4: Deal with the old chestnuts

Nothing sucks productivity like an "old chestnut". You know those projects, the ones that keep getting talked about - the "once we fix the flow between ops and creative everything will be fine"? They get talked about and talked about but nothing ever gets done. Usually they are complex projects. Or boring projects. Or bigger than Ben-Hur projects. But they never really go away. "That old chestnut again," we say in exasperation as we have the same damn conversation for the 25th time.

Calling time on a list of old chestnuts is a great way to boost productivity. List them out. Then review the list, and break it into two:

•Cross off and delete forever some of the things that are realistically never going to happen. Know that if it hasn't made it to the top of the list in the last two years it's really never going to. Cross it off physically and mentally delete it too. Feel a huge rush of relief that will boost your productivity on other items almost instantly.

•Decide which of these old chestnuts is actually going to be a happening thing, and commit to it. Figure out what the next three small steps are towards it, break it right down into teeny, tiny manageable chunks, rope in the support or delegation you need and Get On With It. Just take the first step and feel the release of energy you get from actually taking action in favour of something you really want to achieve, rather than it permanently hanging over you.

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5: Touch it three times or less

Back when I was running media sales teams everything was paper-based. We made newspapers, and to do that we generated a lot of paperwork. In trays. Out trays. Pending trays. There was a system but a lot of it would just get shuffled about. Moved from one stack to another. It would never actually get dealt with.

I went on a course and they shared a great tip - put a red dot in the corner of the piece of paper every time someone picks it up. Every time it is handled by anyone, they mark it with a red dot. It was very illuminating. I got red pens for everyone in the department and we did a trial for a couple of weeks. Some pieces of paper were being handled more than a dozen times, and even then might not be resolved. It was a major kick to implementing more streamlined systems and processes that massively improved productivity.

These days we use much less paper, and are existing more digitally - however the same principle applies. We can end up doing the same thing with email. We will read it when we are walking down the corridor between meetings. One touch. Scan read it when we get back to our desk but be too busy to deal with it then. Two touches. We'll be reading emails later after the meeting, but again not have time to reply. Three touches. We might start fresh in the morning to get through it and reply. We start it, get interrupted, it doesn't get finished. Save as a draft. Four touches. And so on. I am willing to bet you have emails in your inbox you have been procrastinating on. (Yeah, those ones.) The tricky ones. Or the tedious ones. Or the ones where you are avoiding offending someone. Or where you want to say no but feel obligated to say yes. Those you have touched a dozen times or more. How much of a productivity suck is that? Figuring out a system that works for you that allows you to massively reduce the amount of "touches" is an obvious yet totally underutilised strategy to improve productivity. Email is a fact of modern workplaces, whether you work for yourself or for a corporation. You need a strategy to make it as streamlined for yourself, and the type of work that you do, as possible. Put that in place (e.g. scan, only open if urgent. Do not open if you cannot reply or shoot back a quick reply. Set aside dedicated time to reply, reply AND file at the same time). Aim to reduce individual touches to each email and see your productivity soar.

Through her online Happiness programme "Wellbeing Warriors", life coach Louise Thompson helps people unlock their happiest and healthiest life. Sign up at louisethompson.com and find more from Louise at bite.co.nz/wellbeing