Career

Kate Toon’s productivity tactics to squeeze more out of your day

Kate Toon’s productivity tactics to squeeze more out of your day

I’d say my productivity has been a superpower for me over my career.

I don’t have a huge amount of time to work, but if there’s one thing I’ve done well in my business, it’s achieving a lot in the limited time I have.

Here are some of my top productivity tactics to help you really squeeze more juice out of your workday.

1. Don’t start your day with emails

Most people begin their day by opening their inbox, and, generally, this either:

  • throws them into a state of panic as an ‘urgent thing’ has popped up
  • makes them feel overwhelmed and then demotivated
  • prompts them to focus on minor, unimportant tasks rather than the important, chunky things that will move their business forward.

So, instead, I recommend taking the first hour of your day, whenever it starts, and actually doing that hard thing you’ve been putting off, or investing an hour in your big goal project.

That way, you’ll feel you’re making progress rather than putting out fires.

2. Don’t use your inbox as a to-do list

When we do finally open our inbox, most of us start at the most recent email and work back. The inbox becomes a really crappy to-do list, not decided by you but by whoever has taken the time to email you since the day before.

Others often leave emails in their inbox until they’re resolved, which leads to huge overwhelm whenever they look at the thousands of emails that haven’t been dealt with.

Or they invent elaborate email rules and filing structures – which means they can never find anything.

I aim for ‘inbox zero’: having absolutely nothing in my inbox at all. Because an email inbox is NOT the best way to organise your work life. It is not a to-do list.

So, how can you achieve inbox zero?

  • Delete: Review your emails and delete any non-essential ones immediately.
  • Unsubscribe: If you find yourself deleting similar unwanted emails each day, make sure you unsubscribe while you’re at it.
  • Separate: Have a separate email address for marketing stuff (newsletters and the like) and non-essential emails. But also, consider not signing up for them in the first place.
  • Play ping pong: Answer any easy emails as quickly as possible, batting them back into the other person’s side of the net fast. They’re no longer your problem but their problem.
  • Write three-line responses: Keep responses as short (and polite) as possible: a friendly hello, an answer, and a friendly goodbye. If it takes more than a paragraph, then consider making a call rather than writing an epic email.
  • Turn emails into tasks: Anything that can’t be ping-ponged back or answered with a brief three-line response I turn into an Asana task. Why? Because then it goes into my pool of existing Asana tasks, and I can see if it really is as important as everything else I planned to do today.

3. Use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. It encourages you to work with the time you have rather than against it.

Essentially, you break your day into 25-minute chunks, separated by five-minute breaks. To break it down further, you:

  1. Think of a task you’d like to do
  2. Set a timer for 25 mins (I like to use the online Tomato Timer – just search ‘Pomodoro timer’)
  3. Work on the task with no distractions
  4. Take a five-minute break when the timer rings
  5. Repeat up to four times
  6. Then take a longer break: 30 minutes to an hour
  7. Repeat from step 1.

4. Lick that frog

Frog munching is a metaphor for doing the hardest task first when you are freshest. But rather than eat the whole frog, I prefer to just give it a damn good lick.

So, I recommend you start each day by doing part of the most hideous, dreaded, important task first. Call that late-paying client. Finalise that tax return. Get it out of the way and you’ll feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Licking the frog over a series of days, rather than trying to complete it in one big bite, makes it less scary and infinitely more doable.

Six Figures in School Hours by Kate Toon

5. Start time-based to-do lists

Following on from the Pomodoro Technique, I love to use time-based to-do lists and map them in time blocks on my schedule. (I know this sounds complex but it really isn’t.)

Here’s how it works:

  1. I look at my to-do list (which I wrote the day before).
  2. I reorder and prioritise it.
  3. I assign each task a time blob, usually a maximum of 25 minutes.
  4. I add these times in brackets to my to-do list.
  5. I then add them to my calendar so I can see how they fit around meetings.

Adding time to the to-do list makes it genuinely realistic and stops me setting myself up for failure. If I end up with twelve 30-minute tasks but it’s only a four-hour day, then I know from the get-go I’m not going to finish everything.

Better to accept this at the start of the day (and reorganise) rather than beat myself up about my lack of progress at the end.

6. Create templates

One of the biggest time sucks when working is deciding what to say, or how to say it.

I find that many of my business mentees absolutely agonise over what to say in emails, particularly ones that have a vague whiff of conflict. They write, rewrite, share them in Facebook groups for a second opinion, sleep on them and generally waste time worrying about scenarios that mostly will never happen.

So, I recommend every time you have a difficult email to write, sure, agonise over the phrasing the first time, phone a friend, share it in a Facebook group, but then create a template and save it somewhere for future use.

The same goes for documents. Work out the essential documents you use time and time again, write them up, get them proofread, then reuse and recycle them as much as possible. You can even make them look fancy in Canva.

It’ll save you time and dramatically increase your productivity.

Kate Toon

This article was written by Kate Toon, an award-winning business mentor and digital marketing coach. She was named Australia’s Most Influential Small Business Woman (2022) and one of Australia’s Top 50 Small Business Leaders (2022).

She’s the author of Six Figures in School Hours: How to run a successful business and still be a good parent and a resident expert on Kochie’s Business Builders. Purchase her book here.