Less information, more action

When you take on a new project, set a new goal or decide to learn a new skill, chances are you won’t have all the information you need. The good news is with the internet, you have access to a wealth of information. Armed with the right skills and a smartphone, you can do all the research you need while lying in bed. The bad news is the internet is a vast space. The simplest google search returns millions of results. Too much choice can be a bad thing.

Five doors
Information overload makes it harder to choose
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Knowing when to Quit

One of the greatest lies you will ever hear from a motivational speaker is that “Winners never Quit.” According to some people, anyone who quits is forever doomed to join the inescapable path of losers. Such a person, they claim, is not suited for greatness. That’s a lie. Productive people know to leave a goal when it is no longer serving their interest.

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Trim that List

In a perfect world, everyone would have a to-do list guiding their actions. The most productive people create to-do lists so they can identify their important tasks for the day and work on them. I always advocate never going through the day without a list. However, it is possible through well-meaning but misguided efforts to abuse the concept. If you have ever faced anxiety when you look at your to-do list in the morning, this post is for you.

Don't Panic
There’s an easy solution
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What’s your team metric?

What do you work on first thing in the morning? What are your team working on this week? How long did it take you to answer? How many items did you list? In Good to Great, Jim Collins writes “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.” Yet these days it’s quite common to hear Managers talking about team priorities (in plural with emphasis) rather than admitting they have lost sight of the goalpost.

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Emails: A productivity Death trap

First do what is important, then everything else. This could be a maxim for personal productivity. People who prioritise tasks and focus on those that yield the most results (which by definition, are important) are said to be productive. A question for you: Is responding to emails immediately an important task? According to a Mckinsey report, the average professional spends 28% of their work day reading and responding to emails. If you work 8 hours a day, that’s 2 hours dedicated to your inbox. Is that the best use of your time?

Email envelopes
There’s such a thing as too many emails
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Treat the root cause, not the symptom

When we fall sick, we go to a hospital. Doctors ask questions to understand how we feel and based on our symptoms, they make a judgment and recommend a course of treatment. Doctors never try to treat symptoms though. Instead, they treat the root cause: the disease. If you complain of a persistent headache, the doctor doesn’t give you a painkiller and send you on your way. This is because they understand there are many things that can give you a headache. They try to find out what that thing is so they can cure you.

Tree with deep roots
The true problem might lie deeper than you’re looking
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Squeezed into action

Suppose you had a number of tasks on your to-do list but can’t seem to get started on any of them. You know these tasks are important. That’s why you wrote them down in the first place. These are tasks you can’t delegate. The responsibility for getting them done rests with you. What’s one thing you can add to your to-do list to boost your chances of getting those tasks done? A time constraint.

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You’re never too important to sleep

It has become a cliché to start a personal productivity article with the words “Everyone has 24 hours a day.” Beyond time, however, there is also another resource that affects your productivity and of which you also have finite resources. I’m talking about ENERGY. We all have limited reserves of energy that we can draw upon each day. Some have more than others. Others can trick their body into waking up when they’d rather go back to sleep by drinking coffee. Drinking coffee (or worse, energy drinks) on a regular basis will only provide temporary relief.

Need a few more hours?
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How to stay motivated when you’d rather be elsewhere

Self-motivation is the factor that separates the most successful from the mediocre. More than skill or talent, the ability to start a task and keep at it even when you’d rather not is often the key factor that determines those who reach the top of their field. However, knowing this fact is not enough. No one functions at 100% each day. We are all human and we all have limits on how much of an unpleasant task we can perform before our interest wanes. Unfortunately, important tasks tend to come with some degree of unpleasantness. They either take a long time, require careful application of skill, collaboration with others you’d rather avoid or a combination of all three. This can create conditions where a person would rather not start a task because they feel the effort required is not worth the initial reward.

What do you do when you find yourself showing up at work but not being able to push yourself to complete tasks? As it turns out, quite a lot.

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By whose standards?

Three years ago, I was managing a project to teach young people digital skills. One aspect that we invariably touched upon was healthy use of social media. Social media has evolved to become a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s useful for staying in touch with family and friends, receiving quick information and for advertising products. On the other hand, social networks can be huge time wasters, have contributed to decreasing attention spans and can give people a very warped sense of what life is like. Perhaps the most insidious harm social media can do is to create the illusion that other people are achieving great deeds within short periods of time and everyone else who isn’t is a failure.

How do you tell fact from fiction?
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