How to be a productivity ninja

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Do you struggle to keep on top of emails and get things done on time? Make work more efficient and less stressful with Matthew Brown from Think Productive's top five tips on how to be a productivity ninja

1. Email is not a to do list

It’s amazing how many people hoard emails in their inbox, like so many electronic Jaffa Cakes. Why? You can’t eat these things. I only ever look at an email once, decide what to do with it, make a note in my task system, then either delete or file the email. An empty inbox is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Keep tasks in a list, not in your inbox.

2. Free your mind

The brain has 100,000,000,000 neurons.  Yet we can only keep seven things in our head at any one time. That’s a mismatch. But what does it tell us? That the brain is an excellent place for having ideas, but a terrible place for keeping them. When something pops into your head, get it down on paper. This will free up your bonce for its primary function – having ideas.

Get it out of your head and into a trusted system.

3. Separate thinking and doing

Today, like it or not, many of us are knowledge workers. There is no boss standing over us on the production line telling us what to do. We need to be both boss (deciding what’s to be done) and worker (doing it). It is exhausting switching between these modes on a daily basis, so set aside some time every week for deciding what’s to be done, and spend the rest of the time just doing it.

Separate boss mode and worker mode.

4. Switch off your email

It’s amazing how many people check their email every five minutes, waiting for... what? News of a lottery win? Switch it off and get on with your work, please! I have set up my email client so that it downloads email at 9am, 12pm and 4pm every day. At these times, I process my Inbox to zero, then get on with my work uninterrupted for another four hours.

Stop taking orders and start making sandwiches.

5. Batch processing

Often, people switch quickly from email to phone to reading to research. This is not the best way of doing things. Productivity ninjas deploy ‘batch processing’. This means doing a lot of similar tasks in a batch – for example making calls, reading documents or doing billing. You will find that crunching through a lot of similar tasks in one go is much less exhausting – and more productive – than switching back and forth

Collect similar tasks and do them all together.

Matthew Brown is a productivity ninja with Brighton-based productivity consultancy Think Productive.