Irish Independent, January 19th 2018
Many books have been written about time management and productivity and all writers agree on one thing – you’re never going to get it all done.
As soon as you cross one task off the ‘to do list’, another is added, and an endless list can be overwhelming. Quite often the tasks that will bring the greatest results and most happiness are the ones that we put on the long finger.
So how do we resolve this? We start by identifying the most valuable tasks and discipline ourselves to do them first. We then look at tasks that we can delegate, automate or even abandon. By figuring out what’s halting our progress, we can work on changing our non-productive habits.
The following tips will help you to assess and improve your productivity.
Manage Tasks not Time
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my mentor, Bob Proctor, is that we don’t really manage time. Everyone gets the same twenty-four hours in a day. The ability to prioritize, plan and pick key value activities is what equips successful people to achieve more in a day than others. Review your list and place the tasks that will reap the most reward at the top, and don’t think about the time they will take. Managing tasks is key to being productive.
Most of us procrastinate over tasks, especially challenging ones that will make the most difference to our business or work. We leave them until the last minute, constantly thinking of them not being done. By tackling a hard task first thing in the morning, you will get ten times more done through the day. The satisfaction that we get from completing major tasks gives us a confidence boost and induces eagerness to do more. Overcoming a sizable hurdle early in the day deems everything else a ‘piece of cake’, which you can do with ease and efficiency.
Devised by an Italian economist, the Pareto principle says that 20pc of what we do creates 80pc of our results. Two out of ten daily tasks can produce more value than the remaining eight, which take the same amount of time. We tend to focus on the amount of tasks done rather than the value of the outcome from each task. Walking the dog and washing the dishes may account for two tasks but they will not produce more value in your job or business. Ask yourself what are the tasks that will have the biggest consequences, either by doing them or neglecting them.
Plan at night
The old adage “fail to plan, plan to fail” applies here too. Ten/fifteen minutes of planning and prioritizing before bed will save you putting time into activities that don’t make a huge difference to your career or personal life. Write a list of at least 6 activities every night and make sure at least one of these is a challenging task you’ve been procrastinating about and make sure to put it first on the list.
Most productivity experts and authors conclude that if you hold focus on one task at a time, you’ll do more in less time. The key to holding focus is cutting out distraction, which can come in many forms from phone calls to emails or social media.
The internet is a fantastic tool but in equal measure an instrument of great distraction for many. Interruptions cause us to go back and forth and lose concentration, which can ultimately lead to stress, frustration and burnout. Identify your distractions, be they phone, internet or family and allocate a time and place when you will not be distracted. Now you can focus on the task in hand.
Focus – don’t procrastinate
Do you have a habit of procrastinating, leaving most important and challenging tasks until last and then burning a midnight candle trying to get these done? Maybe you can’t stop surfing the net? Make a firm decision to identify these time wasters and start replacing them.
A focus exercise will help you develop the skill of holding attention on one thing at a time, and you can start replacing your distracting habit by performing the exercise. This way you are getting double benefits. Take one minute to sit and place your attention on a spot on the wall. Use a timer if necessary, hold your gaze and bring your attention to this point. Repeat at least once a day over 30 consecutive days and observe your increased focus, calmness of mind and smooth movement through your to do lists.
Improve Strengths, Delegate Weakness
Most of us spend time working on our area of weaknesses, rather than nourishing our strengths. However, if we focus on strengths that are core to our job or business, this will be more satisfying and productive. For example, if you dread accounts and book keeping, they can cause worry and negativity which will halt your productivity. It is much more efficient to delegate the book keeping and focus on getting on with what you do best and what makes you happy. Look at all your tasks and filter them into the ones you are good at and the ones you dread and the ones that do neither. Look at ways of outsourcing, delegating or automating tasks that drain you and save your energy for what you do best.
If overwhelmed with a lot of things to do, we can end up in ‘fight or flight’ mode, which causes blood to pump from the brain into our feet and hands. We want to fight or run, rather than think clearly how we can execute further tasks. As long as we keep saying ‘I can’t do it’ the mind will remain stressed. Say to yourself ‘I can and I will do things one at a time’. This calmness will make you ten times more productive. You can cultivate calmness of mind with meditation and the focus exercise outlined above in tip six.
Fit body, Fit mind
Productivity is as much about our well-being as managing tasks. Exercise, healthy food and regular rest improves our thinking, creativity and ability to prioritize, which enables us to do 10 times more in a short space of time. Including a daily slot for exercise – even 30 minutes – will make you feel refreshed and increase your output. You will find yourself able to successfully complete quality work in a shorter period of time, rather than forcing yourself and slowly dragging your heels to produce average quality output. If you feel fit and fresh your mind will follow suit and your productivity will naturally increase.
Learn to say No
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Many of us have a habit of saying yes to requests without assessing their worth. Value your time. Before committing ask yourself: ‘is this invite or activity key to completing my tasks or does it distract me from doing work that will get the job done?’ Lunchtime chats or attending events with no real value can cost you valuable family or exercise time later in the evening. If you have already overcommitted, don’t be afraid to renegotiate rather than burning yourself out.
Excess clutter and information causes confusion, which can make us feel overwhelmed and not knowing where to start. Ensuring your workspace is clean, neat and inviting will make you want to spend time there. Remove all documents and rubbish and make the space supportive of clear thinking.
Tidy up your desktop and organize emails in folders so that you don’t feel overwhelmed with hundreds of unopened messages. It’s much easier to get things done in a clean clear space.
You can accomplish much more in less time by getting help with the tasks that you’re are not good at. Don’t set out to re-invent the wheel. Often we try to work out patterns and efficient ways of doing new tasks on our own, when we could simply ask someone that has done it already. Identify tasks that you can automate. We live in a smart world with amazing technology, applications and systems that can replace hours of work. For example, if you have an event coming up and want to post daily on social media, you can preset this on the platform. Always look for smart ways to make your life and list easier. Box clever and enjoy being a relaxed productive person.