How Can I Double my Productivity?, Oct 31

Here’s the challenge I’m thinking through at the moment: How can I double my productivity? How could I double the amount of work outputs that I get done in the same amount of time that I’m currently spending in the office? I guess, however, to answer that, one first has to answer the question … “what is my work?”

What is my work?
My work involves reading lots of stuff, developing an understanding of all of that material and then writing or preparing an analysis thereof for use within a specific context. This involves finding potentially suitable material, checking the relevance of it, extracting the pertinent information, and comparing and contrasting what is already known with the new input. Once I’m not learning anything new (stop when you “keep hearing the same things over-and-over” was the rule David Ferris promulgated to his analysts), I can stop collecting / processing and start the analysis / implications / consequences stage.

How do I double productivity?
Within my context (and some or all of what I’m doing may apply to you too), here are some of my ideas:

  • Write more checklists … For tasks that are regularly repeated, I really like Mr Brogan’s idea of writing mini-process flows. This takes away the continual thinking required to do mundane things, and frees up cognitive energy for other more creative endeavors. It depends, however, how many of these regular / mundane things you have to do …
  • Use boilerplate / standard templates … For standard things that are presented regularly, develop standard / normal ways of presenting them. For example, if you are working on a presentation for a client, and if someone else has already developed some slides for similar presentations, take and customize whatever is relevant. It will save time for you, and enable you to deliver more quickly.
  • Become better at quickly scanning for relevant material … Rather than reading each article or piece of source material in depth, become more discerning about what to read and at what level.
  • Mindmap to Get the Structure First … After collecting and processing information, draft a mindmap on paper or via software to visualize the overall structure of the task or outcome. Don’t proceed until you can “see” where your going.
  • Use Google Alerts and RSS for notification of new stuff … Don’t go searching for it … let it come to you through setting up a series of Google Alerts and/or Feedster RSS alerts on important topics, products or people. You then just have to trawl through the result set each day, rather than seeking to build the results set first by manually typing search phrases or visiting Web pages.
  • Convert saved time into thinking time … or at least, some it. Think about things like (a) how to do your job better, (b) what you could improve on tomorrow, (c) what you should be learning in the next 12 months to be of more value to your clients/employer, etc. Don’t merely keep running all the time; think about how to run better.
  • Have a good personal knowledge management system … for capturing and structuring learning, analysis and critique. A mere collection of raw web pages or source documents that I have to go back to and review in their totality doesn’t do it for me. I have to have a system that permits intelligent cross-referencing and cross-analysis.
  • Invest in learning high-order knowledge … Look for formal or informal learning that will teach you high-order principles that can apply to your work. If you can see things at a high-level, then the lower-level decision making and analysis will be easier.

Wrapping it up
That’s me. This is where I’m at. I’m fascinated to hear if this is something you’ve thought through, and would love to hear your ideas. Please leave a comment below or send mail.

0 thoughts on “How Can I Double my Productivity?, Oct 31

  1. Pascal, good question. For me, “productivity” encompasses both the concept of effectiveness (doing the right things) and efficiency (doing things right). So it means more to me than merely running twice as fast (efficiency). However, your question does make me think that perhaps questions of effectiveness (am I doing the right things?) should be raised frequently in the “thinking time”.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thinking and insight is the key to productivity increase in my view. Also revisiting ideas because you can get a different perspective. I also like to be contrarian and look at the flipside.
    Thanks for another great read.

  3. Thanks for your reply, Michael.
    My impression after reading your post was that you primarily dealt with the efficiency aspect of things rather than with effectiveness, or to put it differently operational as opposed to the strategical issues.
    After your clarification, I realise that we are on the same wave length.
    Our thinking seems to be incidently informed by the same Peter F. Drucker citation : “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”
    I first came accross it when I read Marc Orchant’s Work Is Broken: Here’s How We Fix It, where he lists it as his favorite quote on productivity.
    I have copied it near the center of the mind-map I use to implement GTD, as I find it so inspirational. It encourages me to regularily review my priorities.

  4. Jason … absolutely … looking at the flipside … taking a different perspective is really key. Thanks for elaborating that.
    Duffbert … glad to have been of (a small) help in your quest for greater productivity.
    Pascal … yes, I too love that quote. Goal-directed and goal-aligned behaviours are very important.

  5. Hi Michael. One technique that David Allen completely skips in GTD is the idea of instrumenting your work for a short time to gather information about how you really spend your time. It’s often called a “time log,” and plenty of folks describe how to create one (e.g.,,
    Interestingly, given your recent post on Mission Control, those folks have you keep one of these (in 15 minute intervals) for a week or so before you attend. Peter Drucker was a fan as well. I found it to be a painful exercise, but one that may provide some insight into “low hanging fruit” that could help with your goal.

  6. Matthew, thanks for sharing your ideas. In terms of a time log, perhaps another way of thinking about it is to say “I want to spend my time on X, Y and Z … hence in a future-oriented planning style, I’m interested on focusing intentionally on what I am going to do, not on what I’m doing currently.” What say you to that?
    Regardless, I constantly time log my day … every day … every period I’m working … and have done so since 1997 or so. 🙂

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