Do you feel like there are never enough hours in a day to get everything done? Good news—you are not the only one. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of shit to get done. I used to have emails coming out of my ears, a to-do list that spanned continents, and that nagging little business idea that I’ve been meaning to start on the side for the last four years just begging to be given some attention.

Notifications that pop up in the corner of your screen are more addictive than crack. Tweet This Quote

The last one is still true, but I have at least made progress taming the wild two-headed beast of email and task management. This is how you too can become a Productivity Ninja.

Step 1: Change your mindset.

Forget time management and think about workflow and energy management. We have 100,000 billion neurons but can only keep seven things in our head at once. That means you need to get it out of your head and into a system.

At Simple Startup, we use Pipedrive. It’s a sales pipeline tool plus an awesome to-do list. I also love Smartsheet for Project Management, have used Trello, and even a trusty old pen and paper system (although I find I lose that more easily). Choose a system and stick with it.

It is tempting to constantly feel pressure to do, but sometimes you need to switch from doing to thinking. Tweet This Quote

Step 2: Remember that checking email is not your job.

It can be tempting to peruse your email looking for easy or interesting things to take action on, but this only sucks time away from other priorities. It also generally produces very little in terms of real results. Work at implementing the following email management strategies.

  • Switch off notifications. Those things that pop up in the corner of your screen are more addictive than crack and just as big of a distraction in terms of getting shit done.
  • Check your email 3x daily. When you limit the number of times you return to your inbox, you will be more effective at powering through emails. I check at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. Here’s a challenge: try reducing this to only once daily (this is too ninja for me but, hey, I aspire to this). By the way, checking your email constantly = O.C.D.
  • Reduce your inbox to zero every day. Baydin Email Game is a fun and speedy way of doing this. Spend 15-30 minutes using this program to sift through emails.
  • Notify people of your email habits. Put on the bottom of your email, ‘I check emails once a day. If it is urgent, please call me.’
  • Only send to those who need to see it. That means cutting down the number of cc’s and bcc’s you send out because, equally, you do not want to waste others’ time.
  • Use abbreviations. If you can put your entire message in the subject line—DO IT! And put EOM after it which means ‘End Of Message.’ If it’s just info they need to know, put NNTR at the end of your email, usually in the body, which means ‘No Need To Reply’.
  • Read newsletters 1x weekly. Create a separate folder that holds all newsletters received, and do not open this until you have time to sit down and read through them.
  • Do not use your inbox as a to-do list. When you get an email, you have the following options: 1) Delete, 2) Delegate—forward it to someone else to deal with, 3) Respond—if it takes less than 2 minutes, do it straight away, 4) Defer—put it in your calendar to deal with later, or use Boomerang to get the email to re-enter your inbox at a later time of your choice, or 5) Do—put it in your task management system.

Work efficiently, rest plentifully and take the time to party like a rock star. Tweet This Quote

Step 3: Use these tricks.

  • Eat the frog! This means doing the hardest thing first. This also means matching your energy level with the demand of the required work. I always schedule my most difficult task for first thing in the morning when I have enough energy to get it done and save the easier tasks for the afternoon.
  • Time the task. If the task is hard, put a timer on and make yourself work on it for a specific amount of time OR identify a task and work on it for 10 minutes and take a 2 minute break, then another task for 10 minutes and take a 2 min break—do this five times, and you’ve started on five major projects. You can also apply this to one single project.
  • Cut the “grey” time. Time can be defined as white, black or grey. White refers to time spent with friends and family when you are doing activities that are not related to work. Black refers to time spent working and getting shit done. Grey refers to time spent in between the two and should be avoided—working on your laptop while watching TV is definitely grey time. Either work or watch TV, as doing both is rarely relaxing or productive. Maintain clear lines in terms of time and space between work life and home life.
  • Set up communication systems. This is especially important in an open plan office because it is easy to be interrupted or interrupt others, so set boundaries about when you’re available and when you’re not. Stick headphones in, or come up with a fun way of saying ‘do not disturb’ (e.g. wearing a red hat).
  • Work in batches. For instance, do all your calls together even if they span across different projects, or if you’re doing invoicing, do it all together.
  • Schedule a ‘meeting for one.’ Book a meeting room or go to a coffee shop, and focus on what you need to accomplish.
  • Organize your task lists by context. Lists could be divided as such: 1) Call list, 2) Home list, 3) Errand list, 4) Email list.
  • Turn on BOSS mode. It is tempting to constantly feel pressure to do, but sometimes you need to switch from doing to thinking. Take some time (I do this in a big way at the beginning of the week and then a quick check-in at the beginning of each day) to look at the day or week past, review projects and actions, and break down the big projects into manageable tasks (e.g. if you’re taking a holiday—research online, check prices, book and pay). I focus on 6-8 major outcomes per week and find it a great way of moving things forward rather than getting caught up in the crap.

You will always have more demands than you have time, and you will always want to do it all. Tweet This Quote

Know this: You will always have more to do than you can get done. You will always have more demands than you have time, and you will always want to do it all—you can’t, no one can (even if some people look like they can). Work efficiently, rest plentifully and take the time to party like a rock star. All work and no play made Jack a dull boy.


A version of this post originally published on UNREASONABLE.is in June 2014. It has been updated and reposted to inspire further conversation.

About the author

Verity Noble

Verity Noble

Verity is the FUN Manager at Simple Startup where they help entrepreneurs simplify their finances, understand their numbers and make smart, informed business decisions. Previously, Verity was the VP of Operations at Unreasonable Institute, was chosen as one of the top 100 rising stars in the UK by The Future 500 and founded 20days, a group travel and events company (runner up in the Yahoo! Finds of the Year 2007).