By: Lou McAlister, Senior Consultant
Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean that you’re getting anything done. You can hide a lot of wasted time behind a mask of activity. A local businessman was legendary because he rarely slept more than 3 hours each night. He worked seven days a week. Never took a holiday (except for Christmas and Easter mornings). By his definition, he worked incessantly. Turns out that he also produced very little except stress and a host of emotional problems.
Are you afraid that someone will catch you not doing anything? To-do lists, meetings, phone calls, research, and events can be used to fill your schedule and make you look as though you have a great deal to do. You may hate to admit that you’re not really, really busy. We all like to brag about how busy we are and how full our calendar is and how there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Like the businessman, you may fear not being busy.
Do you ever get to the end of the day and ask yourself what you accomplished? You know you worked hard all day. You can look at your diary or calendar and see all the time slots filled with meetings, phone calls, and so forth. Still, you wonder (or know) that somehow the day didn’t measure up. There’s no sense of accomplishment at the end of it. The trick is to translate activity into accomplishment. Activity and productivity are not the same things.
We’re not talking about winning the Super Bowl or finding a cure for cancer or ending world hunger types of accomplishments. For most of us accomplishment, or productivity, comes in small bits. We finish a report. We organize and launch a project. We make those pesky sales cold calls. We finally get that hard-to-get appointment.
Here a few tips to help you find your productivity sweet spot:
1. Whittle your To-do list down to no more than 3 items. Have a goal for the day – maybe a couple. Support the goal(s) with a short To-do list. Anything longer than 2 or 3 items is unnecessary and distracting. The watchword is focus.
2. Start early and (sometimes) stay late. The old adage about the early bird catching the worm is an old adage probably because it has some truth in it. Recent studies indicate that highly productive people get an early start on the day. Sometimes those productive people work late or put in long days. The danger, of course, is becoming that person who lets the long day become the substitute for the productive day. Avoid that confusion. When you’ve reached the goal or accomplished the mission, turn off the work machine.
3. Practice aggressive incrementalism. What is “aggressive incrementalism”? It is continuously taking small steps toward your goal. Think of yourself as a sculptor chipping away at your work every day. Soon the work takes shape and becomes what you have envisioned. Rarely can we go from idea to finished product in one step. Take small steps toward the goal every day without fail.
4. Learn every day. Teach yourself! The world is changing – quickly. Whatever it is we know, it isn’t enough. To be productive, keep a learning mindset. If you’re like most of the rest of us, you learn by teaching yourself better than any other way. The formal term is autodidact. Be an autodidact – self-taught. Of course, you can learn from others, and you should. The real integration of our learning comes as we teach ourselves the deeper meanings and as we teach others.
5. Waste not, want not. Be a hoarder. There. You have permission. Hoard what? That depends on what you are accomplishing. You may be gathering facts, figures, or copper tubing. The point is that finished products are made from raw materials. Gather and hoard raw materials that will be useful to you later. Re-cycle ideas. Re-use stories. Save plans, agendas, and old chunks of programs. You may never use any of those things in their original form, but they may help you solve a problem or provide some inspiration at a critical time.
6. Give. Give. Give! Be generous to others. There is an indescribable emotional benefit to getting outside of your own space and helping someone else achieve their goals. There is something about helping others be productivity that helps you be productive also.
7. Have fun! In the overall scheme of things, if you are not having fun, you should be doing something else. You’re devoting a large part of your life to the work you do. Make sure that it is enjoyable. You will feel better and work better. Feeling better and working better help you produce better results.
8. Be a part of a group. The poet John Donne said that no man is island. Being part of a community, a tribe, a clan, a support group – whatever you want to call it – can help you be more productive in may ways. You may get encouragement, ideas, collaboration at critical points, or a shoulder to cry on. There is power to get things done in close-knit groups.
9. Take a nap…somewhere. Anywhere. Sometimes you just need to step away and take a break. Long hours, big problems, and hard work all take their toll. Your brain gets tired. Learn to sleep anywhere, anytime that you need a little refresher. A five-minute nap or some quiet time can provide a boost that yields big dividends in your productivity.
Being active is great as long as it doesn’t become a substitute for being productive.