You can increase your productive time per day significantly by actively influencing your sleeping habits. As a first step you avoid oversleeping because it makes you dizzy for a big part of the day.

As a second step you start to reduce your sleep by a few minutes every day. After a while you will find the right balance of sleep you really require. Since this very individual point is different for every person you can only find it through trial and error.

However, it is worth going through the pain since adapting your sleep patterns can easily gain 30 to 60 minutes per day. Think of what you could all do with this extra time over a year…

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Urgent tasks create interruptions and distract you from your real goals. The urgent is focused on the short-term whereas the important things should be related to the achievement of your goals. If you regularly are confronted with urgent matters that suddenly pop-up, you first have to analyze the source of these urgent tasks:

1) Procrastination

One major source of urgent matters can be your own procrastination. Some people feel an excitment when they have to complete something on the last minute even if they had all the time to prepare things in advance.

If this is true for you, there is a choice to be made. In case you are happy with this situation, don’t change it - it will not work anyhow.

If you feel bad about this most of the time, you have to apply techniques to manage your procrastination. In the first step you need a proper to-do list. Then you schedule time slots in your calendar to work on the tasks you typically procrastinate. Even if you cannot complete them during this time the progress makes it easier to restart the next time. It is also important that you put away all possible distractions and also reward yourself once you completed the task.

2) Other colleagues

If urgent tasks mainly come from other colleagues you need to openly address this. They keep interrupting you and reduce your overall productivity. This behavior makes it impossible for you to plan your own tasks. Rather than blaming your colleague it is better to explain why these urgent matters are difficult to handle for you. When he understands your situation you can come up with a proposal on how you can even better support in case you receive the requests or information earlier.

If this does not work at all and you have a feeling that your colleague does not care there might be no other way than using an urgent but not so important matter and let your colleague wait. Just make sure that it does not impact a customer.

3) Your boss

If you boss permanently interrupts you with urgent tasks you need to improve your communication. Propose a regular meeting where you discuss upcoming tasks. This should help reducing the number of urgent items coming up suddenly.

You also have to understand the difference between urgent and important. There are tasks that might be urgent but not important.  In general I recommend giving the important task a higher priority than the urgent but unimportant task.

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images-5One of the first things to learn is time management is to write things down - even if you have a good memory. Scientific research showed that we remember much more things when we write them down. According to Baddeley’s model of working memory our memory consists of a phonological loop, a visual and an episodic loop. These loops represent short time memory and it seems that they reinforce each other. This means that the probability to remember something is much higher if you write it down - even if you don’t need the notes later.

The second reason for taking notes is that you free your mind. Permanently reminding yourself that you don’t have to forget this or that simply causes stress. Once you wrote down all items you can focus your mind on achieving the task you are currently working on.

imagesI therefore recommend having a note pad with you where you takes meeting notes, reminders or where you can do brainstorming. Taking it with allows you to also turn idle time into productive time - regardless where you are . Although I am a large fan of electronic devices I believe that there is no alternative to having an A4 note pad, so that you are quick and also have sufficient space. On top of the paper you might also use an electronic help such as evernote in case you travel a lot. It allows you to take quick notes by voice, picture or text through your mobile phone and automatically synchronizes it with you PC at work or at home.

images-3It is absolutely mandatory that you plan a fixed time to review your notes once a day. The best time to do this is when you plan your day. During this time you transfer tasks into your to-do list, update your calendar and schedule other activities related to your notes.

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Since you are reading this time management blog you might have a large backlog of emails, tasks and a desk full of documents for filing. If this is a case you need to attack this problem from two sides. You need to clear the backlog and you also have to implement new working methods so that no new backlog can build up. Because it is difficult to handle both at the same time, I recommend a sequential approach:

1) Park your backlog

Your backlog probably accumulated for some time. Remove the urgent tasks and place the backlog of documents inside a sideboard for example.  If you are dealing with an e-mail backlog you create a folder called “backlog” and move your entire inbox there. The urgent emails shall remain in your inbox. You now created the mental freedom required to focus on the improvement of the processing of your inbox. 

2) Improve your daily task management

 If a backlog could accumulate you probably have a problem in processing the flow of incoming emails, postal mail and tasks. I recommend to apply the following step by step:

3) Reduce your backlog

Now that your inflow is under control it is time to get rid of yoru backlog.  I recommend to plan a few hours for this in your calendar and to process the backlog in one or very few batches. The benefit compared to the batch process is that you feel great and motivated afterwards. Going step by step might feel as if there was no progress and you might even lose motivation.

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This video of a Nike commercial with Michael Jordan is not new but the message is timeless. What it basically says is that success comes from failing and trying again. No champion is born just like that and even the biggest talent will not perform great without learning and improving.

So go for the goals of your life and be aware that you might have to fail many times before you can achieve them. Stand up each time and remain persistent.

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Advertisement has an important function. It shall inform consumers about new products and services as well as their benefits. However, marketers developed a very good understanding on how to create new desires and how to motivate people to purchase their products. This business has grown to a huge industry which is penetrating almost every place in our lives with more or less visible advertisements. If you want to increase your personal productivity it also might be interesting to have a look at how you consume advertising.

1) TV advertising

Watching movies on TV with advertisement break is one of the most effective ways to waste time. Instead of enjoying a 90 minutes movie you have to spend 2 hours or more in front of the screen and accept frequent interruptions. It is much more effective to watch movies on DVD, Video on Demand or Cable TV. Although it might cost some extra money, you should go for it. On one hand it is worth the extra time it generates and on the other hand the costs might reduce you spend in front of the TV in general allowing you to more participate in social life or education.

2) Postal Mailings

A lot of advertising might also come to you through your postal mail box. I reduced this to almost zero by implementing a virtual postal mailbox. Many companies seem to be hesitant to send advertising mass mails to a PO box. On top of this you can put a stiker on your physical mailbox that you don’t want any dirert advertising.

3) Email advertising

 In order to reduce spam e-mail you better keep a separate e-mail address for subscriptions or registrations where you feel the risk of receiving spam later. The best solution of course is not to subscribe such services at all but it probably is not realistic to fully avoid this. Once the level of spam on this e-mail address reaches a very high level you just shut it down and start again with a different one.

On the other hand your “real” e-mail address is used for trustable purposes only and remains relatively clean, so that the regular spam-filter will work.

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Multitasking gives us the feeling to be very productive and to achieve more tasks in a give time.  However, the reality is that we slow down when multitasking. 

Our brain is made in a way that basically only allows to fully concentrate on one thing. Each time you switch from one task to another your brain requires a few seconds to refocus on the new task. The same applies when switching back to the previous task. Over the time the seconds required for readjustment pile up to many valuable minutes. Although you might feel busy and productive, you would achieve more if you completed the same tasks in sequential order.

Knowing this negative impact of multitasking on your productivity should have consequences on how you plan each day:

  • Process your e-mail inbox in batches. Instead of interrupting yourself each time a mail arrives you process them 3 times a day at specific times.
  • Have a telephone hour. Pool your outgoing phone calls and let other people know when it is best to each you by phone.
  • If you suffer from interruptions from others I recommend going to work early and completing the most important tasks first. 

Switching from one task to another also can be a special form of procrastination. Instead of completing a task you don’t like you find a of other tasks to work on in “parallel”. This is an avoidance strategy that still gives a good feeling of being busy and productive. There are some effective strategies on how to cope with such a situation:

A final advice with regards to multitasking is to focus in general. According to the Pareto Principle 20% of your actions determine 80% of your results. Rather than trying to cope with all tasks it might be much more efficient to set priorities and focus all your attention on the most important tasks.

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 Did you make new years resolutions for this year? Be sinsere and ask yourself how many of your last new years resolutions you realized by now. You are in good company since most people admit that they did not manage to pursue the resolutions they made at the beginning of the year.

One reason for this is lack of focus. A good new years resolution is something difficult to achieve - often requiring a change of habits. If you make 5 or more new years resolutions you quickly loose focus and might fail with all your new years resolutions.

I recommend choosing the most important topic you want to change making it your one and only new years resolution. Take the following steps to increase the chances of realizing it:

  • Write it down in big letters on a nice piece of paper and hang it at a place you look at every day to remind yourself.
  • Make it public by announcing it to your family and friends. You can combine it with a toast on the new year. It might be fun to share this idea of making one new year resolution only. Every person then announces its only resolution and toasts on it. Meet again periodically to share your progress over the year.
  • Make a plan of the necessary steps to realize your new years resolution and put a schedule to each step.

If you are a very optimistic person and if you think that you can achieve more than one resolution I still recommend to go for one only. In case you successfully realize it early in the year, nothing stops you from making a new resolution in the middle of the year and taking the same steps again as explaned above. 

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We often find it very hard changing habits. After an initial period of success driven by high motivation in the beginning we then fall back into the old traps. A major source for failure is to keep the old temptations around to be used in a moment of weakness. The first step in changing a habit therefore has to be the removal of temptations. It is also important to understand that removal does not mean to hide things but to make it close to impossible to get them back in a spontaneous moment. Let me share a few examples with you:

1) If you spend too much time watching TV

Unsubscribe your cable subscription as well as the TV magazine. You can even go as far as to sell your TV or bring it to a friend’s house until you feel ready to control your TV consumption.

2) If you spend too much time on computer games

Delete all games on your computer (don’t forget to empty the trash bin), dispose the installation media and if you play on a console - sell the game console and the games.

3) If you want to stop smoking

Dispose all cigarettes you have as well as all related equipment such as ashtrays, lighters, etc.

4) Spend less money

Get rid of your credit card for a while. If you don’t want to return it to your bank you can deposit it at a family members’ home. Another possibility is to only withdraw a certain amount of cash per week and to also deposit your bank cards at someone else’s place. 

5) ???

I think that this list can become endless. But I would be interested in knowing how you got rid of temptations when you where trying to change a habit. Making this list longer might help many other readers to overcome their bad habits.

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Check your to do list and start the day working on the two or three most important topics. Complete them before you start anything else. You will feel much better for the rest of the day and any other task coming later will feel much easier. In the ideal case you get up early in the morning and have a working session for these important items uninterrupted before others come in to the office.

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