My Favourite Productivity Tools, Techniques and Hacks

We are all time poor and need to use our time as wisely as possible. So in today’s episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast, I’m going to share with you my favourite productivity tools, techniques and hacks to be more efficient with your time and focus on what really matters to ‘move the needle’ for your agency.

These reminders are timely for me at the start of the year so I know you will find them useful!

Time Stamp


Bigger picture first: start with a vision for your business and everything else will fall into place


The importance of breaking down your time into 3 categories: revenue, strategy, and admin


Plan out your day and assign time-slots to each task


Use morning and evening rituals and set your top 3 goals for the day


Stay focused with time blocking


Batch content: The ultimate productivity technique


There’s no such thing as multitasking - just multi distractions1


So make sure you remove all the distractions


Saying YES to something means saying NO to something else


Clear out your inbox daily to start fresh the following day


Use your time wisely: qualify your prospects well


Delegate as much as you possibly can


Using the concepts of a ‘notional hourly rate’


Use the right project management and communication tools


How my reMarkable has improved my organisation

Have I missed any? I’d be curious to know what are your favourite productivity hacks? 

And as ever, if you found this episode useful, please consider leaving a review.


“Plan your day down to the nearest half an hour. Overestimate how long things will take, and you can make sure you're ticking every single item off by the end of the day.” - Rob Da Costa
“There is no such thing as multitasking so do one task at a time and you'll be much more efficient.” - Rob Da Costa
“Consider really carefully what you say YES to. Be willing to say NO more often, and that gives you the space to say YES to the things that are really important in your day.” - Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

In today's episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast, I want to talk to you all about some of the productivity hacks and things that I do in my day to day running of my business that makes me more efficient. These are things that I've learned over the years. These are things that I keep needing to remind myself, which is why I think this is a timely episode to record. Then, I wanted to share with you the things that I do in the hope that it will help you get more efficient. So, let's get on with today's show.

I'm Robert Da Costa, and this is The Agency Accelerator Podcast. As someone who has stood in your shoes, having started growing and had sold my own agency, I know just how it feels during the ups and the downs of agency life. So, this podcast aims to ease your journey just a little by sharing my own and my guest experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable and enjoyable business. 

Hey, everybody! Welcome to this week's episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast. Today, I want to talk to you about my favourite productivity hacks and share with you some of the things that I do that make my days as efficient and productive as possible. Also most importantly, at the end of the day, when I shut my computer, I feel a sense of satisfaction, and I feel like I achieved the things that I set out to do. 

Then, let's start with the bigger picture stuff because that is a really good starting place, and you really need to. First of all, make sure that if you want to have a productive day in a productive week, then you need to have a plan that says, this is what I'm doing today. This is what I'm doing this week. This is what I'm doing this month, this quarter and this year. 

My first bit of advice is that everybody, whether you're a freelancer, a one-person business like me or running a bigger agency, that you have a vision for your business, which is like a road map of where your business is headed over the next year. Then, that's my first tip. I'm not going to dig into a tonne of detail about that. 

However, If you have a vision, you can break that vision down. You can break it down into quarters, months or weeks and then you can translate those weekly tasks into your diary and make them into daily tasks. That means each day you're taking a little micro-step forward towards delivering your month. Plan your quarter plan and your year's plan. Then, if you want to have a really productive day, make sure you start with your vision. Once you've got your vision, predominantly, you can break your time down into three categories.

I've spoken about this before, again going to detail, but you can break it down into revenue strategy and admins. Let me explain what each of those three pots is. First of all, revenue is how you are earning money this month. 

Then, this is all the client work that you are doing, and obviously, you need to make sure you schedule time in your diary for that. If you don't think about your time in terms of these three pots, there's a really good chance that your week will get swallowed up with the revenue activity the client work. Then, before you know it, you're stuck on the client service hamster wheel of doom with no time to think about anything else. So, equally important, you need to allocate time in your diary for strategy.

Strategy is how you're going to earn money in the future. This would be business development, marketing, sales, client meetings, networking, creating content and all that great stuff. Also, it's super important that you block time out in your data to do that. 

The third part is admin. As an owner of a business, you don't want to spend too much time in this. Although, if you don't spend any time in admin, then you're going to be running a very disorganised business. Then typically, going to spend 5% to 10% of your time in admin, and this looks like getting your invoices out, doing HR, getting your systems in place, managing your team and all that kind of stuff.

Make sure you allocate time for those three things. Then, we start with our bigger picture, vision. We break that down, and then we allocate time in our diary for revenue strategy and admin. That's all the bigger picture stuff. Once you've done that, you can then start to plan out your day. 

Now, my next productivity hack is a really important one. A lot of people just create their long to-do lists. They look at their to-do list every day and they start working through it, then they probably cross off five things and add seven more onto it. There's never a sense of satisfaction because the list gets longer or there are lots of things left on the previous day's page. 

Also, there's always that nagging feeling. Am I doing the right things? Am I doing the things that will move my business forward? Then, my advice to you is to plan out your day and assign times to those particular items you can do in your day. Literally, go 9:00 to 9:30, I'm doing this. 9:30 to 10:30, I'm doing that. 10:30 to 11:00, I'm doing this. 11:00 to 12:00, I'm going to walk the dog. I put all of that stuff in my plan.

The key here is to overestimate how long you think things will take, so that leaves you with a chance that you get that phone call that you hadn't planned for. Basically, we need to plan for all things that we don't know as well as the things we do know. By overestimating how long you think the task will take you can compensate for all those other things that happened during your day which you couldn't possibly know at the beginning of your day. This is something that has a really big impact on my clients when I worked through this with them and it clearly had a massive impact on me. I use a tool where I can connect with my diary, so it pulls in all of my appointments. Then I can plan my day around there.

Also, I think about revenue, admin and strategy when I'm doing that to make sure I'm getting a balance of earning money this month doing client work but also planning for the future with all my marketing and my business development activities. That's my next productivity tip, which is to plan your day down to the nearest half an hour. Overestimate how long things will take, and you can make sure you're taking every single item off by the end of the day. 

Now, the next thing I do is, which I've spoken about before, I use morning and evening rituals, and this is where I do my planning. A ritual is simply starting and ending your day in exactly the same way. That kind of starts your day in a really positive way, and then force stops your day at the end of the day, especially when we're working at home. Then, you feel like you finished your day and you can go and socialise with your family afterwards. So, you've got a sense that you have completed that and. Not kind of slowly easing out of your day and never really having that clear definition between when you're working and when you're not working. 

My morning rituals are pretty simple. First of all, I always make myself a cup of coffee. That is the most important thing. Then I come and I look at my plan for the day. I checked my emails to see if any emails are going to impact my day. Then close my emails and delete them down as much as I possibly can. Then I look at the kind of things I want to achieve. 

Now, one thing that I would really encourage you to do when you're doing your morning ritual and you're planning your day is to say, “What are my top three goals that I want to achieve today?” If I achieve nothing else, I'm going to achieve these top three goals. For example, today one of my goals is to record this episode of the podcast. That would be one of my top three goals identified in my morning ritual. Then at the end of the day, my evening ritual is kind of a similar thing; check my emails, check my to-do list, start scheduling a skeleton for tomorrow, close my computer down, close all my apps, shut my computer down. That is the full stop to the end of my day. 

Those are some of the bigger picture, a kind of productivity hacks that I do in terms of planning and being organised. Making sure I'm focused on the right things. I'm talking of focus. That's the next sort of topic that I want to talk about in this podcast and the next set of productivity hacks.

First of all, I said to set three goals for each day. The next thing I do, which is super important and you have to be really disciplined to do this is, first of all, I use time blocking. When I'm doing something like this, well this obviously it's going to take me as long as it's going to take to record it, but If I'm writing, for example, I will use the concept of time blocking where I will set the timer on my phone or an app.

If you've got one of those apps to time, I'll sell it for 20 minutes and I will turn off all my distractions, then will just work on writing quickly for that 20 minutes to see how much I can get done. I won't edit and I'll just write quickly. Then, at the end of that 20 minutes, I'll take a break for five minutes and then I will come back and will do 20 minutes again. Take another break of five minutes and will do 20 minutes again. Take another break of five minutes, so I usually time block in an hour and 15 minutes slots.

Three sets of 20 minutes. 20 minutes is really a good block of time because it's enough time for you to do some meaningful work and dumpy. Stay completely focused on the task at hand, but it's not so much time that you start worrying that your phone might be ringing, which is on silent or email might be pinging in which you've turned off. It's enough time to do some meaningful work, but not so much time that it's intrusive.

The whole point of time blocking is you keep your head in the game of the thing that you're doing, and you will find that you are much more effective as a result of it. Then,  batching kind of takes that one step further and if you can get really organised. I must confess this is always an aspiration for me and one that I don't always achieve. 

But the idea of time batching would be that you would do a number of the same things in one go because your head is in the zone of that thing, so it could be for me. It could be recording a podcast. Then, instead of recording one podcast a week, I might say, okay, once every four weeks, I'm going to spend a whole day recording four or five podcasts one after another and occasionally do this, but I don't do it to that extent. Though, that's my aspiration for this year.

Then, the whole premise of that is if you've got your recording studio set up in your mind, setting in the space of recording your podcasts, then it becomes much easier and more efficient to do a lot of them. I certainly do that on a smaller scale with my emails, so I will use the time blocking approach that I've just discussed. I will then try and write three emails in those three cycles of 20 minutes, and that might be three weeks worth of emails again because my head's in the zone of writing emails.

On that note, I think a really important point to make is there is no such thing as multitasking. Then, people talk about how great they are at multi-tasking and they brag about it's their badge of honour that they can do 10 things at once, well, actually, no one can. In fact, if you are multitasking, then you are not paying attention. For example, if you're listening to this podcast or watching this video, and at the same time you're answering your emails, you're either paying attention to me or you're paying attention to your email. You can't do both. 

If you're trying to do your emails while you're listening to me, then you're probably not going to do your emails very well. You're certainly not going to be as efficient as if you were just focused on doing your emails or just focused on learning from this podcast, so there is no such thing as multitasking, just multi-distractions. Then, my encouragement to you is to use all the time blocking and the planning that I've talked about. Just focus on the task at hand and then deal with the other things after you finish that task. You're going to get really focused by doing that, and you'll recognise that there's no such thing as multitasking. Do one task at a time and you'll be much more efficient. 

To that end, we also need to remove distractions. We human beings are losing the battle against all the software and the apps that are fighting for our time, the social media channels and your emails pinging up. Also, people tell themselves these stories that we can't possibly remove those distractions or yes, you can. I would certainly encourage you to turn off the email dialogue box that pings up in the corner of your screen when a new email comes in.

You really don't need to see that. That is a massive distraction that will take you from the task at hand and divert you to think, “I'll just answer that email. What does that customer want?” It would be better if you just turn your email notification off like I have right now and just have set points in your day where you check your emails. Then, manage your customers' expectations to say, “I check my emails four times a day and I'll get back to you within 12 hours”, which is what I tell my clients, so you don't need to have all these things that are fighting for your attention.

You need to turn your phone on silent. You need to turn off your email except when you're checking your emails. You need to turn off all those other notifications that ping up on your computer during the day that are fighting for your attention. Because, as I said, we are losing that battle. Then, that's my next productivity hack; remove your distractions. Be brave. Stop telling yourself these stories that you're really important, and you must therefore have all these things open because a client might be trying to get hold of you on WhatsApp, slack, some other chat forum, email or on your phone.

Well, you need to train your clients to have realistic expectations. You need to realise that you're not so important and that you can turn these distractions off. Okay, in terms of getting focused, my next productivity hack is just simply remembering that when you say yes to something, you're saying no to something else. I heard this phrase on the podcast years ago, and it's really stuck with me. I use it all the time to kind of benchmark the things that I do. If I say yes to this, I'm saying no to that.

Then, consider really carefully, what you say “yes” to. Be willing to say no more often, and that gives you the space to say yes to the things that are really important in your day. That's a really great one that's almost worth writing on a post-it note and sticking it on your screen, “When I say yes to something, I'm saying no to something else.” 

My next productivity hack kind of takes us back to email, and this is simply to try and clean out your email box every single day. Make sure you want to aim for inbox zero. It means at the end of every day, during your evening ritual, you clear out your emails and you're completely emptying fresh for the next day. I know that a lot of those, including me, fail at this. I go through fits and starts trying it, but it is a really good aspiration to many of us, use our inbox as a storage place and we worry about deleting things because we think we might need them again. 

However, imagine if you were having posts coming to your house everyday. Then, rather than opening that post, filing, deleting, throwing away or actioning it, you just let it gather until you had 1000 letters waiting for you to deal with them. Well, that's kind of what's going on in your inbox. Try in your morning ritual to clear out your emails; to action them and file them. Then your evening ritual does the same thing so that you are starting and ending every day with inbox zero. A good aspiration to work towards, even if you don't quite achieve it.

The last point I wanted to make around being focused is that our most precious commodity, our time. We need to use it really wisely which is why I really like the idea of having your top three goals for the day that you focused on. Having your vision that you translate down. That means you know you're doing the things that move the needle forward for your business. 

The last thing I wanted to talk about regarding your time is the fact that you want to qualify your prospects really well so that you only invest your time with those prospects when they're well enough qualified. Now, this is something that I teach all of my private coaching clients and my group coaching programme members; how to do it because it's really important. Too many of us are run ragged, attending meetings with prospects that turn out to be not a good fit for us or they turn out to be too early in their journey. Then, they're just in fact find mode, and we've now invested a bunch of time educating them to only find out they don't have the budget or they're not ready or they're not a good fit.

You want to use tools to help you qualify those people and educate those people before you invest your time. That is because our time is our most precious commodity and there are only 24 hours in a day. It certainly isn't big or clever to be working seven days a week and10 hour days that it means you're just not working smartly. One of the ways of working smartly is to qualify your leads better so that you are investing your time in the hot prospects and not the fact finders.

The next thing I wanted to talk about is delegation and we all need to be delegating. If you're a one-person business or a freelancer, then you might be thinking, “Yeah, but, Rob, I have no one to delegate to.” Well, think about a point in your business where you can hire a VA. You can get some really great VAs. Don't need to be local to you. They can be anywhere. My VA team is based predominantly in the Philippines, and they can take so much work off your place.

All of those mundane tasks, those repeatable tasks that need to be done, your VA team can do them. My VA team does some of my social media posts. They design a lot of my content. They edit this podcast. They reconfirm my weekly meetings. All the things that I am not very good at doing but really are important to be done. Then, delegate as much as you possibly can.

If you don't have VA at the moment or you don't want to have VA then just start thinking about the four Ds, which is, do I really need to do this, or can I ditch her? Do I really need to do this, or can I delegate it? Do I really need to do this right now, or can I defer it? And then the fourth D, do it. Then, if you just kind of run that across any task, you won't just be racing through a to-do list. Just trying to get everything done. You'll actually be thinking. Well, actually, no. This doesn't need to be done today, or it doesn't need to be done at all or I can delegate it to somebody else.

I've always added the fifth element to the four D's, which is an A, which is for automate because there are lots of things that we can do these days to automate repeatable processes, and we want to get smart about doing that. Then, that is a really important kind of productivity hack, which is to start delegating as much as you can. You could spend £100 or £200 a month on a VA to take some of your tasks off of you. 

If you're a freelancer and you're thinking you can't afford to hire somebody, then you probably can't afford to hire someone to get some of those lower-value tasks off your play, leaving you time to do the higher-value tasks. I would talk about your notional alley rate. I've recorded a podcast on that before and are linked to the show notes to that episode so that you can listen to that if you want to. But the idea of a notional alley rate is what is an hour of your time worth. If you're doing tasks that are worth less than an hour then someone else should be doing them. You want to be focused on tasks that are worth your hourly rate or more. Then, that's my next productivity hack, which is delegate. 

The last topic or the last category I want to talk about is software and tools, because I know I said earlier that all these apps are fighting for our time, but of course, they can help our productivity. As I said, I use a tool for my daily task planning called Marvin. I'll link to that in the show notes. It's a great tool. It connects with my diary, can use up my phone and on my computer, so that's what I use for my day to day planning. 

I also use Asana as my project management tool. This is the tool that I use to plan with my VA team and for them to communicate with me where we're at, for me to review documents and be alerted when something is waiting for my approval. Then, that is really good. 

We also use WhatsApp as a way to communicate in a more instant way. This really cuts down on the number of emails. In fact, I don't send, I would say maybe one or two emails a week to my VA team, and the rest of our communication is done by Asana and by WhatsApp. Also, this just really cuts down on your inbox and helped me get to Inbox zero even more easily. 

Then, the other thing I wanted to talk about which I sort of talked about before is my reMarkable. It is a very revolutionary tool for me that has helped me completely become a paperless office. I don't know about you, but I am pretty disorganised. What I will do is I'll be on the phone with somebody, I'll find a scrap of paper, write something down, and then I can't find it again. Then, it drives me nuts. 

Having the reMarkable, which is basically electronic paper, so it's not like an iPad or something like that, all it is good for is writing on it. It gives you an experience of writing that is this close to a pen on paper or pencil on paper as you can possibly get. Also, you can file stuff and you can send stuff to yourself. It syncs up with a desktop app. You can translate handwritten text into a text, and let's see it in a document. 

It is really good, and I can't say enough about the reMarkable. It revolutionised my life. Many of my clients have gone out and bought their remarkable because of me talking about it. I don't have shares in reMarkable. I just think it's a remarkable tool, so that is something that has definitely helped me totally become a paperless office.

I think in the past year, I haven't bought one printer cartridge because I just don't print anything anymore. I can find stuff that's the most important thing. You can obviously search for documents and create filing systems on there. Then, tools like the reMarkable, Asana, WhatsApp, my daily task management tools are pieces of software that have helped me be more efficient. Now, the kind of apps and software that you want to use has to be easy to use, integrates into your process, your daily processes and aids you. Sometimes software can offer so much functionality that is really complex to use. That's not the kind of software that I think will help your productivity. 

Okay, so there you go. That is, in a short sort of 20 minutes nutshell of all of the tools, approaches and techniques that I'm using. Our productivity hacks help me be more efficient. I would love to hear from you what productivity hacks that you use if I've missed one out. So, do drop me an email or leave a comment if you're watching this as a video, and I would love to hear from you, but other than that, please make sure that you hit subscribe.

If you're watching this on video, please make sure you subscribe to the podcast. I'd love you to leave a review because that helps me reach more people and helps me help more people. And other than that, I will see you next week on the next episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast. 

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