Monday, 28 April 2014

I increased my productivity 300%...and you can too

Do you find yourself constantly busy or working longer and longer hours and not having enough time in each day to do what you want to do?  It was certainly a feeling that I had.  It seemed like no matter how hard I tried at work, I was always behind where I wanted to be and my hours were starting to stretch as a result.

I  wrote a book review on the 4 Hour Workweek recently (see my full review here) and these are some of tips contained in that book which I put into place.  When I implemented the strategy below I found myself being roughly ~3 times more efficient

Identify your time wasters

The first thing you need to do is to identify what you waste time on.  What you waste time doing is completely different to what I waste time doing.  When I say waste time I'm not only talking about wasting time on Facebook (although that counts too!).   There are both obvious and not so obvious ways that we all waste time

Obvious time wasters

These time wasters are some that we know are 'naughty' and that waste time however we often view them as taking a few minutes out of each day and not really contributing that much to our inefficiency.  Examples can include
  • Spending time on Facebook
  • Playing games on your phone
  • Chatting to people in the office about your social life
  • Watching a YouTube video that someone forwards to you
  • Getting a coffee with someone and sitting down for 'a quick chat'
Add up how much time you spend on each of these and other obvious time wasters and you will be amazed at how much of your day goes on these things which you know are bad.  Minimising office banter and conversation alone saved me ~1 hour every day.  If you think that this makes the office 'more fun' just think about whether you'd rather office banter or an earlier time to leave the office...easy decision in my books.

The time wasters which we use to feel efficient

These are the most insidious types of time wasters because we feel like we are being efficient and are doing something.  However they make
very little different to what we actually need to get done.  Spend some time thinking about what you do to feel efficient but which achieves very little.  Some examples may include:
  • Reading and responding to emails as they come in
  • Doing unnecessary organising and filing
  • Reading complete reports and bulletins which may contain something useful
  • Reading the financial news (if you work in finance like I do)
  • Telephone calls
  • Meetings
Some of these time wasters we institute ourselves and some are organisational driven.  The ones we institute ourselves are easy to cut out...the organisational ones are possible to cut out but they take much more effort.

Make your list of personal time wasters.  List at least 5...and try and get to 10

Every one of us wastes time on something.  If you have nailed efficiency then you're not going to have too many time issues.  Make your list of 5 - 10 things that you waste time on.  Identify both the obvious and the not so obvious ones.  I actually found that I got more benefit out of cutting out some of the not so obvious time wasters that I listed above.

Cut out every single time waster

Find a way of cutting out every single one of these time wasters.  The obvious ones should be easy to cut out...turn off your phone when get to work.  Only have one browser open on your computer.  Practice delaying your need to look at anything other than your work until certain pre-specified times.

Develop strategies to deal with the time wasters that make you feel efficient.  Remind yourself constantly that this is not necessary to achieve what you need to do right now.  Some examples may include
  • Only checking emails twice a day
    • This is a strategy I got from the 4-Hour Workweek - I didn't think it was possible to do this but I do it now.  I check my email at 10 in the morning and then at 3 or 4pm in the afternoon
    • If something is really urgent someone will call you and if it's not then it can keep until the second checking point
    • I saved at least an hour by not getting into long back and forth email chats when a single email will do.  You will be amazed how efficient a business email conversation can be when people are trying to get stuff done before going home
  • Limiting telephone calls
    • I thought this was even more impossible than the email one however most of us have caller ID on our phones.  I use this rule: if it is my boss I'll answer it, otherwise I'll let it go to voice mail.
    • I'll listen to the voice mail and then decide if it is worth following up
    • I haven't yet moved to batching my voice mail checking but that is purely because I haven't let go as much as I could have
  • Stop reading useless information
    • I think we all know when something we are reading for work is going to be useful or useless within a couple of seconds.  If you think it is going to be useless stop reading it
    • This was actually my biggest time saver.  I used to spend at least 90 minutes every day reading the various reports that crossed my desk every morning.  I have cut this down to ~15 minutes now
Again these will be dependant on what you waste time on.  Cut out everything from your list of top 10 and you will find so many more hours in the day.  Next time I'm going to write about how I increased my productivity even further by knowing when I work efficiently.

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  1. What do you work at now within finance?

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    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. Thanks for the comments and yes I did work in M&A previously.

      I do invest in individual stocks but whenever you work in finance (buy side or sell side, private or public) you are typically not allowed to invest in the stocks you know and research for your job.

      This means for my personal investments I am investing like anyone else out there. I have limited time and quite often I have limited ideas as well. When I invest directly in stocks I prefer to have a really good idea on exactly why I'm invested in a stock. Keeping track of a large portfolio becomes difficult so I prefer to have a few direct stock investments (5 - 10 max) and have the rest in ETFs (or other managed products) for the diversification benefits.

    4. Edit: Nathan...apologies...I try and keep myself as anonymous as possible on this blog so I can write openly. While trying to alter some of the words in your comment I accidentally deleted it. For everyone else a summary of Nathan's question was:

      "I have only just found your blog, very good I have to say. Did you use to work in M&A then? Also, if you work in finance why are you so keen on ETFs? Surely you must have some good knowledge for stock picking?"

      My answer stays the same above.

  2. Interesting answers there to Nathan's questions, you interested in the IB (investment banking space Nathan?). Yes I completely agree with you there 90M in terms of an ETF vs individual stocks (not personal advice here, merely an opinion that should not be followed without seeing an advisor).. The majority of "stock guru's" have simply been lucky and are salespeople pitching their products.. While there are aspects you can look at with individual stocks i.e. buy low, sell high, dollar cost average, look at fundamentals, by the time you spend all the effort to do this you may as well use ETF's and accept that the market is likely to perform quite well (in the longer term) and pay lower fees.. Again always consult an advisor first..

    Interesting questions Nath

  3. On the actual post, yes I agree with the tips, it is a matter of implementing them, would love to cut from 5 to 4 days a week to work on my blog, which is one of the 4 hour work week suggestions :)..

    Nice topic here 90M