Get More Done: Simple Tips From a Productivity Expert

June 16, 2016

In a world where so many employees are always-on, unable to truly switch off from work thanks to our ever-tighter connections to our phones, and overloaded with conflicting messages about whether we should be working on that thing we were supposed to have finished yesterday or the one that's due tomorrow, it's no surprise that managing our time is emerging as a key factor in employee success.

So often, though, the advice around those concepts seems so overwhelming: sure, you too can gain complete control over your working life. All you need to do is completely change who you are, and what you do on a day to day basis.

That's where Graham Allcott comes in: a British expert on productivity and time management, Allcott stresses the value of mindfulness in everyday interactions, and lives by a mantra of making small, incremental changes.

Key to his message: the notion that "managing your time is no longer relevant; you have to manage your attention."

No Superheroes

Unusually for someone whose job is to give pep talks and motivational speeches, Allcott is not a larger than life personality. Having had the opportunity both to interview him one-on-one, and to see him in action in front of a room full of consultants recently, it's clear that he's not trying to set himself up as yet another one-man productivity personality cult: he doesn't walk into the room promising to change your life, or unveil a list of suggestions about how to outsource your responsibilities so you can spend more time on the beach.

Instead, Allcott—founder of Think Productive, and author of the book How to Be a Productivity Ninja, which came out in the US in March this year—recognizes that most of us probably aren't in our jobs completely by accident (i.e. we like what we do—we just need to be more efficient so we can do more of it). As such, he stresses the value of mindset shifts, and stresses the benefits of "doing the simple things consistently and well." As a result, he promises that even those whose schedules seem completely unmanageable can come to exert a degree of control over them. Or as he puts it: "it's possible to be overloaded, but not overwhelmed."

If that sounds a little light on a secret ingredient that will help to supercharge your day, it's because, well, that's life. In both our interview and his workshop presentation, he makes a point of stressing that "people are human, not superheroes." As such, while the changes he describes are often prosaic—such as asking his wife to change his Facebook password and only give it back if he had a very good reason—they're also effective (he claims to have gone Facebook-free for months) and, crucially, repeatable for everyone.

Make like a Ninja

The advice he gave to the gathered consultants during his presentation, meanwhile, is similarly practical, and free from over-the-top promises. Based on his book, it boils down to a series of "ninja traits" for achieving better workplace performance. Here are a few of the highlights:

"A Ninja has a second brain"

In a nutshell: effective people don't rely on their memories. They make lists, and they curate them: they add items in a timely manner, and remove them once complete.

"Stealth and camouflage"

"If you could design a place to maximize distraction," says Allcott, "it would probably look a lot like an open-plan office." Even if there's nothing you can do about the layout of your workspace, there are always options—among them, booking meeting rooms for yourself, or retiring to a coffee shop along. Just keep in mind that your end goal isn't simply to be alone: it's to "protect your planning and thinking time."

"Boxing with yourself"

Allcott promotes the notion that each of us has an internal battle waging at all times: the "clever, motivated you" vs. the "lazy, scatter-brained you." On a day-to-day basis, the lazy side of us is constantly jabbing away, wearing down our resistance, no matter how well-intentioned we are. However, every once in a while, the "clever, motivated you" will try a new approach to a problem—a new way of tracking your schedule, or dealing with email—that lands a "knockout punch."

Having seen Graham Allcott's presentation and read his book, I can attest to the fact that his approach—those small, incremental changes—is both approachable and motivating when used on an ongoing basis. The key benefits of that approach is not so much in the specific changes, but in the mindset shift it requires to make them: that there's no reason to keep doing things the same way just because you always have done. In fact, the closest Allcott ever got to a grand vision statement during the time I spent with him was related to that concept of letting things go.

Or as he put it: "with all the distractions around us, being comfortable with what you're notdoing will become the most important skill in productivity."

by Phil Stott

Chicago skyline from the beach
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