In an era where the business model seems to be “do more with less”, improving productivity is important in achieving this goal. We’re all looking for tips and suggestions that others are using to increase productivity, so we thought we’d compile a few from different perspectives on this question:
What is something you can do immediately to be more productive?
One of the common themes this week seems to be the “to thine own self be true.” Many of us suffer from overexposure to information (distractions) or opportunities to divert our attention from the task at hand.
Thanks to all of our guest contributors this week. Next week’s Elephant Post question is at the bottom of this post. We’re always looking for different perspectives, so read through this week’s contributions, then take a look to see if you’re up to the task of adding in your 2¢ on next week’s Elephant Post.
Library Perspective:
Need to be more productive? Just ask the people actually doing the work!
One of the things that I tell my staff is that they have the best perspective on what does and what doesn’t work in our department. If I tell them to do something, and it causes more problems than solutions, then they need to speak up and suggest alternative ways to accomplish the objectives.
Many times they suggest processes and procedures that I would have never thought of because they are exposed to things that I’m not. It just makes sense to do this, but sometimes it is easier to just give unproductive instructions than it is to ask for feedback and adjust. On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes it is just easier for those doing the work to simply follow inefficient instructions than it is to stop and suggest better ways to do it.
Now, this doesn’t mean that every suggestion is feasible – remember, you’re the leader, so the results are still your responsibility – but most of the time the suggestions are spot-on. If you need to increase productivity immediately, then take a few minutes to get feedback from the troops on the ground.
IT Perspective:
Need to be more productive?  Stop looking at your email!
Note: These same tips apply to social media.
Email, or the anticipation of email, is probably the biggest time killer in modern day.  By limiting how often you check your email, you will save loads of time and you will have better focus.  Try  limiting how often you check your email to two or three times a day, unless you are expecting an important email.  If you have an important email, deal with it and move on.  Otherwise,set aside thirty minutes in the morning and thirty minutes in the afternoon to deal with emails that you did not respond to earlier in the day.  
By scheduling this process you will, over time, retrain your mind to stay focused on the task at hand.  Obviously, this technique will not work well for a service desk where there is an expectation that the email is being constantly monitored, but for most of us, it will give you back time in the day and improve your focus.  Here’s another email tip, if it will take more than five minutes to read and respond to an email, consider picking up the phone instead.  A phone call might take longer than responding by email, but it will lead to better communication and better communication will save you time.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes.  If it works well for you, I might even try it.
AFA Perspective:
Need to be more productive? Old fashioned Prioritize and Delegate
A significant challenge with AFAs, is the pull to do work beyond the AFA to try to make it successful.  An excellent example of recent interest is Legal Project Management (LPM) and the related efforts around it.  A high value I feel I bring to any position is the willingness to do whatever it takes to get things done.  In my current role, that was initially a very valuable asset, but has since become a liability.  Now there are so many interesting and fascinating rat holes to run down I don’t know where to begin.
So the correct answer is to not run down them.  If they are indeed valuable, I need to find the right resource and pass the project on.  This approach will be fighting numerous instincts to hang on to valuable projects.
But as Scott has said over and over, it’s the sharing thing that has value.  And so I will …
Bottom line: stop trying to do everything, become more productive by focusing on the highest value efforts.
Online Marketing Perspective:
Need to be more productive? Work from home
On the occasions when I have had to stay home to wait on an electrician, floor installation or appliances, I have always been able to perform twice as many tasks–sometimes even three-times as many tasks–than I do at work.
Not only are there lots of distractions at work–impromptu visits, telephone calls, water cooler sessions–the commute sucks up time.
The best part of my job is that it is all about the web. Ergo, all of my work is on the web.
Meetings, phone calls? Today, technology addresses all of these. I’ve taken meetings at the airport, while waiting for a cab and from a remote cabin in New Mexico.
It’s an amazing thing.
Library Perspective:
Need to be more productive?  Tap into your passion.
When I started thinking about this question, my initial response was to stop spending time on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  But, the more I thought about it, my answer really is to schedule time for all different types of activities, including things like social media.  It is easy to get caught up in whatever is happening on a given day.  It is important to block off, find or make time in the day for things that would otherwise fall off the radar or get moved to the back burner, like writing, innovative thinking, professional reading and establishing and strengthening relationships.  
I have found that when I do these kinds of non-urgent things, the benefit I get from doing them far outweighs the time that I spent on them.  A 10 minute meeting with an innovative thinker in my firm might spur ideas in me for my department and get me motivated to develop and work on them.  Keeping up on a conference I couldn’t attend through a Twitter feed may give me an idea for an article or a presentation, or even just provide me with some key quotes or “nuggets” to save and use at a later date.  
I think as we are asked to do more with less and increase our productivity, we need to find and tap into our passion.  This is what will really allow all of us to be more productive and successful leaders within our organizations.
Knowledge Worker Perspective:
Need to be more productive?  Use the right hardware and software.
You can never be too rich or too thin – or have too much screen real estate.  When I travel, my biggest productivity drain (other than airports), is having to work exclusively from the screen of my notebook PC.  In my office, I have an external, virtualized 19” monitor.  Dual monitors make a huge difference in productivity; I’ve seen studies that say up to 15%.   I set up all my open applications so that I have instant and random access to each with a click of a mouse.  Plus I can drag information across open windows on the two screens.  But wait, there’s more… some work just requires a big screen.  For example, I am working on a big spreadsheet this week where I maximize Excel on my 19” monitor, which let’s me work much faster.   
Even if you are rich, thin, and have a lot of screen real estate, you probably struggle to keep track of all the miscellaneous information in your professional and personal life.  I use Microsoft OneNote for this, including keeping notes on phone calls, planning conference presentations, taking notes on materials I read or review, and managing my to do list.  The tabbed interface – both vertical and horizontal – makes organizing information easy.  If that’s all those tabs are not enough to find what you need, the built-in full text search is great.  Oh, and did I say it’s also the best outlining program I’ve found.  My friends and reviews tell me that Evernote is a good competitor that has similar functionality.
Lawyer Perspective:
Keeping Focused on the Web
Most of my work is on the web, and I find it’s easy to get lost down the Rabbit Hole if I don’t have a system in place. I use browser windows to manage my workflow: I keep one open for email, Facebook, Reader, and other sites that I use constantly throughout the day. That’s home base. I open separate windows for each project I’m working on, and tab the pages I need within the window. For example, I’ll have a window each for a blog post draft, different product task lists and associated documents, legal memos with open tabs for research, etc. I minimize everything except the project I’m working on and home base. This does two things for me: allows me to quickly find the appropriate documents by project, and keeps me focused. I find that it’s too hard to tune the noise of the Internet out otherwise.
I also keep a “Things to Read” window open at all times–if I stumble on something that looks interesting or useful, but not needed for the task at hand, I tab it in this window. When I’m eating lunch, need a mental break, or have a few moments of quiet, I hit that tab. I find it’s helpful to always have something at the ready if I have some down time–it prevents me from going into a gossip blog or Facebook timesuck.
Competitive Intelligence Perspective
Your Alert is In
The deluge of information out there can make anyone’s head spin. Especially if your job is to read it, digest it and pass on the salient bits to someone else to use in their decision making process.  My trick, is to set up and use monitors, alerts and other tools made available through your paid subscriptions or even free alerts from Google for example, to stay on top of companies and issues you are monitoring. Let the info come to you….
Knowledge Management Perspective
Re: re: fwd: re: fwd: fwd: are we on for lunch this fri? (omg, can you believe that meeting?!) ok, thanks. let me know.
Use brief and meaningful subject lines that reflect the content of each email message you send. If you’re emailing a colleague with substantive work information, with a request to meet a deadline, or with any other information that she might want to reference later, use a subject line that will help her find that email when she needs it. Taking the time to edit subject lines might take an extra few seconds of your time, but will help make your colleagues more productive when they need to find your email, and will help make you more productive when you need to find their reply.
Next week’s Elephant Post:
How do you market your department and yourself within the firm? What works and what doesn’t?
Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just sit back and let the world come to us for help? Unfortunately, for most of us, it just isn’t that easy. Proper marketing of departments and individuals can make sure that we show our importance within the firm, and let others know what our strengths are (rather than just handing out busy-work.) Let us know what kind of marketing you’ve done, and the success (or failures) that followed.If you have an idea for this weeks post or a suggestion for next week’s question, then send me an e-mail to discuss. If you’re not an email type of person, you can send me a Direct Message via Twitter at @glambert.