There’s a common misconception about being productive — that productivity is about completing a lot of tasks each day and to become more productive all you have to do is complete more tasks. Of course, this is not true.
Becoming more productive is about doing work that matters so your measurable output increases. Completing two tasks that move a project or goal further forward is going to produce far better long-term results than completing a hundred tasks that have no impact on any of your important projects or goals.
Stop picking the low hanging fruit.
We have a natural tendency to go after the low hanging fruit. To check off the easy tasks because doing so makes us feel good. We get that dopamine hit and that puts a smile on our face and has us wanting more. So we populate our to-do lists with even more easy, non-important tasks just so we can check them off and get that dopamine hit. It becomes a vicious circle we put more and more unimportant tasks on our to-do lists hoping for more dopamine hits.
Of course, we tell ourselves we are completing important tasks. After all, we must have a clean desk so we can focus better on our work and we need to make sure we have enough staples in our top draw just in case we run out while stapling important documents. Oh, and we should check our email just one more time in case something important has come in.
Begin the day with a simple plan.
We all have a good mix of easy routine and hard project work to complete each day. Difficulties start when you are not clear about what work is important. Prioritising your work is a big part of becoming more productive. This is why beginning the day with a plan based on what current projects are important is vital. However, the routine work can very easily take over the day if you are not careful.
Assign time each day/week for your routine admin work.
There are a couple of ways you can make sure the less important routine work does not take over your day. One way is to assign one day each week for admin work. This could be Friday afternoon for example. Friday’s are famously difficult to focus on important work because we are often thinking about our plans for the weekend. If that is the case, you could assign Friday as your admin and clean up day (you could even make sure you have enough staples in your top drawer). This means you only have easy tasks to do on Friday and you don’t need a lot of focus to get them done. Another way is to allocate a time slot each day to do your admin and routine tasks. Giving yourself one hour a day to just get the routine, easy tasks complete will help you to stay focused on the important, project work for the other seven or eight hours each day. I assign one hour a day for all my routine admin work. I usually assign the end of the day to do this because I don’t need a lot of concentration to do it. But you can choose any time of the day or week to do it.
Focus on your desired outcome.
The key to better productivity is to focus on the outcome you want, not the tasks that will get you there. We often add unnecessary tasks when we are planning out a project. For example, “send email to get 2019 planning template”. Nine times out of ten, a phone call would get the desired result faster. You might also find you have tasks such as “talk to John about the presentation order” and lower down your list have a task saying “ask John for the 2019 sales forecast”. These two tasks could be completed either by one phone call or walking down the hall to talk to John, but because the tasks are not grouped together you miss the second one. That means now you have to communicate with John twice instead of once.
When you set up a project, you need to be very clear on what it is you are trying to achieve. What’s the desired outcome for the project? David Allen, in Getting Things Done, writes about this and Tony Robbins in his Time Of Your Life course puts a lot of stress on outcome thinking. The tasks help, they are signposts along the way, but more often than not the shortest distance between where you are now and successfully completing the project is not through completing all your tasks in the right order, more often than not the fastest way to completing the project is a simple phone call or going out to see the client or customer.
I use Evernote to plan out my projects and not Todoist. I can add tasks and steps I think will be needed to complete the project in a list at the bottom of my project note and once I am satisfied I have everything needed to get the project completed, I go through the list removing tasks I feel are not necessary. What I end up with is a list of absolutely essential tasks. This often reduces the number of tasks required to complete the project down by half.
If you are serious about becoming more productive, focus less on your tasks and more on what it is you are trying to achieve. The goal, the completed project and the outcome you desire are what you are looking for, not completing ten tasks so you feel like you have accomplished something. As Jim Rohn said, “Don’t mistake movement for achievement. It’s easy to get faked out by being busy. The question is: Busy doing what?”
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