It’s a New Year and for most people they’re reflecting on what they’d like to do differently going forward. If one of your goals is to slow down yet be more productive you’re not alone. Pay attention over the next few days to how people respond when you greet them and ask “how are you?” or “how have you been?” Notice how many of them include “busy” in their response. In our fast-paced American society, many people wear “busy” like a badge of honor. It’s true that many of us are “busy, busy, busy”, but are we really being productive? I believe the litmus test is to examine results. Are we getting the results we want? If not, then we might not be “busy” on the right things.
Here are a few ideas to help you turn your “busy” into “productive” and ensure you’re spending time on the activities that will yield results.
Know Your Objectives and Deliverables
Take a look at your job description if you have one that’s up to date. Take a look at your annual performance goals. What results are you responsible for producing in your firm? What objectives do you hope to achieve? What is important to you (and your boss)? When you are unclear on your destination, it’s difficult to determine the right direction or the path that will get you there. We can waste a lot of time spinning our wheels down the wrong road when we don’t know where we’re going. I was recently reminded of a funny line from the 1991 movie “City Slickers” where one of the characters says to another “we’re lost, but we’re making really good time”. Case in point.
Prioritize Your Tasks
Have a “to-do” list or task that’s 10 pages long? No wonder you’re so busy! It’s time to take a second and prioritize. Start small and pick the top three tasks you feel are of greatest priority for that day and focus your efforts on those. It is important to remember that when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.
Pareto’s Principle tells us that we get 80 percent of our results from 20 percent of our activities. What are the 20 percent of tasks you can accomplish that will yield the highest results?
I like to suggest to clients that they take 10 minutes at the end of each day to plan for the next. Review your calendar so you know what appointments you have and review your task list so you can identify your priorities. By identifying your top priority for the following day, you can position yourself to hit the ground running.
First Things First
How do you start your day? Do you hop on email and then never get off? Many people do and then at 5:00 wonder where the day has gone. They fall into what I call “reactive mode” (reacting all day to emails, the phone, other people’s interruptions and requests, etc.) and don’t have time left to be proactive.
What’s important to you? What can you do first, to jumpstart your day? To pave the path to maximized productivity?
I love to exercise in the morning. Let me clarify – I don’t love to exercise, but I love to do it in the morning because I love the results. There’s the long-term health benefits, of course, but for me, there’s also the “I did it” feeling and the natural adrenaline rush I get right afterwards. This fires me up for the day and I’m ready to go. I know those days that I exercise in the morning, I’m much more productive. When I get into a rut and don’t get up to run or go to the gym for a number of days (or weeks) in a row, my energy level is negatively affected. This affects my productivity.
Another way to jumpstart your day is to get the most important thing you need to do all day done first. Steven Covey calls this “First things First”, and suggests that successful people make this a habit. I concur. What if, even before you get on email, you tackled the “number one” priority for the day? Accomplish, or make significant progress on the one task that will make the biggest difference in your personal or professional life. Imagine the feeling you’ll have when you get that done and there’s still much of the day in front of you! This strategy can give your day amazing momentum.
I also know myself well. I know that if I leave these things (exercise and a high priority task) until later in the day, I will likely not do them at all. I may procrastinate, fill my time with lower priority tasks, or come up with excuses as to why not to exercise or tackle that important thing until later (which never comes). Getting these things done first thing in the morning helps ensure that they happen, that they are out of the way and I can move on. Author and speaker Brian Tracy calls this strategy “Eat a Frog for Breakfast” and even wrote a book on the concept. His idea is that if you had to eat a big, ugly frog on any given day, wouldn’t rather eat it in the morning for breakfast and get it out of the way than having it stare at you all day?
We’re not done with sharing tips on this topic but want to give you some time to give these few tips a try first.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Turning “Busy” into “Productive”.