A common New Year’s goal is to become more organized or productive and a common complaint is that it is more of a challenge than first anticipated. We all have our personal challenges; there are things we know we should do but simply don’t. Tasks that we ought to do but simply don’t want to. Habits that we want to implement but struggle to apply. Techniques we know we will benefit from, but somehow there never seems to be the time, the discipline or the commitment to follow through.

The most effective way to make lasting change is to change one thing at a time. Small daily changes will all add up to give you amazing results. If you were to commit to one small change this month, one thing that you could do daily that would have a positive effect on your current level of productivity. After one month this small daily change will have become a habit and then you can move on to make the next change.

Here are a few ideas for small changes that if implemented can impact your productivity and rock your world.

1. Inbox zero

Having a clear inbox can be a great boost to your personal productivity and sense of control. It may feel like an enormous challenge to start but little by little you can work through even the largest of inboxes and reduce it until you can get to zero each day. I like to use the Barbara Hemphill FAT method. File, Act or Trash. Every day when it is time to process your email, make a decision based on the following criteria:

File: If the email does not require any action but you need to hold it for reference then it should be filed. I used to file my emails carefully in reference folders, so that I can easily retrieve them when required, but what I have found is that it takes less time doing a search when I need to retrieve the email than it does to decide where to file the email in the first place so I have started to dump the majority of processed emails in the same folder. I keep a few folders for important accounts or for occasions when I know I will need an email trail.

Act: Follow David Allen’s rule and if the task can be done is less than two minutes do it now, if not the task will either need to go into your calendar or be added to your task list.

Trash: If you have completed any action required and you don’t need to keep the email for reference, click on the delete button. I know many people who have an allergy to the delete button, but this allergy can be easily overcome with usage. Don’t keep an email because it has a password or a telephone number or address in it. Add all contact details into contacts. Use notes in your email program for passwords or other bits of information you would like to store.

2. Filing

Spend some time each day filing. Start by purging your existing files and eliminate all the unnecessary; old documents no longer required. Check your revenue requirements for how long documents legally need to be stored. Anything older should go to trash. Have a file on your desk for filing. Take 10 minutes each day to file. Make sure you are in possession of a labeller and some manilla folders to ensure each folder is clearly labelled. Until you have used a labeller for filing you will not realize the benefit. It makes document retrieval so much quicker when you are searching for a document or folder. It is well worth the investment. Keep your filing cabinet close to you desk. This will ensure that filing doesn’t become a bigger chore that it is already.

3. De-clutter

Get into the invaluable habit of cleaning and clearing everyday. Clutter delays action; it disables and distracts. Clear a little everyday. Take my mother’s advice and clean as you go. For some of us this doesn’t come easy but we also know the lightness and clarity that comes from an ordered physical space. Try some of the following, clear your desk for 10 minutes before leaving the office everyday, Wash the dishes after dinner each evening, don’t leave documents and papers lying around put them all in an in-tray to be processed daily.

4. Exercise

Taking a walk, going for a run, swimming, or cycling everyday will do wonders for your mental health and your personal productivity. The extra energy and oxygen to the brain helps to clear the mind and allows for better mental function. Exercise is one of Richard Branson’s productivity tips. Make it a habit.

5. Write everything down

Don’t use your head for mental storage, it wasn’t made for that purpose. David Allen says “Use your head to have ideas not to hold them”. In order to be able to focus it is essential not to be carrying around your tasks and responsibilities in your head. Not only does it cloud your thinking, but you risk missing appointments or forgetting to do things that need to be done. Get into the daily habit of getting everything out of your head. When you have it down on paper you can organize it into your system; appointments to your calendar and tasks to your task list. Implementing this habit will reduce your stress and increase your efficiency in dealing with current tasks.

Each one of these new habits will take you to higher level of productivity and with commitment closer to your personal success.

(Photo credit: model of Earth via Shutterstock)

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