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     The Building Blocks of Productivity

What lessons you can learn from small children! One day I was watching two youngsters, ages 3 and 5, playing with "bricks" constructed out of heavy cardboard. The brick blocks came in three sizes: a 10" x 16" rectangle, a 10" square, and the standard 3" x 10" brick size. Over time they spent hours creating structures. At the beginning there was no understanding of larger pieces providing a stronger FOUNDATION for the smaller pieces and so things would come tumbling down without using all of the bricks. With lots of trial and error the children discovered that if they started with the biggest size, they were more likely to be able to use all of the bricks. An effective daily schedule can also be constructed with three types of blocks. How much you can pile on (your productivity) each day depends on how well you ORGANIZE your time.

Make your day’s foundation an UNINTERRUPTED block of time when you can focus on difficult, involved projects. The ideal length is an hour and a half, approximately twenty percent of an eight-hour day. If you cannot possibly find that length of time, try for an hour. Even with 45 minutes of uninterrupted time you can get a SIGNIFICANT amount of work completed because you are not requiring twenty additional minutes after each interruption to get back into the "flow." As you develop this routine, aim for the hour and a half each day.

During this time, do not answer every phone call. Turn off your general email alerts. If you want to ensure that a certain person or message gets through immediately, set up your software rules to notify you of that specific message. When you can block twenty percent of your time, you will accomplish about EIGHTY percent of your work for the day. You recognize instinctively that having uninterrupted time is effective when you arrive at work an hour early or stay for a couple of extra hours at the end of a day, knowing you will get so much done in that quiet time. Why not become more productive by including that quiet time WITHIN your day instead of adding extra hours in order to get the same amount of work done?

Group as many like activities as possible since you are four times more productive when you can FOCUS on one type of task rather than switching back and forth among assorted tasks. Constant multi-tasking slows you down. Activities that can be grouped include returning non-urgent telephone calls, processing your email inbox, filing, and reading. The length of this session depends on the work. If you average about five phone calls at a time, you may only need to block out ten to fifteen minutes. With email, you might need to spend thirty minutes at a time. Any of these can be REPEATED during the day. For instance, you might quickly check your email first thing in the morning for ten minutes to handle urgent issues, then spend thirty minutes before lunch and thirty minutes again later in the afternoon. Stick to the amount of time that you have originally allotted rather than letting it trail on. That will keep you focused on the task at hand and will increase your productivity. Move what you do not complete to the next block of time.

New items and lower priority tasks can be worked on BETWEEN the other blocks. These might include requests for help from a colleague, quick answers to questions, filling out forms, and other project components that did not fit into your major blocks, but that you still have time to work on. Structuring each day starts with locating a space for that large block, followed by several medium blocks of grouped activities. Small blocks are then added. If you do the reverse, which means coming in to work and clearing out the small items before you find a time for the most important work, you may wrap up the day without handling your PRIORITIES. Why spend extra hours in the evenings on work that you could have fit into the day with the right construction of your schedule?


Denise Landers, productivity trainer, organizing specialist, and author has spent years speaking, training, consulting, and coaching on the topics of time management and effective workflow. You may visit her website at www.keyorganization.com.

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