If there’s one thing I learned in 2011, it was how to be ultra-productive.
I’ve discussed productivity in detail before here on SPI, namely in podcast session #12: Mind Hacks, Physical Hacks and Work Hacks for Better Productivity and Getting Things Done (which was actually posted almost exactly 1 year ago). However, during this past year there was one major factor that contributed to my going beyond just being productive, and becoming ultra-productive:
With a kid, especially one who was in his 2nd year of life (from age 1 to 2), the time I had available to work dramatically decreased, as did the time I wanted to spend on work.
My son has become the center of my life—in more ways than you can imagine unless you have a child of your own.
With random nap intervals and various things that happen during child development between the ages of 1 and 2 (e.g., teething, learning to walk, learning to walk into things, learning to talk, learning to talk back, and general craziness), I had no choice but to become extremely efficient.
Obvious productivity tips come into play, of course, such as:
- Getting rid of distractions in the work environment: noise, the dog, cell phone, etc. An office with a door works well too.
- Getting rid of distractions online: non-work related websites, especially “domino sites”, which are sites like YouTube that can lead you from one page to another, to another, to another without you even knowing you just blew 30 minutes of time watching some pretty awesome, but totally worthless videos that did not help you make any progress in your business.
- Getting rid of brain farts: those times when you just sit there wondering what to do next. Knowing what to do ahead of time, how to do it, and practice all help get rid of brain farts. Check out the folder system I use in podcast session #12 for even better to-do and planning tips.
- Getting rid of tasks you don’t want to do: and handing them off to others. In 2011, I hired my first virtual assistant, Mike, who I found through Virtual Staff Finder. He has helped me “clone myself” and get a lot more things done, and I only wish I started with Mike sooner.
Besides this kind of stuff, a major chunk of my increased productivity came with learning how to speed up the little repetitive tasks that I end up doing over and over again. If you look at the math, it’s pretty incredible how much time you can actually save by shaving just a few seconds off here and there.
The Quick and Easy Math
Let’s say you learn how to do a task 10 seconds faster and you perform this task 100 times per week.
In total, that’s more than 14 hours of life (yes – life!) saved per year, and over the course of 30 years, that’s 18 entire days – just from learning how to do something a little bit faster.
Add on multiple chunks of time saved here and there, and you’ll open up a lot of free time that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
The issue is this:
People, especially nowadays, want the immediate return, and unfortunately the only immediate return from shaving 10 seconds off a task is, well, 10 seconds, which to some isn’t worth the effort.
Personally, I can tell you that my work-output to time-spent-working ratio (i.e. efficiency) has gone through the roof, as I’m always looking for ways to get more done in less time.
You could go nuts and become super-obsessive over saving time like this, but you have to draw a line somewhere. You still need to enjoy life!
I don’t count the seconds, but if something is easy and can save me little bit of time, I go ahead and do it.
Below are some of the tools I use and the techniques I’ve learned to help me get back valuable (and non-renewable) time in the long run, and just become more efficient while I work.
Productivity Tools and Tips
There are so many tools available for helping us becoming more productive – some better than others, of course – but here are the ones that I’ve found to be the most useful.
Note: for Mac users, I recommend downloading the apps via the Mac App Store (if available). This way, you can download the app to all of your Apple devices that use the same Apple ID.
TextExpander is a powerful tool that allows you to use customized abbreviations to automatically type in longer lengths of text (and you can include images as well).
For example, if you have a standard response to a specific question you seem to get all of the time, instead of typing out the response in whole each time, or even copying and pasting a text file of your response that’s already written out, you can just type in a customized abbreviation and the tool will automatically replace the abbreviation with your longer, pre-written response.
I personally have about 20 abbreviations that I use to quickly write out the most common things that I type, from certain email responses to URLs, and even specific tasks for my VA.
- ForMac: BetterSnapTool
- For PC: Snap (comes with Windows 7)
This is a tool that I use to easily organize the windows I have open on my desktop. Most of the time, I’ll have multiple windows open and need to view two, three, or even 4 simultaneously.
With this tool, I can drag a window to an edge of the screen, or a corner, and it automatically snaps into a convenient position. It only shaves just a few seconds of time but it’s definitely a tool I use every single day.
I also use this to easily expand a window to full-size by dragging it to the very top of the screen.
- ForMac: TotalFinder
- For PC: not sure
TotalFinder takes the ability to open multiple tabs that many web browsers have, and applies it to the Mac Finder. With this, I can have multiple finder locations open at once, which makes dragging and dropping, and locating files in folders I commonly open up a breeze.
This seems like a feature that should be built into the Mac OS already, but until then, this app works perfectly. See screenshot below:
- For Mac: ScreenFloat
- For PC: unknown
This tool allows you to use a simple keyboard shortcut to take a screenshot of something on your desktop, and it keeps the selected image floating on top of everything else, until you close it.
This is especially helpful if you need to copy information from somewhere where you can’t copy and paste, and type it into another. You can capture the part of the screen you want to keep afloat, and just easily go from there.
To be honest, I didn’t think I would use this tool that much, but I find that I actually do use it quite often.
This is an extension for Chrome Users, although I’d be surprised if Firefox or Safari didn’t have their own equivalent.
It’s basically a suped-up bookmarking app that makes it easy to organize, categorize and visit your favorite websites. When I click the “+” symbol to open up a new tab, I see a screen like this which makes it super convenient to navigate to the sites I use the most:
Everyone has their own bookmarking preference, SpeedDial2 is mine.
I’ve mentioned BufferApp several times here on SPI.
I love it not only for scheduling tweets and Facebook updates ahead of time, but I also love it because it’s extremely convenient to add things to your BufferApp queue, which can save you a lot of time.
I use the Google Chrome extension to easily add any page I’m currently on to my queue, and even on Twitter I can easily add retweets to my BufferApp in just a few seconds.
VLC Player is a video player (for Windows and for Mac users) that I use to watch downloaded video content at 2x to 4x speed.
Most of the video content I download and consume comes from courses that I’m taking or tools that I’ve purchased that come with instructional videos, and it’s extremely convenient to watch these videos in half or even a quarter of the time.
Imagine an hour long video that only takes 30 minutes to watch, or even 15 minutes! It’s crazy.
One thing that I know I do at least 20 times a day is login to various websites with a username and a password.
I use various password tools to quickly and easily sign-in to these websites, and I honestly don’t know how I would survive without them (especially considering I have over 300 usernames and passwords for various websites).
With tools like 1Password and Lastpass, all I need to know is one master password in order to login to any site I need to access.
Both work great – the reason I have two is because I first started with 1Password and that’s where most of my logins are located, and Lastpass I’ve recently discovered and have used it mainly to allow my VA to login to sites without actually knowing the passwords to those sites – only needing to know just one master password.
Google Apps for Business
The best thing I did in 2011 relative to productivity was setting up SPI on Google Apps for Business (the free version is what I use). The biggest benefit was being able to utilize the Gmail interface with email for the business, which has drastically cut down the spam email I receive, and is also allows me to easily organize the emails as they come in.
I’m in love with the label feature of Gmail, which I use to categorize the emails as they come in. In other words, before I even read the emails, I can separate them into categories based on the sender’s email address, certain text in the subject line or in the body of the email.
Here’s a screenshot of how I can make sure I catch all of the submissions for the SPI Reader Challenge, for example:
I also label comments from the blog, emails from my contact form, affiliate sales, emails that have blog post suggestions (which I request via my email autoresponder), just to name a few things.
How About You?
These are obviously just a few of the thousands of different tools and techniques one can use to become more productive and end up saving a ton of time in the long-run.
What are some of the tools that you use that you’d like to share with the rest of the community?