5 Rules of Personal Productivity – This Really is How You Get More Done


(I recently got back from vacation, and I feel overwhelmed.  So, this reminder is for me – and maybe for you).

We are all drowning in “too much to do,” day in and day out.  And so we read books about time management, and energy management, and we say “I’m finally going to get more serous about getting more done.

It really is not a secret.  It is not “complex” (I almost wrote “not hard “ – of course it’s hard, or else we would all be getting more done.  It’s just not complex.  There really are steps we can all follow to get all our stuff done).

Yes, there are, in fact, some very clear and proven rules for getting more done.  You can become more productive.

Before I list the 5 rules, let me summarize them in a paragraph.  Here’s the secret:  always know the next thing to do, the “next action” to tackle (this is David Allen’s phrase), and then carve out truly uninterrupted time to get that next next action done.

Now, the 5 rules.

Rule #1 – The 96-Minute Rule.

I really like this, because it is so simple, so clear.  First, remember the 80/20 rule – people get 80% of their work done in 20% of their time.  Now, consider the theoretical 8-hour work day:  480 minutes.  Now, how many minutes do you need for 20% of your work day?  96 minutes.

So, this rule says to get in your best “place” to work, turn off all distractions, and immerse yourself into your most important task for 96 uninterrupted minutes.  96 minutes a day of focused, uninterrupted, intentional “work” gets a whole lot done.

This rule has plenty of support – ideas which reinforce this wisdom.  Peter Drucker talked about 90 minutes being the minimum chunk of time to do meaningful “knowledge work.”  And here’s advice from Rework by Jason Fried and  David Heinemeier Hansson:

If you’re constantly staying late and working weekends, it’s not because there’s too much work to be done.  It’s because you’re not getting enough done at work.  And the reason is interruptions…  you can’t get meaningful things done when you’re constantly going start, stop, start, stop. 

Instead, you should get in the alone zone.  Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive.  When you don’t  have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done. 

During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings.  Just shut up and get to work.  You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.

Get in the “alone zone,” block out all distractions, and follow the “96 minute rule.”  Use 20% of your time, every work day, with great, uninterrupted, productive focus.

Rule #2 – The Next Action Rule. 

If you have not read David Allen’s Getting Things Done:  The Art of Stress Free Productivity, click over to Amazon right now and order it.  It is the “Bible” of “getting things done.”  The book is filled with wisdom and practical advice.  But I think the real center of the book is this:  do one thing at a time, and when you finish that one thing, always have a place to check the “what’s next” task awaiting you.

From Allen’s book:

You’ll need to get in the habit of keeping nothing on your mind.  And the way to do that, is not by managing time, managing information, or managing priorities…  The key to managing all your “stuff” is managing your actions

When a culture adopts “What’s the next action?” as a standard operating query, there’s an automatic increase in energy, productivity, clarity, and focus. 

Next Step (Next Action):  the very next physical action required to move a situation forward!

If you do not have a system in place to record all of your “next actions,” and then retrieve them when it is time to tackle that “next action,” you’ve got some serious remedial work to do.  You’ve simply got to always know your next next action.

Rule #3 – The Replenish your Energy Rule

This is so obvious.  You cannot always work flat out.  Work – good, productive work – is draining.  It takes something out of you.  You’ve got to rest up.  You’ve got to “empty out,” and then “fill back up.”  Consider your body.  You’ve got to eat, you’ve got to sleep, you’ve got to move around.

Here’s what we find in the terrific book The Power of Full Engagement:  Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz:

Energy is simply the capacity to do work.  Our most fundamental need as human beings is to spend energy and recover energy.

Without the right quantity, quality, focus, and force of energy, we are compromised in any activity we undertake. 

We need energy to perform, and recovery is more than the absence of work. 

Here’s the point – to be productive, you have to have the discipline to “replenish” your energy.

Rule #4 – The Learn to Say Yes, and No, to the Right Time Demands Rule

The list of books and authors is long on this one.  The principle, the rule, is this – you have to know what to to, and what not to do. 

In my own life, I am a content guy.  I read, and write, and ponder, and speak.  I do not design!  A couple of years ago, I finally woke up and realized “my handouts look… less than good!”  Yes, they did.  So, I found a great designer, and she now turns my plain, boring Word documents into attractive handouts.  Could I have learned to do the same?  Maybe, given enough years, and some better creative genes implanted into my genetic code.  But, now I send her my documents, and they come back looking great.

In other words, I finally learned to say no to the task I wasn’t very good at anyway, which frees me up to work on what I can do fairly well.  And some of this freeing up is “emotional” – “good looking handouts” is now off my worry list.

You know the challenge – there is so much you could do.  What do you need to say “No” to, so that you can say “Yes” to what is far more important?  We’ve simply got to learn to say yes, and no, to the right time demands.

Rule #5 —  The Schedule a Little Time Each Day for the “Unexpected” Rule

Since distractions and last minute requests, and those few other items we forgot to put into our “next action system” reach up to bite us, we’ve got to just accept their inevitability.  So, schedule some “I should have known this was coming” time.  A few minutes every day.  The key is to put the “surprise” tasks into your system, and then make these your next actions during this scheduled chunk of your time.

So, here they are:  the 5 rules of personal productivity.

Rule #1 – The 96-Minute Rule
Rule #2 – The Next Action Rule 
Rule #3 – The Replenish your Energy Rule
Rule #4 – The Learn to Say Yes, and No, to the Right Time Demands Rule
Rule #5 —  The Schedule a Little Time Each Day for the “Unexpected” Rule

Follow these 5 rules, and you really will get more done.

——————-

Randy Mayeux’s e-book, 12 Vital Signs of Organizational Health, is available on Amazon.

And his business book synopses, with audio recordings and those well-designed handouts, are available at 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

2 thoughts on “5 Rules of Personal Productivity – This Really is How You Get More Done

  1. If you’d like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this web-application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:

    GTDAgenda

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

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