Tie tasks to long-term goals

To-do lists are a very useful tool for completing tasks. You wouldn’t catch me at work without one. However, if they have, one disadvantage, it is that they can encourage short-term thinking where the aim becomes completing as many low-value tasks as possible each day so you can have the satisfaction of crossing many items off your list. In order to be most effective, your to-do lists have to be tied to a larger system: Long-term goals.

to-do list
Wouldn’t be caught without one
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The lights are on (ii)

Last week, I wrote about a vexing problem for many knowledge workers: Disengagement from work. Sometimes, despite your most well-meaning efforts, you zone out from work because you have either failed to find value in what you do or the work no longer challenges you. If you currently find yourself in this scenario, all is not lost. There are some steps you can take to re-engage with what you do.

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The lights are on (i)

“Well I should have thought that being bored stiff for three quarters of the time was an excellent preparation for working life.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby (From Yes, Prime Minister)

No matter what line of work you are in, it is essential that you are able to see some value in what you do. Those who do not, quickly become disengaged. Disengaged workers aren’t productive. They come to work not because they want to but because they have to. They are more likely to show up and zone out. Someone I worked with once joked about team members who logged on to the weekly staff meeting, muted their mics and continued watching tv series. I find that a perfect working definition of a disengaged worker. For them, the weekly meeting had become something to be endured but not to be engaged with.

Broadly speaking, I’d say workers disengage because of two reasons:

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What are you measuring: business or busyness?

In a famous scene from the 1999 Comedy, Office Space, Protagonist Peter Gibbons admits to two Management Consultants that in a given week, he only does about 15 minutes of actual work. It might be amusing to ponder why he hasn’t been fired but the truth is the average office worker can become quite skilled at appearing busy. If you have ever walked into a government office and were confronted by a Staff sitting behind a table covered with files, you probably have an idea what I mean. The files themselves might not have been touched in months but it gives the Staff an excuse to pull one of them and pretend to be reviewing some important detail anytime a visitor walks in.

Not busyness
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Three Books you should read

This week’s post will be different from all those that came before it. For the first time, I won’t be providing any tips on personal productivity. Instead, I’d like to share three books that I have read and I recommend everyone serious about becoming more effective at what they do should also read. In no specific order, I give you:

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What stopped you from acquiring that new skill (ii)?

Last week, I wrote about the apparent disconnect between a person’s desire to learn a new skill and their ability to commit to a learning program. I also provided four questions to ask yourself if you find yourself dragging your feet over acquiring a new skill. If you haven’t read that post, you might want to do so before this one. This week, I will focus on some of the unique challenges that come from trying to acquire a new skill online.

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What stopped you from acquiring that new skill (i)?

A key characteristic of productive people is that they are always learning new skills. They realise they need to get better at some skills in order to be more effective at what they do. Many people desire to acquire a new skill. Few actually take action to learn that skill. Of those who do, many give up after a few attempts. The desire for self-improvement and the discipline to see it through seem to be two different skills. When you struggle with a new skill, a good place to start is by asking yourself 3 questions:

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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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There is always time to Plan

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:

  1. Your goal is not important enough for you to take the time to write down the steps needed to achieve it.
  2. You do not have any priorities therefore you might as well not commit to anything.
  3. You are willing to let others dictate what you will work on during the week.
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