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We live in a world that is always ‘switched on’, where your phone is an extension of your arm, and where leaving an email unanswered for more than an hour is almost viewed as a crime. While striving to deliver more in less time it is easy to confuse an increase in activity with an increase in output. The former can make you feel stressed and lead you to loosing motivation, inspiration and creativity – you could, however, achieve the latter from improved productivity which could eventually release you from the vicious cycle of an unfinished workload. 

Just before their finals, students at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) got a chance to attend a guest lecture by Dāvis Siksnāns, co-founder and CEO of PRINTFUL, a company of Latvian origin that has its headquarters in Los Angeles.
 

Founded in 2013 as part of the Draugiem Group, PRINTFUL has rapidly expanded and today employs more than 500 people, including some RSU alumni. PRINTFUL offers a printing service for online businesses to prepare custom-made designs, and send them directly to their clients.

Quality and time are of importance at PRINTFUL, and Siksnāns has mastered this balance both on personal as well as on a work level. To boost productivity in a healthy way Siksnāns has drawn inspiration both from David Allen’s bestseller Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity as well as Seth Godin’s business book Rework: Change the Way You Work Forever. Having combined Allen and Godin’s ideas with his own experiences, Siksnāns shared a handful of tips to help the aspiring productivity powerhouses sitting in the audience at RSU.

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The first prerequisite of productivity is to keep your mind clear of clutter. This means that you have to unload all of your to-do lists, appointments, meetings and projects out of your head and into a single in tray. Whether you choose a physical or a digital solution – a notebook, an app or even a filing system – it has to be a system you can easily overview and something that should be emptied regularly. Siksnāns reviews his own digital in tray about 50 times a day. 

The team at PRINTFUL are fans of the “inbox zero” concept – this means deleting what you don’t need at once, delegating tasks that you are not the right person for, tackling the tasks that take 2 minutes to complete straight away, and deferring the tasks that can be done later (entering them into your “next up” list). To avoid a cluttered e-mail, Siksnāns has unsubscribed from all mailing lists that he has not opened three times in a row.

The same system applies to to-do lists – these should be revised and frequently updated. It is important to realise that long lists gather dust so bigger tasks should be broken down into smaller steps. For example, rather than making ‘get your car new winter tyres’ a single task, break it up into steps like "do a price comparison", "go shopping", "call the service" etc. This way you will be able to see the progress you are making that in turn will fuel your motivation to continue. Similarly motivation is fuelled if you do not have a separate high priority section in your to-do list. Having dozens of tasks marked with a red flag might demotivate you, so instead just keep the most important task on top of the list, and constantly update the list when the task is finished. This way you will only have one urgent and most important task at a time.  

Interruption is the enemy of productivity. If you are a morning person mark this down as “focus time” in your calendar so that your most productive part of the day does not slip away because of meetings, e-mails, calls and app notifications. Siksnāns leaves about 25% of his working day off limits – this is a time when the CEO avoids all possible interruptions and focuses on important tasks that cannot be accomplished without concentration. This time helps him not to lose sight of the big picture in the daily rat race; otherwise, one can easily slide into hero mode and throw good time at bad work. Being a hero is unnecessary, so if something is taking longer than planned it is important to ask ‘is it worth it?’ Hopefully it will cool you down and remind you that the aim is maximum efficiency with minimal effort.

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To reach his maximum potential Siksnāns suggests keeping a balanced diet as well as getting a good amount of sleep and exercise. Exams and bigger project deadlines are exceptions that could deprive you of some of your healthy habits, however compromising on any of them in the long term will limit your productivity, motivation and creativity, not to mention heighten a lack of understanding and decrease your patience. According to Godin creativity is an important aspect that separates productive people from unproductive people. Those who are productive put their creativity in action in order to reach the finish line smarter and faster than others. When you are deprived of sleep, these abilities are limited.

And yes, there are low-motivation days when despite your best efforts things do not fall into place. Do not be hard on yourself and just plan to do easier tasks that day until you feel that you are back on track again. 

Perhaps these tips have validated much of what you already know and practice to some degree, but Siksnāns hopes that when applied systematically and regularly, these tips will help you work smarter and to do what needs to be done in a stress-free way. ‘Most importantly, you need to put a system in place. Tools for time-planning and task-management are helpful, but they only work efficiently when applied systematically,’ Siksnāns concludes.