Give it your best shot for just 15 minutes

A major challenge faced by people who work with a computer is how to work on a task while resisting the urge to open a browser window or watch a film. Companies have tried to address it by configuring office laptops such that social media, video streaming sites and games are inaccessible. That hasn’t really stopped the desperate. Unless you work in a customer-facing role in a bank, there is often no restriction on cellphone usage in most offices.

Tired man staring at screen
That screen had better have interesting content
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The tortoise always wins

Everyone has heard the fable of the tortoise and the hare. It has been shared since time immemorial and has often been the subject of different interpretations, including some hilarious cartoons. Very briefly, the tale goes as follows. The tortoise and the hare agreed to take part in a race. The hare confident in his victory decided to take a nap under a tree. While he was sleeping, the tortoise slowly crept by and overtook his opponent. By the time the hare woke up and made a dash for the finish line, the tortoise had already won the race.

Tortoise beats hare
Confident in his victory, the hare paused to sleep

This fable is rich in productivity principles. Let’s pick them out.

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Why do people struggle to be productive

Since I began publishing this blog, I have had quite a few conversations about personal productivity. I have had the opportunity to listen to people talk about their productivity challenges. Occasionally, I have also heard how someone applied something they read on my blog and how it helped them in their lives. Through all this, I have kept wondering why do people struggle to be more productive.

Now here nowhere
Where are you headed?
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Communicate communicate communicate

One of the most important skills we need in a world of information overload is good communication. The average person is bombarded with so much information that crucial bits can go ignored. How often have you sent an email with important information only for it to go unhindered because it was hidden beneath so many paragraphs of noise.

Are you speaking or are you making noise?
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Keep your friends close and your to-do list closer

Where is your to-do list for the day? As I type this post, I can take a quick glance at mine on my favourite note-taking app, Evernote. On the go, it’s available on my mobile phone. It automatically syncs across my devices so I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. I go to great lengths to make sure I have my to-do list with me wherever I am. That’s because out of all the productivity tools in my box, the to-do list has proven a life saver.

A to-do list
Ready to cross the next task off
Continue reading “Keep your friends close and your to-do list closer”

Stop being busy and start being productive

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.

Does not equal productive
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Productivity means being prepared to do your best

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.

Don't try to be perfect. Just do your best
Wherever you are
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How many cellphone-hours in a day?

“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.

There’s an app for everything
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Do what matters first

Priority

In the famous book “Eat that frog” by Brian Tracy, the author advocates that you should start your morning with the task that you are most likely to procrastinate on because you consider it the most difficult part of your day. The logic is if you had to eat a live frog first thing in the morning then you can go through the rest of your day knowing the worst of it is behind you.

I am a great advocate of this philosophy. I believe in utilising your early morning hours to get your most important tasks done. Even if that’s the only thing you got done that day, you can smile when you do your evening review because you know you got one task that mattered out of the way.

A frog on a leaf
Frogs are best eaten first thing in the morning
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Learn to say “No” (ii)

No

Last week’s article was about the power of “No.” A simple word but with great power to help you take control of your schedule. Hopefully by now, you have had some practice with saying “No.” The goal is to eventually reach a level where you learn to say “yes” to opportunities and “no” to distractions.

With practice, it’s easy to know when to politely redirect your colleague’s offer for last minute help on a project they had two months to work on. Outside the workplace, however, it can become more difficult to decide which tasks to give up. Let’s examine the following list:

  • Take minutes of the meeting of market women’s association.
  • Service the generator at the orphanage
  • Do the book keeping for the Youth association
  • Read to five year olds at the library
  • Deliver the opening speech at your nephew’s speech and prize giving day

Continue reading “Learn to say “No” (ii)”