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This Productivity Hack Completely Changed My Life, and It Can Improve Yours

How do you accomplish that one task that unquestionably needs to get done but still have time for everything else?

Brandon Turner

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During your day, you have a lot going on. Email, phone calls, meetings, interviews, driving, answering questions, tech support, coding, hosting webinars and whatever else you have to accomplish during those hours that you’ve defined as “work.”

Interruptions abound and productivity drops. Your day is spent playing catch-up on a million other tasks, trying to get your to-do list down to nothing, which rarely, if ever, happens.

Related: The 5 Best Productivity Apps for Entrepreneurs

The funny thing is so often, the thing(s) that truly need to get done to move your business forward never get accomplished. It’s unlikely you are suddenly going to find 30 hours in a day and even more unlikely that people will suddenly stop making demands on your time. So how do you accomplish that one task that unquestionably needs to get done but still have time for everything else?

Time blocking.

Time blocking is the concept of sitting down once a week for just five minutes and scheduling time for yourself.

First introduced to me in my current favourite business book, The One Thing, time blocking is the practice of using your calendar to schedule “me time.” Or, as graphic designer Shawn Hooghkirk refers to it, “scheduling time for your most important client: yourself.”

No doubt you’ve heard this concept before, yet so few people actually take the time to do it. They think, “I’m going to work for two hours a day on X,” but then things come up. The phone rings. The baby cries. The boss walks in. Soon, that “me time” turns into “we time” and the can is kicked down the road for another day.

That project that’s going to revolutionise your life is, once again, put on the back burner, replaced by tasks that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t truly matter.

Time blocking is more than simply hoping and wishing for the availability to work on a project. Hoping and wishing are not going to cut it in a busy world – you must schedule it!

Some people want it to happen. Some people wish it would happen. Others make it happen. – Michael Jordan

If you want it to really happen, you need to schedule it and treat it like your most important meeting of the year.

Time blocking is a mindset that says “no” to interruptions and forces you to specifically take time in your day to work on your most important tasks.

It’s a mentality that says “Nothing but life-or-death emergencies can interrupt me from my time.” It’s telling other people that this time is “off limits” for interruptions. It’s a conscious choice that you make long before you arrive at the moment.

When you schedule that time for yourself and hold to it fiercely, two amazing things happen:

  1. You get your most important task accomplished quicker, more thoroughly, and with more enjoyment.
  2. You are still able to handle all those other tasks in your life.

People will adjust to your time blocking. You’ll still get to your busy work. Emails won’t get missed, phone calls will get returned, but you’ll be immensely more successful because of your “me time.”

Understand that time blocking is not just for business. Anything in your life that you want to focus on improving should be time blocked.

After all, what’s more important? A meeting with a client or ongoing dates with your spouse? Hopefully, you said “ongoing dates with your spouse,” but why do your client meetings get preferential treatment and dates relinquished to “when we have time”?

My first venture into time blocking was while writing my recent real estate investing book. Later, I used it to time block several hours a day to improving my book sales.

Then, I scheduled more time to sit down and work on nothing but improving the weekly real estate investing webinars I host on BiggerPockets, the website I work for.

Related: Can Creative Breaks Boost Your Employees’ Productivity?

Today, I even time block my P90X workouts, to write articles for BiggerPockets and Entrepreneur, dates with my wife, YouTube videos, church activities and other things that I deem as “most important” in my life.

Time blocking is not difficult to plan for, but can be incredibly difficult to do. You’ll be tempted to break from your time block to work on other things. However, the following six-step process has helped me time block my most important activities to get the most out of my day.

1. Schedule your time blocks

At the beginning of the week (I like Sunday evenings), sit down and deliberately and specifically define your week. Physically write it on your desk calendar or make the dates in your computer’s calendar.

2. Find a quiet place to work with no interruptions

You may need to leave the office or youman-working-on-computerr home to accomplish your task. Coffee shops, rented office space, the local park – you get the idea. Pick a spot that will help you focus with minimal distractions.

3. Let others know

If you work closely with other people, let them know (politely) that you’ll be head down in some significant work for your time block, and you’ll be checking your email when you return.

Be sure to let someone know where you are, though, in case there truly is a life-or-death emergency.

4. Turn off your phone and other tech traps

I know, blasphemy! But your cell phone will rob you of your productivity. Turn it off, along with anything else that will rob you of your time.

5. Be held accountable

As with any new habit, it’s a good idea to allow someone else to hold you accountable. Whether that’s an individual, a mastermind group or some other structure, you are more likely to hold to your goals when other people are helping you keep your promises to yourself.

Related: Can productivity tools help me?

6. Keep your promise to yourself

Finally, in the words of Nike, “just do it!” Actually sit down and work on your most important projects for your time block. Don’t let anything stop you!

Time blocking has completely changed my life, and I believe it can change yours. People will begin to ask you, as they often inquire of me, “How do you get so much done?”

You’ll be able to look at them, smile, and reply: “Time blocking!”

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Brandon Turner is a real estate entrepreneur and the VP of Growth at BiggerPockets.com, one of the web’s largest real estate investing community. He is also the author of The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down and several other books. Buying his first home at the age of 21, Turner quickly grew his real estate portfolio to over 40 units using a variety of creative finance methods. He and his wife Heather live in Grays Harbor, Wash.

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(Infographic) 9 Daily Rituals To Boost Your Performance At Work

In a rut? These daily rituals can help lift you up.

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Some rituals might seem like nonsense, but it turns out, they can be helpful when it comes to productivity and job performance. Studies have shown that rituals can help us take on tough challenges at work, boost productivity and even decrease anxiety. How do you know what type of ritual is right for you? Here are some ideas.

Instead of starting your day with a hot shower, try opting for a cold one. Cold water increases blood circulation and releases endorphins, which can boost a person’s mood and make them more productive. Another helpful ritual is shutting down distracting devices. For example, turn your smartphone on airplane mode for a few hours so you can hone your focus on a single task until its full completion.

Whether you’ve got a big deadline approaching or an upcoming presentation, if you’re feeling anxious, one ritual to help calm your nerves is counting your breaths. A quick daily mindfulness practice, such as counting your inhales and exhales for 10 minutes, can help relieve stress and get you in the right headspace for getting work done.

Related: 14 Of The Best Morning Routine Hacks Proven To Boost Productivity

From journaling daily to doing five-minute desk exercises, check out Pound Place’s infographic below for nine daily rituals to boost performance at work.

1531498187_daily-rituals-work-infographic

Related: Your Crazy Erratic Sleep Routine Is Making You Less Productive

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Four Ways To Boost Your Daily Productivity

You can also, hopefully, become a happier human. Here are our suggestions…

Colin Thornton

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Given that most modern professionals are armed with a full array of sophisticated technology tools, it is safe to assume that our productivity and efficiency has reached dizzying heights…right?

Wrong.

With so many digital distractions and the constant pinging of notifications, most of us have severely dwindling attention spans. Several years ago, Microsoft released a study that revealed a consumer’s attention span is now less than that of your average goldfish. Moreover, our overall productivity might be plummeting. According to research from theHRDirector.com, employees are distracted at work every three minutes – and it can take us as long as 25 minutes to refocus. In addition, workers are more stressed out than ever before, a trend that has been attributed to the constant barrage of digital information and data.

The good news is that by making a few simple changes and employing the right tools (yes, tech tools), you can both alleviate your work stress and enhance your daily productivity. You can also, hopefully, become a happier human. Here are our suggestions…

1. Find Ways to Work Remotely

Although this may not be an option for everyone given his or her particular company or personality, research has shown that working from home – or from a quiet place – can boost your productivity.  The average workplace is a hive of activity and distractions, making it near impossible to get critical tasks done.

Related: 14 Of The Best Morning Routine Hacks Proven To Boost Productivity

Nowadays, with enhanced mobile connectivity, employees can escape home or to wifi-hotspots (with great coffee) to focus on their work. Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom recently conducted a two-year study on remote workers that showed a massive productivity boost among the telecommuters… Moreover, his study revealed that employee attrition decreased by 50 percent among the remote workers. Also, they took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days and took less time off work.

2. Turn off Your Push Notifications

Yes, that’s right. You can do it. There is simply no need to see a notification every time someone likes your post on Facebook or adds you as a contact on LinkedIN.  Also, that Whatsapp message on the group from old high school friends can wait. By constantly moving between screens, apps and platforms to keep up with ongoing digital communications, we lose focus and interrupt our creative processes.

In 2016, a Deloitte study found that people look at their phones 47 times a day on average. For young people, it’s more like 90. As Wired writer David Pierce put it, “push notifications are ruining my life. Yours too, I bet”.  It might be  time to turn down the digital input volume.

3. Use Productivity Apps

Yes, this might seem ironic and counterintuitive.  But, there are now several productivity apps that have been cleverly designed to help – not hurt – your ability to focus. There is Todoist, which allows you to put all your to-do lists into one, easily manageable place. This app syncs with virtually any platform – allowing you to complete tasks even if you forgot your smartphone at home (maybe a good thing?).

We also like Pocket, which collects your favourite articles and sites so that you can peruse them later, instead of ‘right now’. There are also great project management tools now available, such as Omniplan and Trello, which make certain tasks appear fun and often encourage collaboration and creativity. These apps allow you to create and group tasks, organise and streamline workflows, and to file documents in a simple and accessible way.

 4. Find Cool Ways to Collaborate

Although technology can fuel our efficiency (if used the right way) it can also isolate us from our peers and make teamwork (or talking to humans) seem a thing of the past. Yet many studies have shown that collaboration actually supercharges our contributions at work.

Related: How Dial A Nerd Managed To Dial Up Profits

For example, a recent joint study between the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Rob Cross, Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Business at Babson College, revealed “companies that promoted collaborative working were 5 times as likely to be high performing.” In addition, a 2014 Stanford study found that simply working alongside others drives ‘intrinsic motivation.’ And, as always, there’s an app for that!

The most popular tools include Slack, which allows for the sending of direct messages (DMs) and files to a single person or a group of employees. It also has the ability to place conversations into different channels (for specific projects, one for customer support, general chat, etc). Another handy tool growing in popularity is Microsoft Teams, which is included in many Office 365 packages.  Businesses may have Teams available right now and not even realise it or the powerful productivity boosts it can unlock.

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Can A Simple Checklist Transform Your Business?

If checklists are useful for building a skyscraper or performing complex surgery, they just might be right for you, too.

Thomas Smale

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What do test pilots, surgeons, architects and hedge fund managers all have in common? They all turn to one simple tool to make them more efficient: the humble checklist.

In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, renowned surgeon and author Atul Gawande explores how breaking down complex processes into boxes to be ticked off on a list can save lives and stop something as significant as buildings collapsing.

Related: How To Work Less And Still Get More Done

After personally adopting this simple rule in the processes at my own business, I’ve found Gawande’s simple solution of using a checklist to be surprisingly effective. So, I want to spread the word on how entrepreneurs can incorporate checklists to optimise their business operations’ efficiency. Here’s how to do that.

Break it down

No matter what the industry, professionals face more complexity in the workplace than ever before. Breaking down complex tasks into simple, verifiable steps can have remarkable effects, even when those steps appear explicit or mundane.

In The Checklist Manifesto, Gawande tells the story of Peter Pronovost, a critical-care specialist at John Hopkins Hospital. Pronovost developed a five-step checklist designed to prevent a common and sometimes deadly complication faced by patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU): the central line infection.

The steps in this list aimed at prevention are basic. For example, one calls for caregivers to “wash their hands with soap.” Despite such an obvious precaution, Pronovost’s team discovered that in over a third of patients observed, at least one step of the five recommended ones was skipped.

As part of the solution, Pronovost empowered nurses to stop doctors from proceeding if they witnessed even one step in the checklist being bypassed.

This simple regimen led to staggering results. In one hospital, over the course of just over two years, the central line infection checklist “prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths, and saved two million dollars in costs,” Gawande wrote.

Caring for patients in an ICU is extremely complex, but the wisdom of the checklist is that it breaks patient care down into incremental and verifiable steps.

Keep it short

One key to creating effective checklists is to keep them short. A good rule of thumb, Gawande says in the book, is to “keep it between five and nine items, which is the limit of working memory.”

You must also “define a clear pause point at which the checklist is supposed to be used.” Keeping the list short forces you to boil down complex processes into the essential, required steps.

“Keeping it short” also means that you will most likely end up with multiple checklists, each tailored to a clearly defined set of circumstances.

Keep it simple

Hand-in-hand with keeping checklists short is keeping them simple. Checklists should use clear and exact language. Gawande also stresses the importance of formatting. Limit your list to one page and avoid clutter and the unnecessary use of colours. Your lists should be clean, simple, and concise.

Daniel Boorman, the checklist guru at airplane manufacturing giant The Boeing Company, has suggested the use of both upper- and lower-case text for ease of reading, as well as the use of a sans serif font like Helvetica.

Boeing makes extensive use of checklists — for everything from routine processes like readying an airplane for takeoff to emergency situations like smoke in the cockpit. Every situation that a pilot might encounter comes with a corresponding checklist, as is shared in the book.

Decide between “Read-Do” and “Do-Confirm.”

There are two types of checklists: READ-DO and DO-CONFIRM. A READ-DO checklist is similar to a recipe. It consists of a set of clearly defined tasks that you check off as you complete them. With a DO-CONFIRM checklist, “Team members perform their jobs from memory and experience, often separately.”

Related: Become A Life-Hacker

But then they stop. “They pause to run the checklist and confirm that everything that was supposed to be done was done.” Before building your checklist, you will need to decide which of the following two options to use.

Use checklists to facilitate communication

Even extremely complex tasks, like the building of a modern skyscraper, can benefit greatly from the use of checklists.

Not only can the floor-by-floor construction of the building be broken down into many small individual tasks that must be ticked off as completed, but a checklist can also help facilitate problem-solving and communications when complications inevitably arise.

Gawande discovered that the builders he interviewed relied on “one set of checklists to make sure that simple steps are not missed or skipped and another set to make sure that everyone talks through and resolves all the hard and unexpected problems.”

Using checklists to ensure that the appropriate experts consult with one other to resolve any issues that come up and reach an agreement on how to move forward is one of the tool’s most valuable applications.

Despite buildings’ being bigger and more complex than ever before, creative and diligent use of checklists has significantly sped up the building process, according to the experts Gawande consulted for his book.

Where to start

checklist-app

Not surprisingly,  a plethora of tools are available to help you incorporate the use of checklists into your business process. Here are just a few:

  • Checklist. The eponymous Checklist app offers a robust free plan with unlimited checklists, team management, due dates, reminders and more. The app is available for iOS and Android, or on the web. One of Checklist’s greatest strengths is its community. You can choose from thousands of user-submitted checklist templates to help get you started.
  • Tallyfy.Tallyfy is a powerful solution for automating your business processes with a particular emphasis on collaboration. If you and your team can benefit from applying the principles behind The Checklist Manifesto, Tallyfy is well worth a look.
  • Manifest.ly. If your team, like mine, relies heavily on Slack for collaboration and communication, Manifest.ly is a checklist tool that boasts seamless Slack integration. You and your team can work on checklists and receive notifications without ever leaving Slack.

Final thoughts

Checklists are a potent tool that have been shown to work in a wide variety of industries and circumstances. There are almost inevitably processes in your business that the clever application of checklists will improve.

Even the most complex tasks, such as the building of a modern skyscraper, open heart surgery and flying a commercial airliner have been shown to benefit greatly from the use of checklists. As Gawande wrote, “Checklists seem able to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realised.”

Using checklists to establish a higher level of base-line performance for you and your team can similarly pay big dividends in making your business more efficient and error-free.

Related: 14 Of The Best Morning Routine Hacks Proven To Boost Productivity

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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