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4 Ideas that Make Me Ultra Productive

Noah Nehlich on May 27, 2016 5:00:00 AM

You’ve undoubtedly heard the advice to work smarter, not harder. But how to turn that truism into a workable strategy?

For a lot of successful people, changing what has worked before — even if the advice comes with a mountain of research-backed evidence — can be surprisingly hard. One of the biggest names in consulting, Marshall Goldsmith, wrote his bestseller to help solve that very problem: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Whether you’re designing a custom project, implementing a new marketing strategy, or setting appointments with clients — the goal isn’t just to check items off your to-do list. It's to grow your business, achieve your goals, and get even better at what you do.

So instead of following the lead of the baseball players who call their pre-game superstitions a routine and tie their routines to behaviors that keep them in their “comfort zone,” stretch out of your own routine.

Try these four ideas to improve your game and make yourself ultra productive.

1. Work in 52-minute sprints, with 17-minute breaks.

52-Minutes.jpgResearchers tracked the numbers, and found that the trick to getting more done is incredibly straightforward: "take regular breaks."

In fact, they found that "the 10% of employees with the highest productivity surprisingly didn’t put in longer hours than anyone else. In fact, they didn’t even work full eight-hour days. What they did do was take regular breaks. Specifically, they took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work."

That breakdown works for many people: 52 minutes on, then 17 minutes away from the computer. (You might find a different split works best.)

What doesn’t work: churning through endless hours. Not only does performance drop, but mistakes creep in.

Instead: take regular breaks, and set up a system that will keep you focused. Services like Focus@Will keep you on task by setting up music that you can choose to play during your 52-minute sprint. A bell rings at the end, signaling when you should get up and take that break.

Try it yourself:

  • Write down a list of what you want to accomplish.
  • Shut off your phone, close your email, hang up a do-not-disturb sign, and put on noise-canceling headphones.
  • Focus on nothing but your design task for those 52 minutes.
  • Stop when the bell rings and the music stops.
  • Take a 17-minute break.

2. Get the right computer.


One of the first problems I see, when I visit pool companies, is that designers suffer through slow computers.

As soon as I sit down to help them speed their computer up, they often say the same thing: “man, I’m always designing faster than this computer. It’s always catching up to me!”

That means they absolutely need a new computer.

Why? Because if your computer can’t keep up with you, then it is literally making you design slower. And a slow computer is not just prone to crashing, it also means the programs you run just won’t be as stable.

Instead of waiting for your computer, get one that keeps up with you.

And unless you’re bringing your laptop with you to literally design in the client’s home, buy a desktop.

While we all like the idea of being totally mobile with a laptop, the fact is that you can buy a desktop that's twice as fast for half the price of a powerful laptop.

By storing as much as possible in the cloud (I use Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive), it is easy to switch between desktops and get far more work done.

3. Use three monitors. 


Whether you use a desktop or a laptop, you need at least two monitors, at an absolute minimum. Three monitors is ideal.

A lot of designers hamstring themselves by using just one monitor.

Just how big of a boost can you get from multiple monitors? One study found that while most people use a "17-inch single monitor,” switching to a dual monitor "showed a 44-percent boost in productivity.” And that’s just from two monitors.

For designers, three monitors is key (see a picture of my desk above).
  • Main monitor: open your design program.
  • Second monitor: open any reference material and source material.
  • Third monitor: undock Pool Studio and VizTerra tool panels, and also open up any other site info, data, or contracts that you need.

When you use three monitors, there’s no longer any need to flip through windows or keep track of where anything is. It’s all immediately available to you, directly in your line of sight.

You can also use multiple monitors to organize your daily tasks. For example, instead of keeping browser tabs, email windows, and programs all jumbled in a stack, you can shuffle them all onto one monitor, and then move them from left to right as you complete them throughout the day. It’ll prevent you from unearthing surprises at the end of the day, since you’ll know exactly where everything is, and exactly how much you have left to do.

4. Let clients book their own appointments. 

Calendly-Noah.jpgOne of the biggest time-saving changes I’ve made recently: I invite clients to book their own appointments.

My sales team and I use an app, Calendly. By inviting people to make their own appointments, we can totally eliminate the back-and-forth of trying to pick a time that works.

Instead, we simply share a link. I include the link either in my email signature or I literally copy and paste it to clients who want to make an appointment.

On my shared calendar, I block out times that are unavailable, and I invite people to make appointments that work for them in the open slots.

We’ve found this strategy to be an incredible timer saver. It totally eliminates that back-and-forth, and it also means that appointments are far more likely to show up, since they manually set the time themselves.

If you have a lot of clients, this is an easy way to save an immense amount of time. Send your clients a link, invite them to pick a time, and you’re ready to go. No back and forth, no comparing of calendars, no discussion of what time works best.

Ready to start? 

Try one of these strategies — or all four! — and see how it will boost your own productivity.

We’re here to help if you need help picking the right computer for your business. And when you subscribe, we’ll send you more productivity-boosting tips directly. 

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