Productivity tips for busy professionals in pandemic times

I often get asked how I can run Webnames.ca as its CEO, serve on multiple boards, speak at 30-plus events a year, act as a mentor, take part in philanthropic and fundraising activities and still find time to write columns.

And yes, I do have school-aged kids, which means drop-offs, pickups and school meetings. Part of my solution has been sleeping less than the average person, which I would not recommend unless that is your natural sleep pattern. There are other time-management tactics I’ve used for much of my life, often without putting too much thought into them, and I’d like to share those with all of you.

1) Delegate and resist the urge to micromanage. My expertise is in running the business. Hiring the best people to fill key roles, letting them be leaders and enabling them to excel in what they do without standing in the way is the approach that has served me well and helped me to be a better CEO.

2) Spend time on the right activities. Each activity you take on should be worthy of your time. Does it further your business in some way? Does it further your learning or that of your team? Does it bring value to the greater good or affect the community in a positive way?

3) Work during off hours. As a life-long insomniac, I’ve stopped fighting late night or early morning tossing and turning and used this to my advantage. Some of my most productive hours are between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. or 10 p.m. and midnight. There are no incoming emails, phone calls or people around to distract me. These are often the best times to do strategic or deep thinking or creative work such as writing.

4) Schedule shorter meetings. Rather than scheduling 30-minute meetings, make them 20. Instead of one-hour meetings, make them 45 minutes. You’d be surprised how those extra 10 and 15 minutes add up each day. Use them wisely.

5) Ensure that meetings have clear agendas. Preparation is the key to short and productive meetings. Draft agendas for every meeting in your day and invite your colleagues to plan and review meeting agendas prior to the scheduled time.

6) Schedule everything. I allocate blocks of time for specific tasks that could potentially take a lot longer, such as writing or putting a presentation together. As a perfectionist, I could write and rewrite an article and over think a presentation and re-do slides and speaking notes for days. But if I allocate a reasonable block of time and schedule it in my calendar, I force myself to concentrate and complete that task and then move on.

7) Touch it once principle. Envelopes come in the mail and are opened, dealt with and filed immediately. Emails and other communications are the same. If I don’t have time to deal with something right away because I have other priorities scheduled, I set time in my calendar to complete the task.

8) To-do list. I have a running to-do list for medium- and longer-term tasks. Apps like Todoist help with scheduling tasks according to priorities, sub-tasks, organizing recurring tasks and more.

9) Limit social media use. I’ve cut back on reading or posting on most social media platforms other than LinkedIn. Choose the topics and causes that mean the most to you, choose a platform where your audience is most engaged and deepen those conversations rather than dilute your time across too many platforms.

10) Fight spam. According to numerous reports, spam and phishing increased by 50% month-on-month in 2020’s first quarter as COVID-19 spread around the world. If you use a Mac, make sure you enable junk mail filtering under mail preferences. Similar filtering is available on Outlook.

11) Integrate exercise into your day. Prior to COVID, I would work out with my trainer at 5 a.m. and get my exercise out of the way. But I do not have the same level of discipline working out at home on my own. That is where my treadmill desk and hand weights come in. Hand weights are also great to use while watching webinars. It’s amazing how many squats and lunges you can do during a 40-minute webinar.

An often overlooked but critically important factor to professional success is mental health. Ensure that you get to balance work with play and leave enough time in your week to decompress and pursue a hobby, go for a hike or just indulge in entertainment. After all, productivity is not the end goal but rather a means to achieving professional success and purposeful impact in all that we wish to accomplish. •

Cybele Negris (cybele@webnames.ca) is president, CEO and co-founder of Webnames.ca, Canada’s original .CA registrar.