Be Productive

Tips to Be Productive in 2018

Ever wish you had a Time Turner?

In the magical world of Harry Potter Hermione Granger used a Time Turner to turn back time. She created 3 extra hours a day to attend classes that ran concurrently allowing her to be productive and get more work done that everyone else.

Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Imagine your typical busy day. You have a plan but throughout the day lots of new thing crop up. At the end of the day you realise you hardly got to work on your planned tasks. No problem, just turn back the clock and get everything done!

But we don’t live in the magical world of Harry Potter, so we need “magical” strategies instead.

Take Control

In today’s hectic and distracted world it can be hard to stay in control of your day and be productive. The constant stream of messages, alerts and requests often cause us to work reactively. It can be frustrating. Most people make good plans and set clear goals but those plans can get side-lined as new requests and alerts arrive. Below we list 3 tips to be productive in 2018.

It can be useful to remind ourselves what we can actually control. We can proactively manage:

  • What we work on
  • How quickly we respond
  • What we prioritise
  • How often we check Email
  • Our energy levels and focus
  • Our mobile phone notifications

So if you decide to be more proactive and take control, here are 3 tips to be productive that will help you do it.

3 Tips To Be Productive

Tip 1 – Know Your Priorities

To maximise your use of time, it is important to know your priorities. Be clear about what is important for your company, your role, your clients and your targets. What are you trying to achieve; what are your long-term goals? Do some thinking and planning. Then set weekly goals and identify the tasks that will achieve these goals. Now you have your day-to-day priorities. Focus on achieving these tasks and protect your time by minimising your distractions.

Remember, if you don’t set your own priorities, someone else probably will.

 Tip 2 – Understand How You Work

The first step in CONTROLLING how you work is KNOWING how you work. Do you know what you end up working on each day? Do you know why? Are you clear about how you are prioritising your work?

You can gather this information by simply reflecting at the end of each day. Ask yourself:

  1. Did I stick to my plan?
  2. Did I end up working on unplanned things?
  3. Was the unplanned work more important?
  4. Did I make the correct decisions?
  5. What and/or who distracted me?

Consider what time of day you are most productive and when you concentrate best. Then plan the important work for these times.

Tip 3 – Control Your Distractions

Take steps to minimise your distractions now that you are aware of them. It may be phone calls, social media notifications, unimportant message alerts or other people’s requests.

We often let ourselves be distracted if it’s a welcome change from a tough (priority) task we are working on. And a change of task can refresh and help you regain focus. The challenge is to control the time you spend on the unplanned task by using a timer to remind you to tune back into your original plan.

To help minimise digital distractions you can do the following:

  • Analyse all the notifications you receive on your phone, tablet of PC.
  • Are you giving them all the same priority?
  • Are you letting a low priority Twitter interaction distract you as much as the alert for an important business Email?
  • Turn off notifications from low priority apps or Email accounts
  • Check Email at a set frequency, as often as you need to stay in touch for your role or business.

Be Productive in 2018

These changes may require a different way of working. It may not be possible to stick to it every day. But on a day that you have an important piece of work to complete and you need some deep-thinking time, take control and protect your precious time.

Try something new in the New Year and you have every chance of making 2018 your most productive year ever.

Stay productive by staying in touch with  on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram  @beproductive_ie . And checking our website for regular articles and tips. We want to help you be productive all year round not just the first few weeks in January!

Happy New Year.

Productivity Tips Business Owners

Productivity Tips Business Owners

As a business owner you are used to working hard. But is your hard work focused on the correct goals for your business? Are you clear about what your goals should be? And even with clear goals, how can you stick to those goals while responding to your customer’s needs? Read on to learn about our productivity tips business owners.

Productivity Tips for Business owners

The challenge is to work smart and be productive. There are simple but effective changes you can make to achieve this. So here are some ideas to get you started.

1)Decide You Want to Take Control

The first step in any change process is the commitment to do things differently. Aim to protect your time for productive work. Be prepared to challenge yourself and your team. This can mean saying no to enjoyable distractions like social media alerts. It can mean pushing yourself to spend more time on the tougher tasks you sometimes avoid.

2)Know Your Environment

And to optimise how you work you need to know how you work. Understand your environment, your challenges and your distractions. What work gets priority, which customers get the most attention, what response time is expected? What percentage of work can be anticipated and therefore planned? When do you work most productively? Is it the same time every day?

You can do this by simply reflecting at the end of each day. But by using a more structured approach, like keeping a TimeLog every day for a week, you can gain further insights. The data you gather will help you decide what needs to change to improve your productivity. Here is a link to our Be Productive TimeLog template.

3)Set Priorities for Your Business

To be truly productive, you need to be clear about what is important for your business. What are you trying to achieve; what are the priorities? Does everything link back to the overall vision and strategy?

By using the SMART approach to objective setting you can ensure that all planned work is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. This can provide a purpose for every task list or project plan and clarity for everyone on your team. Read more about prioritising here.

4)Get Organised and Plan Your Week

Once you are clear about what needs to be done, develop a plan to achieve it. Have a yearly plan which feeds into the monthly, weekly and daily plans. Make your weekly plan on a Friday afternoon or first thing Monday morning. Use a “To Do” list if you find it useful but make sure it connects to your schedule so that tasks on the list are actioned and most importantly, completed.

Schedule the week using a structured approach that best suits your business and your customers. Different techniques such as batch working or timed working can help to maximise efficiency and productivity. Here is a link to our Be Productive Weekly Planner template.

5)Manage Email, Meetings and Distractions

Your TimeLog data will identify the activities that consume most time in your week.  Emails and meetings tend to be top of most lists while interruptions from colleagues can also eat into your time.

So here are some e-mail productivity tips to consider:

  • Working with email notification constantly switched on can result in the day being controlled by other people’s priorities. There will be days when you need to be constantly in touch. But ask yourself are there other days or time blocks when you can check your emails at planned intervals only.
  • Actively manage your meetings to increase the chance of productive outcomes by using a meeting process. This can include: 1) preparation beforehand, 2) use of a timed agenda during the meeting and 3) post meeting follow-up of actions agreed
  • Eliminate or reduce as many distractions as possible, even if sometimes those distractions are a welcome change from tougher tasks. But remember to be diplomatic when colleagues or clients are involved!

For more detailed advice on this check out our Email, Meetings & Managing Distractions productivity articles here:

Take Control of Your Inbox

Productive Meeting Skills

Tips to Maintain Your Focus

6)Develop New Skills and Techniques

Keep improving to make sure you stay productive in this ever changing world. Nowadays there are lots of free apps available that promote efficiency and collaboration such as Microsoft OneNote. Do some research or talk to colleagues and peers to get recommendations. Make sure you are using your desktop applications as efficiently as possible by learning relevant time-saving functionality and features.

7)Review, Analyse and Repeat

To maintain control of your time and sustain any improvement in productivity, it is important to review and analyse what you have achieved. Return to the Timelog to track what worked and what didn’t. Compare back to the baseline data you collected at the start. Improvements gained from protected blocks of time and fewer distractions can include: reduced email processing, shorter meeting times, higher task completion, increased output and productivity.

Be Productive

In conclusion, these business owner productivity tips won’t work every day or in every business. But I encourage you to take the ideas and develop improvements that will work for you. Send us some feedback in the Comments and keep checking this blog for more detailed articles over the coming months on many of the topics discussed above.

Be Productive after a Holiday

5 Ways to Be Productive After a Holiday

We spend a lot of time throughout the year trying to be as productive as possible. So we need to make sure we also get enough holiday and down time to balance this. And while switching off is fantastic, the benefit can be ruined by our struggle to get back up to speed when we return to work. We examined what we could do to makes sure we could be productive after a holiday.

Busy Week Before You Go

The week before a holiday is often the busiest week of the year. We actually become super-productive as we crack through our To Do list in an attempt to clear everything before we leave. We want to make sure that we have communicated with everyone and tied up any loose ends.

Holiday Blues after You Return

In contrast the first few days back from holiday can often be our least productive days. We find it really hard to tune back into our work. We can feel demotivated. We may still wish we were away and we don’t feel ready to resume the normal hectic pace. Even if we are happy to be back it can be hard to get our brains into gear. All those projects, details and issues that were so clear before we left can seem very blurred the first few days back.

So how can we take control and be productive after our holiday?

1. Capture Everything Before You Leave

Spend time thinking about the first couple of days back before you finish up. At this point you are really tuned into the finer details of every project or issue so this is the best time to record as much detail as you can. Prepare notes for meetings, jot down key points for reports, make draft plans for things your need to tackle that first week back. Expect to forget most of the knowledge in your head –  that is the purpose of your holiday after all!

2. Strategically Schedule Your First Days Back

Some people like to ease back into things with a low key schedule but I find the opposite works best for me.  I arrange a couple of key meetings so that I kick start myself back into a productive mode quickly. I don’t welcome this approach on the first morning back but by the end of the day I am glad.

Consider what works best for you, your role and your environment. But be prepared to challenge yourself if you need to. Try our Weekly Planner template to help you map out that first week back.

3. Capitalise on Your Relaxed Mind

If you have successfully switched off during your holiday your mind will probably be free from all the usually stress and clutter. Some of the best ideas come to mind when you can see things more clearly and objectively. So use this unique state of mind to do some creative thinking and planning. But be careful: you can sometimes be too free-thinking and unrestrained that first day back. Make sure you don’t upset anyone by speaking too openly or honestly!

4. Resume Your Routines

It can take some time to get back into productive habits when you first return. If you exercise on a regular week day try to resume the first day back to work. Enable your healthy eating habits by ensuring you have time to visit the supermarket before your first day back to set yourself up for a healthy week. Here are some tips about what foods you can eat to boost productivity What You Eat Affects Your Productivity

5. Be Nice To Yourself

If you can reward yourself for your productive return to work with an early finish time the first few days.  Maintain some of your holiday buzz by doing something you really enjoy like a cinema trip, a treatment or a (healthy!) meal out.

So have a great holiday and let me know if any of these tips work for you. And of course please share your own ideas and tips in the Comments below.

Main Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

Take Control of Your Inbox

Be Productive – Take Control of Your Inbox

The Email Problem

It happens to us all. We arrive in the office and make a plan for the day. But first we check our email and the next thing we know its lunchtime. Sound familiar? Our intentions are good, “I’ll just clear some emails so I can really focus on my plan for the day”. But of course those messages keep arriving because most emails we send prompt a response.

Our email work may have cleared key items off our task list but it may not. That is the first problem – working on email this way is reactive rather than planned. We can become slaves to our email accounts and often end up working on other people’s priorities instead of our own.

The second problem is that unless we actively manage our emails they accumulate so that we end up with thousands in our Inbox. Important information can get lost and the constant arrival of new messages can result in missed deadlines or actions contained in previous messages.

New Approach to Email

So how can we develop some good email habits, take control and reduce some of that email management stress? The first step is to change the way we view our Inbox.

Reading email without making decisions is not a productive use of time. Email management requires a workflow and a process.  The Inbox should be viewed as a conveyer belt.  As new emails arrive aim to read them quickly so that a decision can be made on what action needs to be taken.

3 Steps to Take Control of Your Inbox

Then follow these three steps:

  1. Organise your Inbox
  2. Use a Process to Manage your Email
  3. Control When You Work on Email
  1. Organise Your Inbox

It is important to get organised before you adopt a new approach. Set up folders so you have a place to move your messages as you make decisions.  You can create Reference Folders for messages you wish to keep and Working folders for messages that require further action or follow up.

The Working Folders can include folders like Scheduled, Delegated or Awaiting Information. The Reference folders should reflect the way you work (i.e. key projects or customers). But don’t over complicate this, many people just work with one Reference or Archive folder and avail of the powerful Search and Sort functionality in Microsoft Outlook to find their messages.

  1. Use a Process to Manage your Email

Actively manage your emails as you read each one and decide what action is required. Then move each message to the correct folder. The process is Read, Decide and Move.

Read and Decide

Read the email quickly to decide whether it requires further action or not.


Then move the email as follows:

  1. No Further Action required – Delete it or File it

2) Further Action required – Do It, Task It or Pass It On

  1. Do It – If a response will takes 2 minutes or less
  2. Convert to a Task – If more than 2 minutes is estimated, schedule a task in your calendar or task list to complete at a later time
  3. Pass it On – Forward messages to others if the request is something you are unable to do or it is something you can delegate. Include your reasons for passing the message on.

Guidelines for Processing Email

  • Aim to process each email once only
  • Work through your messages systematically in the order they arrive
  • Don’t cherry pick the interesting ones as other important messages may get overlooked

 Control When You Work on Email

To do this you need to switch off your email notifications.  This can enhance productivity because every switch away from what you are working on to check an email interrupts focus. And it can take up to four minutes to regain that focus.  So if you eliminate even 15 email interruptions a day, you can gain an hour of focussed time. If you do this for a week, you can gain five extra hours.

That sounds fantastic but it can be hard to work without ongoing email alerts or checks. We can feel uncomfortable because we are used to being in touch. In fact our work environment and culture may demand it. But use your judgement. Are there routine days when you could try this new approach even for specific blocks of time?

3 times a day works well for lots of people. Spend 15 minutes maximum checking first thing in the morning. Then schedule time to process your email before lunch and again towards the end of the day.  If that doesn’t seem frequent enough, add in a short timed mid-morning and mid-afternoon check.


When you introduce a change to your work practice it is important to measure any improvement. So before you start, track how much time you spend managing your email. Then try your new approach for 30 days and measure your email management time again. Try also to note improved productivity due to the reduced distraction from email.

 Don’t Stop There

Once you have reduced your email management time you can further increase your productivity by using email tools and techniques available in Microsoft Outlook such as:

  1. Rules to Reduce Decisions and Filing
  2. Colour Coding and Flags to Prioritise
  3. Auto text and Templates to automate routine text entry
  4. Purposeful Actions and Subject lines

Here is the link to our article about these topics – Smart Email Tools

Be Productive

These tips may not suit everyone’s style or every work place. But be productive, take the ideas and modify them to suit your own environment. Let me know how it goes and of course I would love to hear any other techniques and tips that have worked for you.

Productivity Experiment

Update on Productivity Experiment – No Coffee for 6 Weeks!

I stopped drinking coffee 15 days ago. The main reason was to honour the Lenten tradition of giving things up. But I was also intrigued to see how caffeine and its absence affected my productivity. Here is my Productivity Experiment Update.

And I am happy to report that I have been pleasantly surprised by this productivity experiment. It has been hard to go without coffee but not nearly as hard as I expected. Particularly as I hadn’t tapered off beforehand, which all the experts recommend.

4 Weeks Still to Go

There is still a way to go but I am hopeful that the worst is behind me. Already I am less inclined to think I need a coffee first thing to “get me going”. But I did lapse one morning, 7 days in. I was running an important seminar and defaulted to old habits. But happily I got back on the horse, or the wagon, I’m not sure which and haven’t faltered since.

What I’ve Learned

  • Drinking lots of water accelerates the caffeine detoxification.
  • It seems to be easier psychologically to give something up if it’s part of a bigger plan rather than trying something for a day or two.
  • Being busy really keeps your mind off it and helps you break the habit
  • Enjoying what you do means you are motivated anyway and don’t rely as much on external factors such as coffee to provide a productivity boost.
  • Energy levels are higher in the afternoon. Presumably this is because there is no lull as the morning coffee leaves your system.
  • Tea is a reasonable alternative but will never provide me with the same happy caffeine boost

What’s Next?

Well it’s only 2 days until St Patrick’s Day, when I can claim a reprieve, yay! My previous lapse tells me that I should be able to enjoy a coffee with my green cupcakes without setting the experiment back too much.

Happy St Patrick’s Day

I hope you all have a great and green St Patrick’s Day wherever you are and if you gave anything up for Lent I hereby grant you a 1 day reprieve!

Be Productive – Learn to Say No

By Moira Dunne

During my first job as a consultant, my client told me that I had the ability to say no while making other people feel good about it. I think it was a compliment! It wasn’t something I planned but when I analysed my approach I realised I was protecting my work time so I could deliver on my commitments. I always tried to help but if I couldn’t at the time I would explain and offer an alternative.

Saying Yes is Natural

For most of us saying yes comes more naturally than saying no. People genuinely want to help people. We want to be known as “a team player” and don’t want to be difficult. We don’t want to appear overloaded with work either, as if we can’t cope within our role. So learning to say no is a skill most of us have to develop.

Saying No by Saying Yes!

So how do we do it? Well the best way to say No is actually to say Yes. By that I mean say no to dropping everything at the time of the request but say yes to a time or approach that suits you better. Take control. But do this professionally with consideration so that the requester understands and is happy with your alternative suggestion. And then follow through.

The requests we receive loosely fall into two categories:

  1. A request from a colleague for help or advice
  2. A request from your boss to do extra work over what was agreed

A request from a colleague for help or advice

If you can’t help straight away offer an alternative time that suits both schedules. Alternatively consider if you are the only one who can help? If help is needed immediately direct the requester to a report or training material or another expert.

A request from your boss to do additional work

If you are already working to a plan that was agreed with your boss then you are in a good position to negotiate. Offer to do the additional work but point out “This is what I am working on based on the plan we agreed. I will happily do this new work but I may need to push out one of these tasks“.

So your objective is to get approval to free up time to do the new task. That way if one of the original tasks doesn’t get done, there is a common understanding why. If your boss insists that you still do everything, at least you have provided a reminder of your current workload based on the agreed plan. This can be a subtle way to highlight that your boss is being unreasonable, maybe unintentionally.

Tone of the Message

As with most business interactions the tone of delivery will greatly affect how your message is received. Find your own words. Use your judgement about how best to position your response. Consider the other persons’ perspective. If you are clear in your own head about why you are responding the way you are, it will start to come naturally.


Of course there are times when we need to just drop what we are doing and help. Again we have to use our judgment and knowledge of our work situation to  identify these times.  This will not be a time for alternatives or rescheduling.

Learn to say no

  1. Strive to say yes if you can
  2. If you can’t, explain your reasons professionally
  3. Provide an alternative
  4. Be committed to the alternative
  5. Negotiate priorities if saying yes

Saying No can Increase Your Credibility

Saying no from time to time can actually increase your credibility, as long as it’s done in a professional way. Saying no (or yes with conditions) can sometimes be the right thing to do for your role, your team and your organisation.

Saying no successfully is all about using your judgement. It’s a trade-off between being helpful and being in control of your own work life.


Let me know your thoughts in the comments section or tell me what approach has worked for you.