

5. Leverage Everything

Lastly, the biggest trick of all, is that I never do anything that can’t be re-purposed or re-used again – hopefully several times. I don’t like multi-tasking (because I don’t think it really works), but I’m a huge fan of re-tasking. If there is a task that I can do once, and then re-purpose a lot of times, I’ll all for it.

What do I mean by that? Maybe a simple example will help. At some point, after working with a few people to help them with their blogs, I realized I was having the same calls over and over again. So I recorded 8 audio recordings so that I would never have to have those calls again. Now, every time a new prospect wants to talk about that, I can direct them to these recordings and they can figure out if they like my approach and if they want to work with me. It helps them and it helps me. And it saves me time.

Another example comes from the Facebook group I’m a part of. I see questions in there about WordPress. So I will often work out the solution, and then write it up for them in a short note in FB, and then in a larger article here on the site. One bit of research pulls double duty.

So what are your productivity tips? Share one I’ve missed.

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