How to be a productivity ninja in 2019

12th Jan 19 | Lifestyle

A new book is promising to get you going. Jenny Stallard meets the author.

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2019 has dawned, and resolutions abound. And for many of us, it’s likely we’ve vowed to be more productive. You have, haven’t you? And do you feel like there’s a mountain to climb (once you’re out of the quagmire of even thinking about it?). Well, fear not, help is at hand in the form of the book, How To Be A Productivity Ninja.

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The new, improved, updated 5-year anniversary edition of "How to be a Productivity Ninja" arrived today in London – literally straight off the press – on the same day that @thinkproductive hosted our end of year team get together. 2018 has been a year living the writer's life. I've mostly had my head down in the shed working on this one, plus another BRAND NEW book launching in March next year, too ("Work Fuel: the productivity ninja guide to nutrition", with @coletteheneghan, which I can't wait to share with the world). But it's fitting I got to share this today with the team because although my writer's life has been solitary, a book – just like a business – is a collective effort. These guys run the biz show while I skulk around backstage typing words on the page. They put up with not hearing from me a lot (except the occasional day I turn up in the office and annoy them by moaning about tiny details). Then there are the amazing team at @iconbooks who help turn my typing into something polished, put a good cover together, get it into shops and everything else. My name is the only one on the cover, but that's only half the story. Books, business and even life itself. It's all such a massive, complicated team effort, isn't it. And even though I'm grateful that I get to sit in silence in my shed most days, I'm even more grateful to have such an incredible team who support my work and let me support theirs. #teamwork #productivity #ninja #book #bookstagram #authorsofinstagram

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Written by coach Graham Allcott, How To Be A Productivity Ninja is an updated version of his 2014 tome, now with a whole new chapter on digital detoxing, and looks at what stops us being productive and how we can change our ways. But, where to start?

“In some ways, it’s harder to change bad habits than it is to just develop brand new ones,” says Allcott. But with these tips, you’ll be well on your way to a more productive 2019.

Make small changes

A man checks his email in bed
(Thinkstock/PA)

Even just changing how you deal with your email, or just doing a different thing first thing in the morning can make a difference, says Allcott. “It’s about trying to be more proactive and less reactive. What do most people do first thing in the morning? Roll over in bed, grab their phone, scroll through and look at emails, look at the world. It’s like you’re starting your day with everybody else’s priorities, not yours.”

But what if you have to look at emails, because of work commitments, we hear you plead. “I’d argue whether you have to look at 7.15 in the morning,” he says. “Even if you leave that stuff until 8am, that’s a huge difference in what you’ve allowed your brain to wake up with.”

You can try some app blockers, too: Allcott uses an app called Quality Time, which shows you how long you’re spending on different apps.

Deal with the tedious stuff

A woman gets on with her work productivly
(Thinkstock/PA)

Even with the best of intentions in place, we can all self-sabotage our productivity plans, Allcott says. “I have a model called D.U.S.T. which diagnoses why you’re procrastinating,” says Allcott. D is ‘Difficult’ – the task might be (or seem to be) beyond your skills, or too much of a challenge.

U is ‘Undefined’ – where you don’t know exactly what it is you really need to be doing. “You have to know what the next physical action is. You need to be able to close your eyes and picture yourself,” he says. “Are you sending an email, are you on the phone, are you sketching out ideas, are you buying something in a shop? You know, whatever the action is, you need to be able to physically see that in your mind. And then you obviously need to know what the end result is, and quantify that as much as possible.

“‘Scary’ is the third one. As humans, we have a lizard brain, the part of our brain that deals with fight or flight. And that part of the brain wants us to blend in and be part of the tribe.” Depending on what you do for work, the scary part could come when you are about to press ‘send’ on an important email, or public speaking, says Allcott. “Why does public speaking feel so scary? Well, it’s because it’s us being examined and judged in front of our peers. There’s nothing more scary than that for tribal creatures.”

“And then T is for ‘Tedious’. So, there are things that we just need to do, our expense claims or whatever. The way to get around ‘Tedious’ is to put a podcast on, or do the ironing while you’re watching EastEnders; find some way of making the tedious thing less tedious.”

Work out what the real project is

Sometimes, being more productive can happen as soon as you work out the ‘real’ goal. You might think you’re procrastinating about which college course to choose in the new year – but really, what’s holding you back is the cost.

“Just working a little bit backwards and playing around with the idea of “projects” versus “next physical actions” can lead you to the nub of where you’re stuck,” says Allcott. “There’s this mismatch in our brains, between the way the lizard brain starts to conflate things as being much more difficult than they are, or much more complicated, and actually just putting the right language around it, putting the right logical decisions around it.”

Avoid unnecessary meetings

If you want to be more productive in 2019, it’s time to be meeting savvy, Allcott says. This may take some guts but it’s worth considering.

“It depends what your job role is, but I think meetings are still a huge, unnecessary energy sap for some people, and most end up being very inefficient,” he says. “The first reason that a lot of meetings get booked in people’s calendars is that their calendars enable that to happen.” So, you could ‘book’ parts of your calendar for when you want to get your head down and work.

“Slightly more confrontational but very necessary in most organisations that I’ve worked in, is to refuse to attend a meeting that doesn’t have an agenda,” he says. Finally, you could ask for a meeting ‘purpose statement’. Allcott advises: “It can be just a one or two-line statement.”

Set your ‘out of office’ when you’re deep in a project

Woman at her computer
(Thinkstock/PA)

We can feel afraid to set the out of office in case we miss ‘THAT’ email. You know, the one offering the million-pound contract – that still isn’t there when we check our messages. If you want to get your head down into something that really matters, zone out other people’s emails.

The best course of action is to accept you might miss something, Allcott advises. “Tell yourself that the things you’re working on are more important than that other opportunity,” he adds.

Don’t rush

Allcott runs a podcast called ‘Beyond Busy’ and says he thinks busyness is a modern ailment of sorts. “We need to stop this glorification of busy. Often, busy means hare-brained, reactionary, not actually in control of their priorities, chasing their tail. For me, there are a lot of aspects of busy which are wholly negative.”

And finally… if you truly want to stop using them, delete social media apps

“Their whole business model is to take as much of your attention as possible,” says Allcott. “So, you’re going to lose that battle if you just leave them on your phone the whole time. Deleting them is critical.”

Cover of How to be a productivity ninja book
(ICON books/PA)

How To Be  A Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott is published by Icon books, priced £9.99. Out now

© Press Association 2019

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