How to ‘ninja’ your productivity

Ninja your productivity illustration

Graham Allcott has taught employees at eBay, the British Library and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation how to use their time more efficiently. Here are his tips for ramping up your output in 2019

Graham Allcott

1. Manage attention, not time

Our attention is a more precious resource than time. The work we do in the two or three hours when our concentration is at its strongest is ultimately what defines our productivity. The ability to think clearly and use our best attention wisely comes from eliminating distractions during these crucial periods. Silence your phone, put your head down and even avoid your colleagues if you must.

2. Get off the phone

When you really need to focus, using apps such as Forest, QualityTime and Freedom can help you to kick your smartphone dependency. Reducing the time we fritter away scrolling – admit it, we’re all addicts – is a surprisingly easy way to boost productivity.

3. Take five for a system reboot

A typical attention span is 25 to 45 minutes, depending on the individual and the time of day. So, every half an hour, give yourself a five-minute reboot: get up, grab a drink and focus your eyes on something else. Spending even just a couple of minutes away from your screen will help to prevent your attention from waning and keep your mind alert.

4. Be body-conscious

There’s a strong connection between physical activity and mental performance. Standing up and moving around increases the flow of blood to the brain. Studies show that even 15 minutes of exercise can have huge effects on how much of our brains are active, helping us to generate ideas and solve problems. Try using a standing desk and doing quick physical warm-ups before meetings. Eating foods that boost cerebral activity (snacks such as walnuts and blueberries are good bets) and drinking enough water will help too.

5. ‘Ninja’ your email

Email is a fantastic productivity tool, but it’s also a huge source of distraction. All of the things that really have an impact and add value to a business happen outside the inbox, not in it. Spend some time each day at work with your email switched off, but also take any unexpected opportunities to cut through your emails if there’s little else to do. Never make checking email the first thing you do each day. Start it by thinking about your priorities, not everyone else’s.

6. Get a second brain

We live in an age of information overload, where we’re expected to work on a range of projects and keep an eye on many spinning plates. Your short-term memory is a terrible place for keeping track of all this stuff. Make lists, use apps, keep a spreadsheet – whatever it takes – so that these things work like a “second brain”, which remembers all these things so that you don’t have to.

7. Review you

Henry Ford once said: “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.” At least once a week, spend some time in “thinking mode” to review your second brain’s to-do lists and see the wood from the trees. Doing this for a concentrated couple of hours is a great investment – it will save you time, reduce your stress and generally make the rest of your week much easier.

How to be a Productivity Ninja, by Graham Allcott, is out now, published by Icon Books

Download Lifting the Long Tail, a report by the IoD’s chief economist, Tej Parikh, on the productivity challenge facing British SMEs

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About author

Graham Allcott

Graham Allcott

Graham Allcott is an entrepreneur, speaker, podcaster and author of the best-selling “How to be a Productivity Ninja”. Graham is the founder of Think Productive, a personal productivity consultancy with offices in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands.

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