Get it out of your head

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?

A lightbulb
What was I thinking again?
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The clock keeps ticking (i)

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.

A wristwatch face
If only the hand could stop
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Work hard but only on the right things

“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.

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Tomorrow takes care of itself

Tomorrow

“The future is to be lived, not prearranged.”

Luke Skywalker (In Star Wars Legends)

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.

a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored.
How long will you chase the myth?
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What does your Thursday look like?

Weekly Planner

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.

Weekly planner
My week captured in Trello
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Work smarter, not harder

Work smart not hard

Due to the ongoing pandemic, a lot of people are still working from home. If you have failed to put in place a system for keeping track of the hours you clock in while working from home, you might find yourself working longer hours than you used to yet still achieving less. People have told me they have attended back to back online meetings all day. On the surface, this looks like a productive day but if all they did was attend meetings, when are they supposed to work on their important tasks. No one is hired to attend meetings.

A hand ticking a checklist
Did all your important tasks today get done?
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Is your productivity off (ii)?

An icon of a crying figure sitting at a desk with a pile of papers

Last week, I wrote about how we all have days with low productivity and why you shouldn’t beat yourself up too much if you have a single off day once in a while. If, however, all your days are starting to look like a chore, you may need to ask yourself a few questions. Some of the reasons you suddenly find yourself unable to finish scheduled tasks could be:

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What did you do this morning?

Sunrise

“Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

St Francis of Assisi

I’m a big fan of the early morning hours. I relish getting as much tasks as I can out of the way before noon. There is something about the first few hours of the day when you are awake that provides a huge productivity rush. For me, it tends to be the hours when I have the fewest distractions. Whose house am I going to visit or call at that hour? I have also just woken up from a good night’s rest and I am ready to tackle a difficult task.

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Nobody works well under pressure

Working under pressure is last minute time management

We have all met someone who proudly declared they work well under pressure. The sort of people who boldly put it on their CV and expect to be rewarded for it. They are most likely the sort of people who annoy colleagues to no end by submitting work five minutes to the deadline and expect to be given a round of applause for it. You may have convinced yourself being able to work under pressure is a skill. Perhaps you also believe you possess that skill. Let me burst your bubble. It is not.

A man in a suit struggling to meet a deadline
You under pressure keeping people waiting

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What do you do with your downtime?

A clockface

Do you have some downtime this week? I’m sure if you thought more careful about how you spend your days, you could probably find 30 minutes on most days when you are not really doing anything. Do you have any unfinished tasks on your to-do list from last week? It could be an annoying task you have been putting off for a few days such as dropping off your laundry or rearranging the books on your shelf. What if you chipped away at those catch up tasks for 30 minutes each day during your downtime?

A person sleepy in front of a laptop
A lot of downtime is spent on idle browsing

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