How to Boost Productivity with a Not To-Do List

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Juggling priorities is freakin’ overwhelming. But take a deep breath and remember: You are not the President of the United States. And, isn’t that a huge relief? We don’t have to conference call Russia. When our phone rings, it’s probably George from HR. And you know what? Unlike a call from Putin, we can ignore George. Because saying “no” is the key to getting stuff done.

Productivity guru Tim Ferriss calls it the “not to-do” list. And it’s about setting boundaries. The not to-do’s include not checking email at night, shutting off your cellphone, and cutting out small talk. By setting boundaries, he says, we have sharper focus on our priorities. Otherwise, we get jerked around by other people butting in. Tell small-talker George you gotta go. You’re on a deadline.

Here is a rundown of Ferriss’s most winning tips on how to boost productivity:

Stop constantly checking email. Start “batching.”

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What happens when you check email first thing in the morning? Ferriss describes it like a drug. “You go into Gmail and your rat brain explodes with freak-out, dopamine excitement and cortisol panic.” So just stop. Ferriss himself only checks email two times a day. Why? He uses the example of laundry. You wouldn’t wash just one two socks at a time, right? “No, you wait for critical mass, then you process.” The same goes for other “batch” operations like cookies or lasagna. You wouldn’t waste time compiling all those ingredients for just one snickerdoodle. Instead, you make a dozen (or eat a dozen) in one fell swoop. The same should go for email. Every time you hit refresh you’re scrambling priorities and sapping productivity.

“Get off the cocaine pellet dispenser and focus on execution of your top to-do’s instead of responding to manufactured emergencies. Set up a strategic autoresponder and check twice or thrice daily.”

Apply this same principle to all areas of your life: lawn care, car maintenance, thank you notes, menu planning—sit down, knock ‘em out, and move on.

Stop small talking.

You’re not being a jerk. You’re just being efficient. Ferriss says to stop answering the phone with “How’s it going?” “Do not let people ramble.Stick with ‘what’s up?’ or ‘I’m in the middle of getting something out, but what’s going on?’” You gotta get straight to the point, people.

Turn off your cellphone.

Ferriss lovingly calls Blackberries “crackberries.” And like any addict, you’re gonna need a cleanse. “Take at least one day off of digital leashes per week,” he says.

“I recommend you leave the phone at home if you go out for dinner. So what if you return a phone call an hour later or the next morning? As one reader put it to a miffed co-worker who worked 24/7 and expected the same: I’m not the President of the United States. No one should need me at 8 p.m. at night. Okay, you didn’t get a hold of me. But what bad happened?’ The answer? Nothing.”

Don’t agree to meetings with no end time.

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All meetings should have a set agenda and time frame. It’s just more efficient for everyone involved.

“If the desired outcome is defined clearly with stated objectives, no meeting or call should last more than 30 minutes. Request them in advance so you can best prepare and make good use of the time together.”

Ready to add to your own “not to-do” list? Since you already “batch” dishes, laundry, and emails, now you can “batch” what you eat, too. Plan a week’s worth of meals in five minutes. So, now that Obama’s handling Russia, and Factor 75’s handling dinner, you’re… relaxing?

Cha-ching.

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