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21 Productivity Tips for Consultants

By Michael Zipursky

Do you want to become more productive? Who doesn’t, right?

The idea of getting more done in less time is what so many of us strive for. In fact, there’s a huge industry and thousands of books written on how to become more productive. There is a problem with all of this however…

The problem my friend, is that learning how to become more productive has been made too complicated. The very act of following specific lists, keeping organized plans, charts, using special programs – makes being productive a job in and of itself.

So today I’d like to offer you 21 productivity tips that are easy to implement in your life. When I say easy that doesn’t mean change on your part isn’t required. It means they can be put into action right away and results that you can see instantly.

Picking up calls every time the phone rings doesn’t help you to be more productive.

1. Be Specific About Email Times

Most people open their email program every few seconds anticipating the next email. Worse yet others have notifications that go off on their phone or computers to notify them of new email. This may be one of the deadliest productivity killers. Don’t do this! Instead, have set times during the day that you check and respond to email. If that’s too big of a shift to make, start by closing your email program and only opening it between finishing and starting other priority tasks. If you’re only checking email once or twice a day a great tip is to setup an autoresponder that people will get that notifies them that you check email at certain times during the day and that you’ll respond then. The autoresponder isn’t critical and it’s more for your peace of mind then for the person that emails you. Who really can’t wait 4-5 hours to get a response?

2. Quit the Phone

I’m on client calls, coaching calls and sales calls making deals almost every day. I initiate those calls and they are scheduled in advance, sometimes many weeks in advance. I don’t pick up the phone. Why? Because it’s a disruption. It takes me away from my core work, my priority, the area I can add the greatest value in. If the person calling feels it’s such an emergency to get a hold of me they’ll call again, probably repeatedly. Seriously, how often is a phone call a real emergency? You may have heard of a technology called voicemail? It’s where people can leave you a message so you can return it later. Remember that? Use it! Picking up calls every time the phone rings doesn’t help you to be more productive.

3. Don’t Get Too Cuddly With Social Media

Like checking emails many people have an obsession with social media. They check their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (fill in other social media platform) several times throughout the day. Often they do this several times an hour. And what happens when you do this? You end up reading an article, watching a video, clicking around to other sites. Unless you’re taking a break these actions aren’t helping you. When you’re ‘working’ on social media be clear that the actions you’re taking are helping you to make a sale or grow your business.

4. Focused Not Unfriendly

I’ve written about How to Get Better at Saying No and this is a skill and decision that impacts your productivity. It’s not always easy to turn down an invitation from a friend to meet for coffee. But when you know you need to get other priorities done for your business saying ‘No’ is critical. You’ll find as you become more successful more people will want access to you, they’ll want to take your time. And that’s great. Be honored and appreciate that. However, you can’t allow what others want to take you away from your goals and the achievements that you’re working towards. I remember when I was launching one of my first businesses many friends would invite me to join them for drinks or to hang out. I said ‘No’ almost every time. Not because I didn’t value them as friends but because I had set my priorities. Did they think I was crazy? Probably. Did they say I wasn’t ‘social’? I’m sure. Did I care? Not really. Once you’re clear on what you want you need to keep your head down and focus on it. That doesn’t mean you don’t socialize or have fun. Just balance your priorities so you’re not being taken off course.

5. How Clean Is Your Desk?

The more organized my desk and working environment is the more focused I feel. Nothing is grabbing my attention. Papers aren’t piled everywhere. This is an easy change to make and yet the impact can be dramatic. Look at your working environment and ask yourself ‘Is this environment helping me to be focused and productive or is it filled with distractions?’ Then deal with it accordingly.

6. Be One With the Music

I listen to music throughout the day. Music is a huge part of my life. Even as I’m writing this right now I have some chill tunes playing. Music helps you get into your flow and to concentrate on what you’re doing. But it needs to be the right kind of music. In my case I find music that has a lot of vocals tends to distract me. On the other hand listening to jazz, world music or even some deep house without a lot of vocals really helps. I’ve never been a huge classical music fan, though I’ve found that sometimes I really enjoy it and it’s great when I’m writing or concentrating on my work.

7. Keep It Moving

Some of my best ideas come to me while I’m swimming or at the gym. Exercise plays a significant role in not only physical health but also mental health. It provides clarity. Whether you get up every 40 minutes and stretch or go for a late morning or mid-afternoon walk – it doesn’t matter – as long as you’re up and moving. The health benefits are clear. But the movement and activity also gets your mind more focused and relaxed. When you come back to your work you’ll be sharper and more productive. If you’re not trying this already, be sure that you do.

But realize that the earlier you get up the more you can get done before the rest of the world is moving.

8. The Secret Ingredient

One of the greatest productivity ‘secrets’ is simple to say (and to do) yet very few people do it. Here it is: tackle your #1 priority at the beginning of each day. This will have a huge benefit on your productivity. When you leave your main priorities for later in the day you often don’t get to them. Or by the time you do you feel drained and can’t do them as well as you’d like to. The solution is to start your day with clear focus an intention on that #1 priority. Doing this 5 days a week results in 20 critical actions each month that will help you to move your consulting business forward in a meaningful way.

9. Let Go

If you want to truly become more productive you have to learn to let go. Delegating is the best way to do this. Rather than trying to hold on to everything ‘because you can do it best’ give more work away. Hire contractors or support staff that can take the routine and administrative work away from you. Why spend your time working on $10/hr work when you should be focused on higher value work that can make you thousands of dollars? Setting the right people up to help can take a few days or even weeks to get right, but once you do, you’ll never go back. You’ll be spending more of your time doing the work you enjoy and creating more value…while doing less of the work you dislike and having someone else take care of it for you.

10. Rise and Shine

Countless articles (like this one from the Guardian) show how the most successful executives get up early. Most start their day around 5am. Does that mean you have to get up that early too? No. But realize that the earlier you get up the more you can get done before the rest of the world is moving. You’ll have fewer emails, phone calls, and other distractions trying to get your attention early in the morning. This leaves time for you to get deeply focused on your #1 priority for that day and complete it before the rest of your nation even wakes up.

11. It’s Not About Time

One day of meaningful work is better than a week of unproductive tasks. Success isn’t judged by how much time you spend working – it’s the results that matter. If you’re driving yourself to burnout by working long days and still not feeling like you’re moving your business forward – stop. You need to re-evaluate. Be clear on your priorities and tackle the hard ones first. Carve out a couple of hours each day to get your more important work done. I start early and can easily wind my work down by 2pm if I choose. Many days I’ll work until 5pm but the days of working 10-12+ hour days are long gone – and they should be for you too. That doesn’t mean when you have an important project or new launch that you shouldn’t put in the hours needed. Simply that you shouldn’t be measuring success by how many hours you work – only by the results you generate.

I don’t know why it is but I’ve found that getting out of the office into a different environment can really get me focused and into my flow.

12. Do Fewer and Focus

A long to do list can be bad for your health. Instead, pick the activities that will help you get from where you are to where you want to be in the shortest time possible. Like the above point, it’s not how many things you do that are important, rather the quality of them and how much they actually help you move your business forward. Which takes us beautifully to the next point…

13. Make Sales

I’ve said this before, as consultants we’re not in the consulting business, we’re in the marketing business. If you don’t have clients you can’t do any ‘consulting’. You first have to make a sale. If you’re actively looking for more clients commit a significant portion of each week to work on making sales. Put off any activities or work that isn’t directly helping you to get more clients and make sales. The other stuff can come later.

14. Drink More

Water that is. Many medical studies have shown that being hydrated gives you more energy. Water itself has no calories. That said if you want to feel more productive and actually get more done, drink more water. I constantly have a glass of water beside me throughout the day. As soon as I finish one I’ll fill my glass and have the next. Not only will you feel more energized it’s healthy too!

15. Change Locations

I’ve written 4 books and most of them were done at coffee shops. I don’t know why it is but I’ve found that getting out of the office into a different environment can really get me focused and into my flow. Maybe it’s because there are fewer distractions. I’m not sure. I do know that other leaders and successful business people and creatives experience the same result. If you haven’t tried it, give it a go. Even once a week or once every two weeks to start. It takes my focus and productivity to a higher level.

16. Meeting Cleanup

Meetings can often go from a planned hour to 2 or 3 hours. Don’t let that happen because rarely is it necessary. In fact, most meetings if you keep them focused don’t need to take longer than 30 minutes. If you have a clear agenda for what needs to be covered, keep the small talk to a minimum, not only will your client appreciate your direction, they also appreciate efficiency. If you let meetings run wild you’ll find yourself losing valuable time. If you’re someone that has a lot of in person meetings this can add up to a great deal of waste if you’re not careful.

17. Emails Filtered

Most email programs have the ability to filter your emails. For example, you can setup a filter that says if you receive an email from a certain person it will automatically be labeled and sent to a specific folder. Once you have enough of these filters setup you’ll be left with an Inbox that only receives your most important emails in it. This allows you to spend just a short time in your Inbox so you can get in and out. And allows you to go into each of the other folders you setup when you have downtime – and you’ll feel good about it and know that you’re not missing anything urgent. Here’s a guide for you on this if you’re using Gmail Filters.

18. Unsubscribe from Emails

Want to get back control of your inbox and reign in wasted time? Take a look at all the email newsletters you receive and unsubscribe from every one that you don’t enjoy or that doesn’t add value to your life. When I first did this I must have removed myself from 20-30 companies’ lists. I really encourage you to do this. If you’re not getting BIG value from a newsletter hit the unsubscribe button. And yes, even if you find that my newsletter isn’t valuable for yourself, go ahead and unsubscribe.

19. Unfollow Social Media

Like the above suggestion do the same with your social media. If you’re the kind of person that has a lot of friends and followers you’ll find this liberating. Go through your Twitter and Facebook feeds and unfollow anyone that you don’t really get much value from their posts. You’ll be left with fewer updates – and more of the ones that you do enjoy and that you get value from.

20. Use a Calendar Service

A big waste of time many of us have experienced is trying to set a day and time for a meeting or phone call. You know what I mean, right? This is where services like ScheduleOnce, Time Trade and others come in. These services allow you to connect with your own calendar and mark available time slots that you can have meetings or calls. Then when someone wants to have a call or meeting with you, simply send them the link to your calendar (which updates automatically). This removes the back and forth and will not only save you time, it’ll help you get more of the meetings and calls you want.

21. Max Your Commute

If you need to commute a lot back and forth from your home to the office or to take your kids to school make the most of this time. Listen to audio books or personal development CDs or audio courses. Instead of the news or music all the time you can turn your commute into learning time to take your skills and knowledge to a higher level.

There you have it. 21 ways for consultants to become more productive. What other ones can you add? Have you found any of these helpful in your life? Tell me in the comments below…

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