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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Write it down

My boss once told me “The faintest pencil is stronger than the sharpest memory.” The human brain is a very powerful supercomputer. Not once does it stop working throughout your life. Every second, the brain processes a lot of information and controls many things you are not even aware of such as heart rate. Latest estimates suggest the brain has up to 2.5 petabytes (Google it) of storage space. Despite possessing this unfathomable amount of memory, the brain is not good at keeping ideas.

I’d trust one over my brain every day
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Downsize. Delegate. Delete.

I have observed that when people are informed they are not productive, the natural tendency is for them to take on more tasks almost as if they felt by showing they could complete a lot more tasks, they will be seen as productive team members. In a way, they are right. Productive people do complete tasks. However, they do NOT try to do everything. It may seem counterintuitive but sometimes the best way to become more productive is to do less. An Accountant doesn’t try to design the company website by themselves. They know that is not the most productive use of their time and skills.

Less is more
Wouldn’t you agree?
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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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Do you have an hour?

A lot of people would like to achieve more each day. They want to do things like building a new habit, starting a new project or writing a blog. Most people say they can’t find time to get started on their goals. Surprisingly, the same set of people somehow find two hours each day to watch funny videos.

People underestimate how much they could achieve in a year if they dedicated just one hour a day to work on a goal. How do productive people find time to do the things that matter?

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Afraid to start

Procrastination is a problem we all have to deal with every day. It is like the hydra, the multi-headed creature from Greek mythology. Cut off one head and another sprouts in its stead, more ferocious and cunning than the one before it. One form that procrastination takes is fear: the fear to get started on a task. An individual may delay getting started on a task simply so they can think about all the ways it can go wrong. If you have found yourself doing this often, rest assured chances are you are chasing phantoms. Even if you fail, the outcome is rarely as bad as you imagine. How do you defeat that fear?

Emp
That mountain of paperwork isn’t going to take care of itself
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Work-life balance vs Work-life integration

For the longest time, personal productivity experts have advocated the achievement of work-life balance as the pinnacle of productivity. They argued that work should be treated as a separate space disconnected from personal life. The productive worker, they said, was one who completed their tasks for the day before closing time, clocked out and went home to spend time with their family. Work was not to be touched at home until they returned to the office the next day. This sharp separation of work and personal life was easier to achieve before the advent of the internet when workers were generally unreachable after office hours.

Stacked stones
Are your work and life in balance?
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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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