Increase Your Productivity

Originally published: 03.01.07 by Terry Tanker

A white board and 10 markers keep me going.

As co-owner of a small business, it’s routine for me to deal with dozens of projects daily. Executive focus changes every 15 minutes. The variety is fascinating and includes everything from production and finance, to leases and HR. The larger your company, the more likely it is you “have people.” For those of us in smaller companies, we also handle insurance, IT issues, and health-care plans.

We have over 75 deadlines each month, and most of those are packed into the second and third week of the month when we begin our issue layout and then send it to the press. All manageable — until one or two are missed, and then they seem to fall like dominoes. It’s easy to become sidetracked and lose focus on what really is important to accomplish each day. My biggest downfall —e-mail. There is no escaping it.

I’ve been searching over the years for the perfect organizational tool to increase my productivity. I’ve tried pocket daytimers, larger monthly planners, and a variety of electronic devices. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s like working out and losing weight — they all work as long as you just do it.

The system that is working for me is low tech, inexpensive, and very simple to implement. It’s a large white board with 10 magic markers in various colors. Across the top of the board I’ve written “Are You Doing Something Right Now to Create Revenue?” You’ve heard the old saying — revenue solves everything. In our business, I happen to agree.

The white board is mounted on a wall directly in front of my desk. It’s impossible to miss. There are five categories underneath: This Week, This Month, Next Month, This Quarter, and Travel. Only the most important items make it on the board, and all are in some way related to creating revenue — if not directly, indirectly.

If I’m not working on a white-board item, it’s because I’ve gone as far as I can with it, and I’m waiting for response, or confirmation from someone. Once I’ve worked through the white board, I can answer phone calls and e-mails, and can schedule internal and external meetings — but not until I’ve worked through the white board. Generally, this can be accomplished by 10 a.m.

After doing some research on the Internet, I found other productivity tools that may help you become more organized, more focused, and more productive. Check out David Seah (, a writer and designer, who has created some incredibly clever tools to help make you more productive. Look for “The Printable CEO Series” on his site. Nothing but good stuff here. Listed here are two of my favorites, including his “Concrete Goal Tracker.” When is Something Worth Doing? Just ask yourself how often you have gotten into work that wasn’t worth doing? According to David, make a list of tasks that contribute to your business growth, with points assigned that reflect their relative income factors. Give lower weights to tasks that you already do frequently. If an activity is not on the list, it isn’t worth any points. You’ll see that the tasks here primarily are oriented toward getting money, landing new revenue, making contacts, and creating tangible assets. The big points are earned by the big tasks. There are enough small tasks that guarantee that you’ll do one or two of them every day. That feels good, and feeling good is an important part of maintaining a high level of engagement.

I asked Ron Smith, one of our editorial advisory board members and HVACR Business columnist, to come up with the list you see here. Items will change based on your particular company, but this list should give most hvacr contractors a good start.

Another one of my favorites is the “Compact Calendar.” It is designed to provide a compact view of the year, with plenty of space for making annotations. According to David, the days are presented contiguously while retaining the days of the week because you get a more intuitive sense of how the days are flowing and can estimate projects accordingly. His objectives when project planning were:

• How many days are available, including weekends?
• When are critical deliverables?
• How much calendar time is needed to finish a task?
• What are the specific days we have to work around?

I think many contractors would have the same criteria for project work they are scheduling. The advantages of the “Compact Calendar”:

• The days are packed together visually, so there is a direct correspondence of “distance” to time.
• The calendar for an entire year fits on a single piece of paper, with plenty of room for notes. Additionally, you can print out a section of it, for short projects.
• It uses the familiar monthly calendar format, with days of the week in columns.
• Because there’s only one week per line, you’re forced to break up project tasks to fit as you sketch them in.
• Because days of the week are in the same column, it’s easy to mark recurring events that are tied to them. For example: “Every Friday we have a company meeting.” This makes it easy to see where they’ll be.

Whether you decide to use the crafty productivity tools David Seah makes available on his site (also available at or the down-and-dirty white-board method I employ, making yourself and your organization more productive is a simple matter of selecting tools you’ll use and using them. —Terry Tanker

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