With my sales training underway, I've had to balance the homework there with my regular activities which made me re-examine how I was allocating my time. Below are three changes I recently made to get more productive; hope they are of help to you as well.
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on your body's best time to do various activities including work. I've long known that I'm a morning person but haven't really used that fact for anything. Then I recently read elsewhere that your email inbox is really everyone else's to-do list. That stopped me in my tracks. I realized I spent my mornings, my most productive time, replying to emails and helping everyone else with their work! (Especially since, honestly, I'm pretty much useless in the afternoons).
So, starting last week I've booked 10am-noon everyday as quiet time. That means, turn off everything - phones, email app etc. and focus on my list or maybe even just think for a while on some tough problems. In my first week of this I've already made much progress on a few crucial items (a few more weeks and surely I'll have some award winning breakthrough :P ) And, perhaps not surprisingly, I've seen no backlash from not responding to emails in that time period.
As part of my sales training I've been reading Baseline Selling, by Dave Kurlan. Great book with several tips including one that emphasizes the importance of preparation for meetings. I've heard this several times in the past but honestly, except for "big" meetings, I've generally managed my meetings adhoc. I realize now what a waste this was - both of my colleagues' time as well as mine. Many meetings were random discussions that went nowhere and several meetings should never have happened in the first place.
Several people have discovered the benefit of Evernote, the popular free note taking tool. (And by several I mean 34 million, including many colleagues at HubSpot far smarter than me). I resisted using the tool at first as I happy with Notepad and aghast that a similar app could take 30 times the computer memory. Well I got over that quickly once I saw the benefits of auto-saving, search across notes, text formatting options, optical character recognition off photos of text... think taking pics of your notebook or whiteboards and instantly searchable!
Evernote's mission is to help people with their memory and, for me, that implicitly means reducing stress. I read recently that a big cause of stress is thinking about what you have to do so you don't forget it, or worrying that you forgot something important to do. By keeping notes of my to-dos, and all other random stuff that comes through my head, I feel lighter somehow and worry less.
Even better, by tracking my to-dos I feel like I'm actually making progress otherwise I sometimes would come home after a long day and not know what I'd actually got done.
I know there's a risk of going overboard with to-do lists and one must be good at not simply adding to the list without thinking if the task is worth doing. Let's see if I can maintain a healthy balance.
One other thing I've started to do is queue up reading material before any long trip - either printing docs or opening multiple tabs in my browser beforehand with the relevant articles. I've learned the hard way not to rely on wi-fi on the Acela, or even on flights, and even my laptop battery may not be long enough for the amount of time I'm en route.