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Executive Bio

My Productivity Protocols

Like the rest of you (probably) I have struggled at times to maintain high productivity. This most often happens when one of two conditions is present: I am either not being challenged or I am overloaded with priority tasks. I can waste time with frivolous pursuits if the first, and find it hard to focus if the second. Over time, however, I adopted a set of protocols that help to manage the load and keep me productive.

I’ve grouped these protocols into categories to help think about how/when/why to use them. These focus on the importance of pre-work preparation, personal care, managing time, and optimizing task management.

Preparation
Preparing for the day ahead starts at the end of the current day. I’ve done this both at work and just before bedtime, both seem to work fine. Which is a matter of convenience.

  • Set aside time, usually just a few minutes, to summarize the day and collect your thoughts.
  • Decide next day priorities and strategies, update ToDo list and next day plan.
  • If you have particularly challenging problems, task them to your subconscious before you go to sleep.

Prioritize Personal Protocols
Taking care of yourself is important to those around you and those who depend upon you, personally and professionally. Make sure you take the time to reflect, refresh, and reboot.

  • Set aside time for relaxation or meditation before bedtime. Let go of the day and its stress, step into peace.
  • Exercise on a consistent basis. It doesn’t have to be a gym workout if that’s not your thing. Even a neighborhood walk will do the trick.
  • Taking time to reflect, ponder, and muse is a creativity and solution engine.
  • Capture important thoughts with a journal, even if it is just a short note or a text to yourself. Those who are more serious about their journaling know the process brings depth and insight.
  • Read … a lot. It has been said that if you read ten books on a subject you will be an expert. Read twenty and you can be in demand as a subject matter expert. But vary your reading to include things you enjoy as well, such as hobbies or favorite forms of literature.

Time Management Tells the Tale
This is one of the most important, strategic, and difficult areas that we deal with. It is in large measure an issue of discipline, but its rewards are better focus, better productivity, and better health.

  • Do the hardest things on your list first, and let that success power the rest of your day.
  • Manage your calendar with laser focus. Nothing should make it onto that hallowed space unless it is truly important and aligned with your priorities.
  • Delegating everything you can creates time for higher purpose tasks and strategic thinking. It also empowers, enables, and trains future leaders.
  • Email is both one of the workplace’s greatest inventions and one of its worst productivity killers. Highly productive people have learned to rule it instead of being ruled by it. How? Delegating to an assistant is an obvious way. Another is by your own disciplined interaction with it. Making it the first and last thing you do at your desk each day, and not looking at it in between, will boost your energy and productivity, and lower your stress.
  • It is much the same with social media. Limit the amount of time your eyeballs spend there and be as strategic as possible in the process.

Avoid the Task Management Trap
There are so many To Do lists and apps that it is impossible to keep track as they come and go, and keeping our entire life current in them can seem like its own career. The reality is that all we need is what works for us in the moment, depending upon the moment we are in.

The good news about all those lists and apps is that there is one best suited for each type of moment. When you are working at a normal (sane) pace, a simple hand written list at your side will often do. When the load and intensity pick up, some sort of simple prioritization and strategic alignment tool can help. And when it gets really intense, the Eisenhower Matrix is a proven guide to focus and productivity. In other words, don’t get trapped by a tool, use the right tool for the job at hand.

Resources
Here are the productivity tools I’ve settled on.

Obsidian – Notetaking, content management, journaling, kanban.

Fantastical 2 – Unifies my corporate and personal calendars, and I prefer its formatting better than Outlook’s.

Microsoft Outlook – Unifies all my email accounts, synchs to desktop.

Lastpass – Password vault.

Scanner Pro – Easy, reliable, best integration with other apps that I’ve found.

Alon Dictaphone – Quality, ease, handheld editing.

My To Do list varies based on the complexity of the moment/project:

Low intensity: Handwritten 1-3-5 list (1 major, 3 medium, 5 small tasks)

Mid intensity: Kanban Board. This is my homebase for keeping track of things, and I do it within Obsidian (there are a host mobile app options).

High intensity: Eisenhower Matrix.  Mainly to keep myself focused in periods of high and complex project/task volume.

Ken Burkhalter is a facilities and project management consultant, focused on strategic planning, capital projects, and organizational development. You can contact him at ken@kburkhalter.com.

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