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Advisors, CEOs, Private Equity

3 New Year’s Resolutions to Increase Your Productivity in 2016

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Specificity is one of the keys to a successful New Year’s resolution. So if you’re looking to increase your work productivity in 2016 (who isn’t?), here a few suggestions for particular areas to focus on in 2016.

1. I resolve to… organize my email.

Are you constantly at war war with your inbox? Just when you get it under control, dozens more messages come pouring in. Then, you can’t find that important message buried under all the junk mail and promotions.

First, try Unroll.me. This free service — great for both work and personal email — allows you to see all the promotional email you’ve subscribed to or been subscribed to, unsubscribe from those you don’t want, and “roll up” all the rest into one daily email. You receive just one email with all your subscriptions that you can read on your commute or lunch break.

Then, figure out an email system that works for you. Yes, this will require some upkeep — that’s part of the resolution — but it’ll save your sanity and ensure you never forget about or lose an important email again. Add categories (in Outlook) or labels (in Gmail) to create a filing system for emails you need to save. Archive emails you’ve dealt with, and set aside 10-15 minutes each evening to make sure you’ve filed every message from the day appropriately.

Other tips:

  • Don’t let email chains go on forever. After three or four clarification messages, set up an in-person meeting or call the person on the phone, depending on geographic proximity. Guaranteed you’ll be able to work out the issue in less time (and save space in your inbox).
  • Don’t use your email inbox as a to-do list. More on this later — but just as you wouldn’t keep a bill that needed to be paid in your physical mailbox, so you shouldn’t leave messages that need action in your virtual one. Maintain a separate to-do list, or use a program like ActionInbox, which turns Gmail into a task manager.
  • Respond to quick emails immediately. One of the fundamental rules of David Allen’s popular Getting Things Done system of organization is that if a task will take less than two minutes, do it immediately. If an email requires a simple yes/no answer, respond right away, file the email accordingly, and move on.

2. I resolve to… make the most of business trips.

Business trips are often stressful, and many professionals’ inclination is to get in and get out — go to that meeting or conference, then hop in a cab to the airport. But doing so may mean you miss out on connecting with valuable new relationships — business prospects, CEOs, or potential partners or referral sources.

Next time you’re planning a business trip, ask yourself if there are people or businesses near your destination that might be productive to visit. If you’re an investor traveling for a management meeting, add on an extra day to meet with bankers. Hitting it off with even one new contact over coffee or a beer could pay dividends in the form of deal flow for years to come. If you’re a business owner traveling for a conference, take the time to attend the networking cocktail hour after the content sessions are over. Sure, it’ll mean you get back home a few hours later — but you may meet a new supplier who can help you cut costs, or the owner of a company you go on to acquire years down the road.

3. I resolve to… maintain my to-do list.

First, you need to find a to-do list system that works for you.

Some people swear by the classic pen-and-paper, cross-things-out-when-they’re-done method. Seeing the thick black line gives them a sense of accomplishment no digital program can rival. If you go this route, be sure to start a new list every week, or every evening/morning if you have a lot of small unpredictable daily tasks. This way you can keep stock of what you accomplished and re-prioritize depending on shifting goals.

Others prefer to go digital — this way, you don’t have to keep restarting your list as things change, and you can take advantage of the opportunity to make multiple connected lists, link to documents, or share your lists with colleagues working on the same or interrelated projects. Here are a few software options to look into:

  • Trello: Trello is a project management tool best for people who often work in teams, and need to collaborate. You can create “cards” for each project you’re working on; each card can contain lists, images, attachments, deadlines, and more. Cards go in lists, which go on boards — you can have as many of all three as you like. You might have one board reserved for individual work, and other boards which you share with different groups of colleagues. If you’re a visual thinker who likes to see things laid out neatly, and enjoys breaking a task into its component parts, Trello might be a great fit for you.
  • Todoist: Todoist’s task management software gets points for being available on almost any platform out there. It allows for collaboration and lets you take into account recurring tasks and dependencies to manage big hairy projects that might require lots of moving parts. Todoist’s pretty to-do list design is an added perk.
  • Wunderlist: Wunderlist bills itself as the “easiest way to get stuff done.” It’s simple design allows you to keep track of every task that needs your attention, with the option for recurring tasks and reminders. However, if you’re looking for extensive prioritization capabilities, look elsewhere — here Wunderlist’s simplicity will be a drawback. Wunderlist does have a paid version which allows for more collaboration among users.
  • Evernote: A fan favorite, Evernote is a jack-of-all-trades app that allows you to take notes, keep track of websites, share ideas, and stay organized. You can create an ongoing tasks checklist to keep your to-do list in check. Committed users say that for Evernote to work, you really have to jump into it whole-hog and use it for everything you want to keep and plan.

Just like email, maintaining a to-do list is all about putting in the effort. Set aside a few minutes each day to update your list, and be sure to really commit to one system. Putting some of your tasks on a Post-It note, others on your phone, others in a notebook, and others on an online program won’t help anyone — least of all yourself.

Happy New Year!

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