The Secret To Greater Productivity Is To Focus On Less.

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When I was a little boy, my mother used to tell me my eyes were bigger than my stomach. This was because I always wanted more food than I was capable of eating in one sitting. And just like your eyes being bigger than your stomach, your thinking about how much you can do each day is bigger than you can actually do.

Over-enthusiasm causes problems later.

Often, when we start to get ourselves organised we create a long list of to-dos and immediately feel better having got everything written down. Then we begin to tackle those tasks and every time we look at the list our hearts sink and a feeling of overwhelm descends. From there it’s just a short walk to procrastination hell.

For those who have followed to principles of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, the idea is to break everything down into bite-sized chunks organised by context so things don’t feel overwhelming, unfortunately, long lists of to-dos do just that, they create a sense of overwhelm. Just going to see a film at the cinema could create a list of ten to fifteen things. In reality, all you need is “Find out when Wendy can go to see Bohemian Rhapsody” and “book tickets to see Bohemian Rhapsody”. Two tasks. I would not even create a project for that. I would just add them to my family area of focus holder.

And that’s it really. Occasionally in our over-excitement to create to-dos and projects we fill our to-do list managers with a lot of unnecessary tasks and projects.

Look for the shortest route to completion.

What you should be asking yourself is: “how do I get from where I am now to where I want to be in the shortest distance and time?” In our going to the cinema example that would be simply two tasks — not several tasks such as “check calendar for free evenings”, “find out the bus timetable” and “decide what seats to book”. When you break things down into such finite detail you end up with an overwhelmingly long list and rather than make you more productive, it is much more likely to turn you into a habitual procrastinator.

If you want to become more productive, then shorten your lists. Focus more on what you want to achieve and less on the individual tasks.

Imagine you have a report to complete. Many people will create tasks such as:

  • talk to Fiona about 2018 sales

  • discuss with Terry any issues related to customer support.

  • finalise the design with Annie

  • ask Sarah about who to send the report to.

  • collect images for the report

  • write report

  • email report to recipients

Focus on the one task that will accomplish the most.

Now that’s all good and clear, but there’s a lot of tasks there that do not really need to be on your list at the start. The most important task there is “write the report” that’s the goal with this project. All the other tasks may need doing, but they are far less important than the writing of the report.

So a more effective list would be:

  • write the outline of the report

  • write report

  • finalise the report for distribution.

That gets the report written, and if you do need to insert images, get more information about sales and adjust the design you can do all that once the report is written. What you really need to do is get the report written. Images, design, customer support issues and sales data can be added once the bulk of the report has been written.

Creating lists in this way, reduces overwhelm and gets the biggest, and often the most difficult, part of the project done. Adjustments and tidying up can be done later.

This is how I manage all my projects including writing books. A book project, for instance, has around two tasks for the majority of the time:

  • write outline

  • continue writing book

Once I begin the editing, then other tasks will get added. Until the book is written, illustrations, charts and images can wait. It is only when the first draft of the book is written will I know exactly what illustrations and images I want to include in the book. So there is no point in having all those tasks at the beginning. The important thing is the first draft is written, without that everything else is pointless.

Structuring my projects in this way focuses me on the task that matters ( in this case writing the book) and keeps the less important tasks at bay. When the editing of the book begins, I will be adding many more tasks, but I am not dating those tasks. All I have is a task that says “continue editing book” and I will begin by opening up my list of things I want to add/subtract and just get on and edit.

To-do lists are great, and modern technology has embraced the humble to-do list and made collecting and organising tasks very easy. But just because it is easy, does not mean you have to go crazy and add more and more tasks to your list. You need to get creative and reduce your lists to keep them motivating, yet at the same time, they trigger what needs to happen next. The goal is to keep moving forward and making progress. A long list of tasks is only going to mean you have more choices to make, and that will inevitably cause you to delay starting doing what really matters to get the project completed.

Becoming more productive is nothing more than becoming more effective with your time. When you plan one or two things you must get done the next day and you start the day working on one of those tasks, you are going to have more days where you get important things done and feel satisfied with what you have accomplished at the end of the day. When you have a lot of those days adding up, you are going to find you start accomplishing a lot more with your available time.


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My purpose is to help 1 million people by 2020 to live the lives they desire. To help people find happiness and become better organised and more productive so they can do more of the important things in life.

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