We all have things we’d like to do. So many in fact that I always recommend writing them down in a to-do list. A well-designed to-do list not only lets you capture all the vague tasks you’d like to do at some point, it also lets you prioritise what to work on now and what can wait.
One of the most powerful productivity illustrations is called an Eisenhower matrix. I have talked about it in previous posts but I will provide a sample under here in case you aren’t familiar with the matrix.
How much progress have you made towards your personal development plan for the year? Did you complete your tasks for the week? If you can answer these questions without having to do some digging, congratulations you are ahead of most people already.
Many people make lists. New years’ resolutions are an often joked about list. They represent a classic example of what happens to most lists. People write them down, then forget about them. The act of writing down what you intend to do has been shown to increase the likelihood of achieving that thing. However, if you really want to get more done, you will have to make sure your lists are living documents.
“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
John Lydgate (Quote famously adapted by Abraham Lincoln)
One of the most powerful words in the vocabulary of personal productivity is saying “No.” The simple act of knowing when and how to say “No” can save you from committing yourself to doing tasks you should not be doing in the first place.
In one of the Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf cartoons, the two main characters come in to work in the morning, punch in their time cards and begin cartoon antics. At the end of the day, they punch out their cards (and are humorously replaced by an identical looking Night shift pair).
In those days, it was easy. Everyone knew how many hours they were paid to work. They came to work and left by the clock. At the end of the day, work could be left in the office and picked up the next day. There was no need to discuss work-life balance because work and life were two different spheres that almost never intersected.
“There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.”
The most productive people are not effective because they do every thing. Instead, highly productive people have become effective because they acknowledge there are things they should not be doing in the first place.
We all have a few hours each day to get things done. The good news is not all tasks have the same priority. The bad news is a lot of people don’t stop to figure out what is important and what is trivial.
A humorous anecdote goes that a project team once finished a Government project on time only to find out that no one from the Government was ready to accept the finished product because the Civil Service had assumed based on wealth of experience that the project will not be finished on time. The Story may or may not be true but it serves as a useful reminder of a tendency among many people to underestimate the amount of work required to get a task done. This is especially true at the beginning of a complex task when you may only have a vague idea of the requirements.
An email is a to-do list that someone writes on. In the modern workplace, you can’t escape emails. They have become such a huge productivity drain that people attend courses just to learn how to manage their inbox. When you receive an email, it often comes with a task attached to it. Working on an email task immediately is not always the best response. If you choose to prioritise tasks set for you by someone else, as opposed to tasks you have set for yourself, how will you ensure the important tasks get done. Depending on the nature of the email you receive, you have 3 options for dealing with the task that comes along with it:
The average human being gets around 6,200 thoughts per day. That’s a lot of potential ideas each waking cycle. While the human brain is quite good at coming up with fresh thoughts and new ideas, it is not very good at remembering them. To illustrate this, let me give you an example. You are in the middle of an animated conversation with a colleague at lunch. Halfway through making a point, another colleague interrupts. The new arrival asks you for some random bit of information which you dutifully supply. By the time you turn to your gossip partner, you have already forgotten the point you were making and with it the chance to share an amusing anecdote. Does it sound familiar?
One of the most important concepts in personal productivity is time management. Time management is a core skill that once mastered enables you to get more done in a week than most people do in a month while still having time to rest. Despite its importance in personal productivity, time management is a concept that is often misunderstood by many people. This is because the term time management, despite its popularity, is a misnomer. You can own a wristwatch but you can’t manage time. Even if you do nothing, the second hand of your watch will keep moving. Nobody can stop time.
“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.