Productivity is a matter of focus. There are no shortage of distractions in today’s world. I’m amazed at how much time can go by without anything of real value getting accomplished. There have been times in my life where I felt very busy, and I was active all day long, but at the end of the day I still hadn’t completed key work.
I’ve found myself getting very caught up in “activity” and confusing this with “results”. It’s easy to stay busy doing insignificant things. And in the moment these things seem important enough, but they have a way of cannabalizing all your time.
You see this in the corporate world a lot. I’ve had colleagues that spend hours in the office, frittering away time, looking busy, going to meetings, writting stuff down, staying late into the evening and weekends, and in the end, still not getting critical work done.
They are the ones that are quick to mention the long hours they spend at the office. Often sentences begin with, “Last night I was working on this at 9:30 pm…blah, blah, blah…”. Who cares how long you spend in the office?
If you have your own business, you quickly learn the difference between “activity” and “RESULTS”. Because only results matter. And results don’t care how little or how much time you spend on them, or where you get things done. All that matters is that you GET things done.
Step 1 for being more productive is understanding very clearly what the end result is! What must be accomplished and by when? At this step don’t worry about how you will get it done, rather focus on what the final outcome should be. For example if you are going to publish a book. You don’t focus on how you will write it, or what color the cover will be.
The first thing you define is, WHEN will the book be completed? That’s it. You have a result/outcome you are seeking, and you know when it must be accomplished.
If you don’t get clear on the what and the when, you will get distracted and spend 3 hours looking at different covers, and graphics, and all kinds of things. Somehow you end up on Facebook, and then instrgram looking at pictures of kittens in pink sweaters.
If you have multiple things to accomplish, then note these down on a list. Every day you should write down the top 3 things you must get done. And note these in priority order. If you only can get one thing done, make sure that is the one thing you are focused on for the day!
There are 1000 applications, and phone applications for “To Do” lists. I’ve tried no less than 15 of these. In the end I always go back to my hand written list with pencil and paper.
Personally I use the “Black n’ Red” note book with lined paper, and a fine drafting mechanical pencil.
I keep the notebook right next to me and open so that I can see my top 1, 2, and 3 priorities for the day. I like to keep it nearby because it is a constant reminder of what I am focused on for the day.
And of course when I get a task completed, I relish the sweet feeling that comes when I can mark that item done!
That is the best feeling in the world. I usually reward myself with a brief break after I mark a task complete. I want to build as much psychological and physiological satisfaction around obtaining that result as possible. This keeps me on track and working toward the next box I can check. 🙂
Step 2 you remove all distractions. If you are doing computer work, shut down all other windows and only focus on the task at hand. Shut down your phone, turn the ringer off, and put is across the room. Turn off the TV, and iTunes. Remove any and all distractiosn as best you can.
Make sure you are in a reasonably comfortable chair, and in a location where there will not be a lot of noise.
If you are at work and you don’t have an office, and your space is a “human filing cabinet” (aka, “cubicle”) then you are at risk of being assaulted by the “time vampires”. You know, the folks that wander from cube to cube sharing an endless stream of consciousness that includes everything from what they ate last night to the size of the scar on their leg that they got on a tour of duty in the South Seas. I call them time vampires because they suck the time right out of your day.
These types are lovable, but they drive me crazy when I am on focused on a result and I have limited time to get it done. So I put on headphones and that is a signal for the time vampire to go suck the life out of someone else’s day.
If I’m desparate I find an open conference room, and if those aren’t available, I put on the phone headset and act like I’m on a live phone call.
When the T.V. (Time Vampire) approaches me I just point at my headset and mouth “sorry, busy right now!”.
Finally if none of these approaches are working, I just go home and work from my home office. At the end of the day it’s about me getting results and that is what I focus on.
Step 3 is to set a time frame within which to accomplish the result. I like to do work in “sprints” of 20 to 45 minutes and then take a brief break in-between. This is approach is amazing once you master it. The fact is you can accomplish an amazing amount of work in just 20-30 minutes.
You have a remarkable ability to cut out all the fluff and just get to the “meat” of things when you set a deadline.
On the “flip side” you can waste an extraordinarly amount of time when you DON’T set a deadline.
This is based on some empiracle work by Cyril Northcote Parkinson. He studied civil bureaucracies and discovered that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
In other words, if you give yourself 2 hours to complete a task, it will take you 2 hours. If you set it to 4 hours, it will take 4 hours.
Hence my abhorrence of long meetings, because there will always be those that will fill the time “jawboning” about anything and just filling the time.
So get brutal with yourself and set 20-45 minute blocks of time to accomplish you tasks.
It’s fun to see how much you can get accomplished in a short amount of time.
I once wrote my entire masters thesis in four hours and I never had to make a single revision.
Give it a try! See how much you can knock out in short sprints of 20 minutes. You’ll be amazed how much you can get done.
It’s best to time yourself with a simple “egg timer” or an alarm set on your watch or phone. But put the phone out of reach so that it isn’t a distraction. When the sprint is done, set up the next block of time.
Well, there you have it. My three step approach for how to be more productive. Now set the timer and go to work!
Make it a blessed day!