How to become more productive?

How to become more productive

Today, with so much of information overload, many of us seem to get distracted and lose sight of what is truly important to us. So, I got productivity expert Ann Michael Henry to answer some questions that will help you achieve more in less time.

Ann Michael Henry is fondly referred to as the Productivity Chef™ at Mise En Place. She is Co-author of 3 great books on productivity in the workplace, her team works with clients to discover the right ingredients for managing how to become more productive - startup growth expertyour e-mail, digital data, paper and workload so that you can “get cooking” at work and still have time to satisfy your appetite for life!

Your company is called Mise en place, what does it mean?

It’s a French term. It is a cooking term used by executive chefs and literally translated it means putting or placing in place. And it’s how they have everything together before you start a project. Everything is sliced and diced and the sauce is made before the order is in place. So it’s all about having your resources in place to complete a project.

In today’s world there are so many distractions that we didn’t have in the past. There is social media, email spam is bigger than ever before. How do you make time for what is truly important in your life without getting distracted?

It’s really about prioritizing your workload and taking a look at what is the most important thing that needs to get done. You choose that one task or project that needs to get done and then you measure everything against that. So, today I need to accomplish task A. Does social media help me do that? Does checking my emails now help me do that? Does chatting with somebody down the hall help me do that? And if the answer to all of that is ‘no’ then don’t do it. It takes a bit of discipline but when you start, prioritize, clear out and recognize that all of those other things don’t help you accomplish that objective. It becomes really clear and it increases your ability to focus on the most important task ahead and move it up.

Can you recommend three strategies that people could use right away how to become more productive ?

#1 When you’re feeling overwhelmed and overloaded as many people already come in to the office thinking, Oh! I have to get all these things done and we have it all in our heads. Grab a pen and a paper and jot them all down. Get them out of your head.  I refer to it as mental popcorn, you’ve got too much popping around and it pops out  and we lose it. So jot it all down and take a moment to reflect on it. And, generally just that process alone you’ll feel a sense of relief like ‘oh its not really that bad.’ Because we are spending so much energy trying to control it in our head that once we get it down and capture it there is almost a relief.

#2 The other strategy is we tend to multitask all the time. It’s today’s badge of honor. I would challenge people to reduce their multitasking by 20 percent. Not totally cut it out, that’s just not going to happen and it’s not realistic. But if you reduce it by 20 percent your productively will actually increase because when we multitask we are literally switching back and forth and back and forth between tasks. All the brain research tells us that actually reduces our productivity by 50 percent.  So, stop multitasking. For 20 percent you’ll see a huge increase in what you can accomplish in a given day.

#3 The third thing is to create a process where you can get the information that you need when you need it. Whether its electronic or paper create a finding system that allows you to find that information. It is much easier to do it in electronic information these days but there still are gaps in that. Many people still have paper and a traditional filing system that doesn’t work. Turn it into a finding system so you can pull everything together where you can have it at your fingertips.  When you can have quick access to your information, you can know where it is and get to it quickly and easily because again we spend anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours a day looking for information that we need. And, investing some time to fix that environment saves us hundreds and thousands of hours over the course of our career and it is worth the time to put the process in place.

Is it possible for creative people to be more productive without inhibiting their creativity?

Absolutely! I’ve dealt with it all the time. Pick up a piece of paper or you go to file some information, how you file it will be one way. I’m going to take a look at that information and file it in a totally different way. Somebody else is going to file it a third way. It has nothing to do with men from mars and women from venus. We all think differently. And to be able to accommodate that is what’s essential.

In the example of creating a finding system for your papers, it’s all about creating a little cross referencing tool that you can do in either a word table or an excel spreadsheet. Where you know that you have a handful of columns where you can put the name of the document or the information and then you cross reference.

You could take an article about mobile web and say well, we can call it mobile web or we can call it getting to my website on an apple, an iPhone or a joy. There is a number of different things you can cross reference and all of them do it a different way. They even put all of those terms in there and then using the find feature in that spreadsheet you can find that information and it’s in file number fifteen. That is sort of a broad overview on how you can do it. But that type of strategy allows for that creativity.

You’re not pigeon holed in to a certain way of thinking. You don’t have to accommodate anybody’s style or methodology, you get to do it your way. There is a story of a doctor who in his tax information thought about it was “things I’ll go to jail for if I don’t do it.” Well, that’s the name of his file. I would call it taxes but he calls it things I would go to jail for if I don’t do it, and that’s fine to be able to accommodate that thought process. I think that’s a great example of creativity.

You can find more details about Ann Michael Henry and how she can help you become more productive on her website



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