“As you climb the ladder of success, be sure it is leaning against the right building.”
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Management Consultant, Peter Drucker once said “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently something that should not have been done at all.” Drucker’s ideas eventually lead to what is now called outsourcing ie a company should focus on only those activities that are essential to its business and that it can do well. Anything else should be contracted out to other companies. The result would be improved business for every company as each firm focused on what it could do best.
Activity does not always equal productivity. The rise in number of online meetings has created a unique problem. People spend all day attending back-to-back meetings. An extreme case was someone who by virtue of having to attend meetings with different teams across different time zones was getting only 3 hours of sleep per day. That’s certainly a busy lifestyle. Is your busyness leading to more productive results? No one is paid to attend meetings but meetings can be very comforting because they give the illusion of work being done.
I remember in Junior Secondary School during assembly we often had to sing a song that began “Do your best and leave the rest.” I was tempted to attach a voice file of myself singing the full song. Luckily, saner heads have talked me out of it. That song got me thinking, in order to reach peak productivity, you need to first choose what to focus on, then give it your best, even when no one is watching.
“Well we really do spend most of our time on our phones. I personally would have to strike a balance.”
Comment left by a reader of last week’s post
The birth of the smartphone changed the way we live. Prior to that, cellphones were just miniature telephones. You could use one to send text messages and some of them came with pre-installed games but their primary function was to make calls.
As technology advanced, the cellphone became capable of much more than making calls. The birth of social media and mobile applications turned smartphones into the equivalent of a playground or office you could carry in your pocket. Eventually, the smartphone replaced the pocket calculator, camera, calendar, post office and even the banking hall.
Have you ever felt like you needed a few more hours in a day? Like if you had just that extra 60 minutes each day, you will be able to work on your goal. It’s a common sentiment among many people. If you are one of them, I have good news for you. You probably have more spare time than you think. Nobody is productive for 24 hours each day.
One of the most dangerous mindsets for productivity is the belief that you are too busy to plan. Nothing could be more damaging to achieving your goals than not having a plan. A popular refrain goes “A goal without a plan is merely a wish.” A plan is the bridge that turns your goals into reality.
When you say you do not have time to plan, what you are really saying is:
Your goal is not important enough for you to take the time to write down the steps needed to achieve it.
You do not have any priorities therefore you might as well not commit to anything.
You are willing to let others dictate what you will work on during the week.
Everyone is an expert at wishing for exactly what they want. The student who refuses to study until a day to the exam wishes for an A. The man who refuses to exercise wishes for a muscular figure. Some people go a step further to write down what they wish for. It’s called a New years’ resolution. After that, nothing changes because nothing happens.
For most people, what stops them from acting on their plans is not a lack of interest or a willingness to change. It is a lack of self-discipline. It takes great mental power to be able to say “No” to lying down at home instead of going to the gym.
It seems counterproductive to suggest you should not spend too much time planning for the future. Productivity is all about making plans and breaking them down into as many small steps as possible so you can follow through. Let me make it clear that I am not saying you should stop making plans and just wing it. I’d never do it and I’d never ask you to try that too.
There is such a thing as a planning horizon though. If you plan too far ahead into the future, you are more likely to be wrong. Experts tend to agree that a planning horizon beyond two weeks is likely to be wrong. Most people have a pretty good idea where they will be for the rest of the week but don’t do so well when trying to predict where they will be a month or two from now. Life throws up so many complications and unexpected events that you are likely to be wrong. An extreme example of this happened early this year. People made plans. The pandemic wrecked those plans.
The secret to having a productive week is simple: Plan your week in advance. A lot of people spend the weekends having fun and resting. That’s OK. Taking time to rest is an essential part of staying productive. However, taking 15 minutes every Sunday evening to plan your week can give your life much needed direction.
Make a list of the tasks you wish to accomplish during the week. Assign those tasks to the days you intend to work on them. That’s it.
Craig Jarrow of Time Management Ninja said “I don’t have time isn’t an excuse. Rather, it is a choice to do something else.” Each day, you face a multitude of choices. Writing a to-do list is a choice. Doing the tasks you write is another choice.