7 personal productivity tips

I’m addicted to personal productivity tips.

How can I get more value out of my time that has become so scarce, during the last years?

Here are 7 tips:

1.  Agree to a clear work-life balance and stick to it, mercilessly.

Depending to your domestic situation, make a clear agreement with your spouse on when you will spend time on your career and when you spend time with the family.  In my case, I made an arrangement with my wife, that during the week, I spend 100% of my time on my career.  But during the weekends I will spend 100% of my time on my family.  Any exceptions to that are beneficial for either party, but clear expectations have been set.  This means that I cannot guarantee to pick up the kids from school, or attend dinner, or have breakfast together.  But on the other hand, I do guarantee that I will spend the entire Saturday and Sunday with my family.  It gives me lots of extra time during the week to spend on my professional life by for instance:

  • reading
  • writing
  • attending events
  • networking

Time that otherwise would have been wasted rushing through traffic, being late and doing things half way.

2. Prioritize your ideas and limit work in progress.

Since I’ve been using a Kanban board for managing my ideas, I’ve been able to finish much more than I used to.  Simply putting them into one big pile and constantly reviewing priorities makes me take much better decisions.  Where I would’ve just jumped onto the first idea that came into my head, I’m now deciding what to start based on clear metrics:

  • Is there a due date?
  • What added value does it bring?
  • What does it cost me if I postpone it?
  • How long is it waiting in the to-do pile?
  • Can it be broken down into separate tasks that can be treated separately?

By limiting work in progress, I mean that I only allow myself to be working on 1 idea at a time.  It is very annoying, but extremely effective.  Where I used to start working on new stuff constantly, I now have to finish what I’m doing before I can start something new.  This has dramatically increased my delivery rate.  Since applying these principles, I’ve been able to write a book, create & deliver several public talks and start my own company.

3. Get a smartphone.

I used to get great ideas when driving my car or shopping with my wife. But when I sat down to detail them, I’d already forgotten about them.  This is why John Jagger always carries small pieces of paper and a pen in his back pocket, to write them down instantly.  I chose to do this with my iPhone, simply by using the notes app.

On what activity do you waste the most time?  Sleeping?  True, but most people physically need this.  I would say waiting.  Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, standing in queue at the postal office, waiting for a train, sitting at the gate in the airport,…  All this time is wasted. Off course you could read a tabloid, but what value is that going to bring you?  What I do during these moments is read on my smartphone.  In most cases these are blog posts or articles that are related to my professional life.  You can also do some e-mail, and keep your inbox empty.

4. Read 4 pages, each day.

Many people complain about how they never find the time to read a business book.  Truth is that most of these books are not that big.  If you read 4 pages each day, you can finish a 120 pages book in a month!  You can find time to read 4 pages, right?  I bet you can even read them on the toilet.

5. Communicate your deadlines.

I perform best when other people are relying on me.  It’s easy to slack off, when there’s nobody waiting for your work to finish.  When I was writing my e-book, the same thing happened.  I started off with lots of enthusiasm and energy, but soon I got lazy.  That’s why I decided to communicate a launch date to my reviewers.  The minute after I sent the mail, I realized that I needed to get going.  So for the remaining weeks, I worked each evening to finish the book on time, which I did!

Ever since, I’ve used this technique a couple of times when I notice I was getting lazy. Just communicate your plan to friends, colleagues of even the world-wide web and your focus will immediately return.

6. Take time off.

Hey Nick, these are all great tips. But if I would apply them all, I would burn-out in a couple of months.

True. I’ve experienced myself that you can’t keep this up forever.  That’s logical, right?  Everybody needs slack, once in a while.  So take time off when you need it.  Prioritize slack on your to-do pile, and treat it the same way as another task.  I have the following task in my to-do list : “No more public talks for 6 months”, which I feel I will need quite soon.

7. Explore new fields

When I look back for a long period, I see that the moments when I learned most, where the moments when I stepped into the unknown.  I attended a conference on a topic that was completely new to me. I read a book that had nothing to do with agile, lean or even business in general.  I took the time to get to know new people who had almost nothing in common with me.  Don’t we all like to stay in our comfortable little world, where all is familiar and nothing is scary?  Chances are high that you’re missing out on life, so take a leap, you might return with a new idea.

(image by Anastàssia)

About Nick Oostvogels

Hi, I'm an independent management consultant. My biggest strengths are located in the fields of teamwork, motivation, leadership and continuous improvement. In the IT industry you find a lot of these values in the agile movement, in which I often act as a project leader, product owner or coach. My interests go a lot further, into other industries where we find these values in lean production. Besides that, I try to broaden my horizon as much as possible, always looking for better ways of doing business.


  1. Pingback: Five Blogs – 30 June 2012 « 5blogs

  2. Really great post, I like the ‘read 4 pages, each day’ idea – I might actually get a book finished if I can stick to this!

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