New year, new levels of productivity?
by Alex Blake
“There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done.” Andy Grove, co-founder of Intel.

Could you and/or your team be more productive this year?
As consultants, we are often commissioned to support charities on a day rate basis, so the more we can achieve in the allocated time, the greater the value we add to our clients. For us, maintaining high levels of productivity is an essential part of living our values of excellence and integrity. It is also important to the wider sector. We have seen many fundraisers working incredibly hard but not getting the results they seek because they are not working at a high level of productivity.

Being busy is not the same as being productive!

And unlike Elon Musk, we do not recommend working 80+ hours per week, even if you are changing the world. In fact, your health and work performance is likely to suffer as clinical psychologist Janet Kennedy explains here.

Fundraisers can suffer from stress and anxiety while their charities can suffer through missed opportunities to maximise income and through staff sickness/turnover.

Common productivity challenges include:

• procrastination over difficult tasks

• identifying and sticking to key priorities

• distractions from e-mails, social media and other interruptions

• meetings that lack purpose.
So, what can you do differently?

Bestselling author, Kevin Kruse, asked over 200 ultra-productive people including seven billionaires, 13 Olympians, 20 straight-A students and over 200 successful entrepreneurs.

Kruse distilled this into 15 key themes and below I share some of my favourite ideas from this research.

1. Energy is everything.

You can’t make more minutes in the day, but you can increase your energy which will increase your attention, focus, decision making, and overall productivity. Highly successful people don’t skip meals, sleep or breaks in the pursuit of more, more, more. To be productive and successful, you need energy, which comes from a healthy diet, exercise, sleep and time for what you value most, whether that’s family time or a hobby you are passionate about.

For me this means healthy food, plenty of water and a good nights sleep as standard to give me the energy I need for a packed week of working on my top priorities, helping with the kids’ homework and everything else that needs doing at home and fitting in some time at the gym. Weekends are then reserved for quality family time, with some rest and rejuvenation.

2. Stop multitasking. Focus on your most important task.

So many of us are multi-tasking all day long, trying to focus on a main task like writing a funding application, report, strategy etc. while also responding to e-mails as they come in, people in the office who ask a question, social media notifications, phone calls and more.

However, studies show that we are not effective when juggling multiple tasks or when being distracted.

Ultra-productive people know their most important task and prioritise it, for example dedicating a block of time in the morning, without interruptions. This can mean turning off e-mail, putting your phone on silent, working from home if you need to or putting ear phones in if you’re in a busy office (and explaining what this means if necessary).

Take a moment to consider these questions:

• What do you want to achieve?

• What will it take to reach your goal?

• What is the most important task you need to prioritise?

• When are you going to schedule this task and how will you ensure you are not interrupted?

3. Turn off e-mail!

The big problem with having your e-mail account open in the background while you are not writing an e-mail is that it is so distracting when a new e-mail arrives, and once you’ve seen the e-mail it is so tempting to a) read it and b) then respond to it. But is this the most important and/or urgent task you should be working on? If not, why have you dropped everything to respond immediately. And even if you are not responding, you have lost focus on what you were doing, read the e-mail and left it to go back to another time (see #4 for the double whammy on productivity here) – you now have to get back into your original piece of work and regain your flow. These constant interruptions can increase the time it takes to complete any given task and can impact on the quality of your work.

Ultra-productive people don’t “check” email throughout the day. They don’t respond to each vibration or ding to see who has intruded into their inbox. Instead, like everything else, they schedule time to process their email quickly and efficiently. For some that’s only once a day, for some, it’s first thing, lunch time and at the end of the day.

4. Touch things only once.

How often do you read an email, and then close it and leave it in your inbox to deal with later? Highly successful people try to “touch it once.” If it takes less than five or ten minutes — whatever it is — they’ll deal with it right then and there when they are processing their e-mail, whether it is replying, forwarding to delegate action to someone else or scheduling an action for a later time if it requires more than 10 minutes. This can reduce stress since it won’t be in the back of your mind, and it is more efficient as you won’t have to re-read and evaluate the item again in the future.

5. Schedule and prioritise your activity, focusing on minutes, not hours.

It turns out only 41% of items on to-do lists are ever actually done. And all those undone items lead to stress and insomnia. Whether using a calendar or a to-do list, it is important to prioritise your required tasks by importance and urgency, get it all out of your head onto your scheduling tool and allocate time to each task.

How often have you received calendar invites to meetings that are automatically set at one hour but could probably be completed in a fraction of the time? People tend to default to hours and half-hour blocks on their calendar, but highly successful people know there are 1,440 minutes in every day and there is nothing more valuable than time, so allocate effectively.

6. Only hold meetings with a purpose and run them effectively.

Meetings are notorious time killers. They start late, have the wrong people in them, meander in their topics and run long! Remember, you only have 1440 minutes in every day. Don’t give them away easily. Billionaire Warren Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”

If you are invited to a meeting, ask yourself does it help you achieve your objectives or that of your organisation? If not, either say “no” or if that’s not possible/appropriate (e.g. with your line manager), say “I could attend but if I do, it would be instead of doing x (your most important task), what do you think I should prioritise?”

If you need to hold a meeting to bring people together, ensure there is a clear purpose, agenda and timings and stick to them.

What’s the impact?

I know these things make a massive difference for me, when I’m trying to achieve a lot in a limited amount of time. I would love to hear about your productivity challenges and any tips and tricks you use, of if you have started implementing any of the above, please do let me know how it’s going! My details are below.

You can view the original 15 tips from Kevin Kruse here:

This article was written by Alex Blake in January 2019. If you would like to discuss or comment on the content please feel free to get in touch at or