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How Boring Music, Burner Email Addresses, and a Smartphone Timer Increased My Work Productivity

How Boring Music, Burner Email Addresses, and a Smartphone Timer Increased My Work Productivity

As a freelance consultant, I live and die by the clock.

The more focused time I can spend doing client work, the better results I can drive, the happier my clients are, and the greater my ability to feed my children.

For this reason, work productivity is very important to me. I can’t afford to waste time. When I’m in “work mode,” I need to stay in flow as much as possible. Distractions like phone calls, text notifications, and email alerts are the bane of my existence.

What makes this more challenging is that I’m a control freak with attention deficit issues. So every time my phone buzzes or a new email comes in, I feel an overwhelming pull to deal with it immediately. Texts need to be answered, emails must be responded to, and friends need to be acknowledged. Welcome to 2016!

I know how important it is to stay productive, but I still struggle with it. So I’m always on the lookout for new tips and tricks to help me manage distraction and stay in flow. The good news is that over the last couple of months I’ve picked up three new habits that have made me happier and more productive at work. Here they are, along with step-by-step instructions for how I pulled them off.

1. Remove Non-Critical Emails From Your Inbox

I unsubscribe from emails I don’t want. I want those emails out of my life completely. The real issue is email that is not critical but still necessary — or at least desirable. Here are a few examples:

  • Emails from my bank (“Your deposit has been accepted”)
  • Notifications from social media platforms (“Dave just posted a picture of you”)
  • Email newsletters (“New post about Instagram’s newsfeed changes”)
  • Online service (“Here’s your monthly invoice”)

I need to receive these emails. The problem is that when they come in, I feel a pull to read them and deal with them right away. I just don’t need to. They become a massive distraction. If you have the same problem, then I’d recommend signing up for Throttle, a service that allows you to sign up for anything online without using your email address. It gets the less important stuff out of your inbox.

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Step 1 – Sign up for Throttle. It’s free.

Throttle_— Stop_Giving_Out_Your_Email_Address

    Step 2 – Go back and “throttle” non-critical but necessary emails. This can take a little time, but you only have to do it once. Throttle has also set up a tips section with links that help you do this with common accounts like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Groupon.

    Throttle_Update Common Accounts

      Step 3 – Start “throttling” new stuff that you sign up for. If you’ve completed step 1, then you should have installed a browser extension during onboarding (I use Chrome). Whenever you sign up for a new account, service, or newsletter, just click the Throttle icon in the email field, or right-click and select “Authorize with Throttle”.

      Authorize_With_Throttle

        Voila! You’ve now removed unnecessary emails from your inbox and put them into a daily digest that you can read at your leisure for free. You’re also more safe and secure — but more on that in another post.

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        2. Use Instrumental Music to Get in Flow

        I work in an open office with no walls or cubicles. I love the open feel, but noise distraction is a big problem. I’m not alone either. According to Fast Company, noise is the number one complaint about open workspaces.

        However, wearing a pair of headphones can eliminate that noise, and listening to background music while you work has the added benefit of increasing your attention rate.

        I heard this advice enough that I finally went looking for some good “work music.” I discovered “Focus” playlists on Spotify and my life will never be the same. Here’s a short guide on how to set them up.

        Step 1 – Sign up for Spotify. Don’t worry. They have a free version.

        Spotify_Web_Player

          Step 2 – Once you’re in, select “Genres & Moods”.

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          Genres and Moods

            Step 3 – Scroll down until you see the category called “Focus.” Its icon is a Pixar-like lamp. Select it.

            Focus Playlists

              Step 4 – Pick a channel that is to your liking — just make sure it’s instrumental (you can tell that from the channel notes). My personal favorites are Peaceful Piano, Intense Studying, and Instrumental Study.

              PRO TIP: Most hardcore productivity-ists say that you will be most productive if you listen to the same instrumental song on a loop. Try it!

              3. Take Frequent 5-minute Breaks on a Clock

              As productive as you can be with the two hacks above, your body and (especially) your brain must have some time to rest. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of science to back this up.

              Even though mental breaks are important throughout the day, there will always be times that you are in flow and want to stay there.

              Here’s what I do to both add breaks to my schedule and stay productive.

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              Step 1 – Set a 2-hour timer on your phone

              2-hour Timer-01

                Step 2 – When the timer goes off, reset it, then get up and take a break. Get a drink of water, stare out the window, or walk around the block. Do anything but think about work. Give your brain 5-10 minutes of rest.

                Mental Break

                  If you’re feeling engaged and energized when the timer sounds, then cancel it and keep working.

                  The goal is to have a system that gets you moving around and taking breaks occasionally so that you can stay in a flow state as much as possible. If you’re already there, then keep at it for a while. Just don’t forget to check back in 30 minutes or so.

                  These three hacks have made my life as a freelance consultant much more productive and enjoyable. If you decide to try one of these (or have other ideas), then drop me a comment below and let me know!

                  Featured photo credit: https://www.pexels.com/ via pexels.com

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                  How Boring Music, Burner Email Addresses, and a Smartphone Timer Increased My Work Productivity

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                  Last Updated on January 6, 2021

                  14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

                  14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

                  Everyone has heard the term productivity, and people talk about it in terms of how high it is and how to improve it. But fewer know how to measure productivity, or even what exactly we are talking about when using the term “productivity.”

                  In its simplest form, the productivity formula looks like this: Output ÷ Input = Productivity.

                  For example, you have two salespeople each making 10 calls to customers per week. The first one averages 2 sales per week and the second one averages 3 sales per week. By plugging in the numbers we get the following productivity levels for each sales person.

                  For salesperson one, the output is 2 sales and the input is 10 sales: 2 ÷ 10 = .2 or 20% productivity. For salesperson two, the output is 3 sales and the input is 10 sales: 3 ÷ 10 = .3 or 30% productivity.

                  Knowing how to measure and interpret productivity is an invaluable asset for any manager or business owner in today’s world. As an example, in the above scenario, salesperson #1 is clearly not doing as well as salesperson #2.

                  Knowing this information we can now better determine what course of action to take with salesperson #1.

                  Some possible outcomes might be to require more in-house training for that salesperson, or to have them accompany the more productive salesperson to learn a better technique. It might be that salesperson #1 just isn’t suited for sales and would do a better job in a different position.

                  How to Measure Productivity With Management Techniques

                  Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to fine tune your business by minimizing costs and maximizing profits:

                  1. Identify Long and Short-Term Goals

                  Having a good understanding of what you (or your company’s) goals are is key to measuring productivity.

                  For example, if your company’s goal is to maximize market share, you’ll want to measure your team’s productivity by their ability to acquire new customers, not necessarily on actual sales made.

                  2. Break Down Goals Into Smaller Weekly Objectives

                  Your long-term goal might be to get 1,000 new customers in a year. That’s going to be 20 new customers per week. If you have 5 people on your team, then each one needs to bring in 4 new customers per week.

                  Now that you’ve broken it down, you can track each person’s productivity week-by-week just by plugging in the numbers:

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                  Productivity = number of new customers ÷ number of sales calls made

                  3. Create a System

                  Have you ever noticed that whenever you walk into a McDonald’s, the French fry machine is always to your left? 

                  This is because McDonald’s created a system. They have determined that the most efficient way to set up a kitchen is to always have the French fry machine on the left when you walk in.

                  You can do the same thing and just adapt it to your business.

                  Let’s say that you know that your most productive salespeople are making the most sales between the hours of 3 and 7 pm. If the other salespeople are working from 9 am to 4 pm, you can potentially increase productivity through something as simple as adjusting the workday.

                  Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to set up, monitor, and fine tune systems to maximize output.

                  4. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate!

                  We’ve already touched on using these productivity numbers to evaluate and monitor your employees, but don’t forget to evaluate yourself using these same measurements.

                  If you have set up a system to track and measure employees’ performance, but you’re still not meeting goals, it may be time to look at your management style. After all, your management is a big part of the input side of our equation.

                  Are you more of a carrot or a stick type of manager? Maybe you can try being more of the opposite type to see if that changes productivity. Are you managing your employees as a group? Perhaps taking a more one-on-one approach would be a better way to utilize each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

                  Just remember that you and your management style contribute directly to your employees’ productivity.

                  5. Use a Ratings Scale

                  Having clear and concise objectives for individual employees is a crucial part of any attempt to increase workplace productivity. Once you have set the goals or objectives, it’s important that your employees are given regular feedback regarding their progress.

                  Using a ratings scale is a good way to provide a standardized visual representation of progress. Using a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 is a good way to give clear and concise feedback on an individual basis.

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                  It’s also a good way to track long-term progress and growth in areas that need improvement.

                  6. Hire “Mystery Shoppers”

                  This is especially helpful in retail operations where customer service is critical. A mystery shopper can give feedback based on what a typical customer is likely to experience.

                  You can hire your own shopper, or there are firms that will provide them for you. No matter which route you choose, it’s important that the mystery shoppers have a standardized checklist for their evaluation.

                  You can request evaluations for your employees friendliness, how long it took to greet the shopper, employees’ knowledge of the products or services, and just about anything else that’s important to a retail operation.

                  7. Offer Feedback Forms

                  Using a feedback form is a great way to get direct input from existing customers. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when using feedback forms.

                  First, keep the form short, 2-3 questions max with a space for any additional comments. Asking people to fill out a long form with lots of questions will significantly reduce the amount of information you receive.

                  Secondly, be aware that customers are much more likely to submit feedback forms when they are unhappy or have a complaint than when they are satisfied.

                  You can offset this tendency by asking everyone to take the survey at the end of their interaction. This will increase compliance and give you a broader range of customer experiences, which will help as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

                  8. Track Cost Effectiveness

                  This is a great metric to have, especially if your employees have some discretion over their budgets. You can track how much each person spends and how they spend it against their productivity.

                  Again, this one is easy to plug into the equation: Productivity = amount of money brought in ÷ amount of money spent.

                  Having this information is very useful in forecasting expenses and estimating budgets.

                  9. Use Self-Evaluations

                  Asking your staff to do self evaluations can be a win-win for everyone. Studies have shown that when employees feel that they are involved and their input is taken seriously, morale improves. And as we all know, high employee morale translates into higher productivity.

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                  Using self-evaluations is also a good way to make sure that the employees and employers goals are in alignment.

                  10. Monitor Time Management

                  This is the number one killer of productivity in the workplace. Time spent browsing the internet, playing games, checking email, and making personal calls all contribute to lower productivity[1].

                  Time Management Tips to Improve Productivity

                    The trick is to limit these activities without becoming overbearing and affecting morale. Studies have shown that most people will adhere to rules that they feel are fair and applied to everyone equally.

                    While ideally, we may think that none of these activities should be done on company time, employees will almost certainly have a different opinion. From a productivity standpoint, it is best to have policies and rules that are seen as fair to both sides as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

                    11. Analyze New Customer Acquisition

                    We’ve all heard the phrase that “It’s more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one.” And while that is very true, in order for your business to keep growing, you will need to continually add new customers.

                    Knowing how to measure productivity via new customer acquisition will make sure that your marketing dollars are being spent in the most efficient way possible. This is another metric that’s easy to plug into the formula: Productivity = number of new customers ÷ amount of money spent to acquire those customers.

                    For example, if you run any kind of advertising campaign, you can compare results and base your future spending accordingly.

                    Let’s say that your total advertising budget is $3,000. You put $2,000 into television ads, $700 into radio ads, and $300 into print ads. When you track the results, you find that your television ad produced 50 new customers, your radio ad produced 15 new customers, and your print ad produced 9 new customers.

                    Let’s plug those numbers into our equation. Television produced 50 new customers at a cost of $2,000 (50 ÷ 2000 = .025, or a productivity rate of 2.5%). The radio ads produced 15 new customers and cost $700 (15 ÷ 700 = .022, or a 2.2% productivity rate). Print ads brought in 9 new customers and cost $300 (9 ÷ 300 = .03, or a 3% return on productivity).

                    From this analysis, it is clear that you would be getting the biggest bang for your advertising dollar using print ads.

                    12. Utilize Peer Feedback

                    This is especially useful when people who work in teams or groups. While self-assessments can be very useful, the average person is notoriously bad at assessing their own abilities.

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                    Just ask a room full of people how many consider themselves to be an above average driver and you’ll see 70% of the hands go up[2]! Now we clearly know that in reality about 25% of drivers are below average, 25% are above average, and 50% are average.

                    Are all these people lying? No, they just don’t have an accurate assessment of their own abilities.

                    It’s the same in the workplace. Using peer feedback will often provide a more accurate assessment of a person’s ability than a self-assessment would.

                    13. Encourage Innovation and Don’t Penalize Failure

                    When it comes to productivity, encouraging employee input and adopting their ideas can be a great way to boost productivity. Just make sure that any changes you adopt translate into higher productivity.

                    Let’s say that someone comes to you requesting an entertainment budget so that they can take potential customers golfing or out to dinner. By utilizing simple productivity metrics, you can easily produce a cost benefit analysis and either expand the program to the rest of the sales team, or terminate it completely.

                    Either way, you have gained valuable knowledge and boosted morale by including employees in the decision-making process.

                    14. Use an External Evaluator

                    Using an external evaluator is the pinnacle of objective evaluations. Firms that provide professional evaluations use highly trained personnel that even specialize in specific industries.

                    They will design a complete analysis of your business’ productivity level. In their final report, they will offer suggestions and recommendations on how to improve productivity.

                    While the benefits of a professional evaluation are many, their costs make them prohibitive for most businesses.

                    Final Thoughts

                    These are just a few of the things you can do when learning how to measure productivity. Some may work for your particular situation, and some may not.

                    The most important thing to remember when deciding how to track productivity is to choose a method consistent with your goals. Once you’ve decided on that, it’s just a matter of continuously monitoring your progress, making minor adjustments, and analyzing the results of those adjustments.

                    The business world is changing fast, and having the right tools to track and monitor your productivity can give you the edge over your competition.

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                    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

                    Reference

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