Do what is Important not what is Urgent
Once you truly achieve enlightenment, you will see inefficiency everywhere. Ever heard a colleague complain “I am so busy”. Some people wear it like a badge, assuming that it’s something to be proud of. Once you realise that busy and productive are not remotely the same thing, your life will never be the same again. Where “time management” used to be seen as a way of achieving more in the same amount of time, being truly productive today is about focusing on the tasks that have the greatest impact.
My degree in rocket science qualifies me to point out the bleeding obvious here. Performance is negatively impacted if you work too many hours. The highest performers in any industry have mastered being highly productive and are not just putting in more time. Morten Hansen’s book (Great at Work) is a great read about studies in this field. Tim Ferris (4 hour work week) and others talk a lot about Parkinson’s law. This law is the principle that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Be aware of this law and don’t let yourself fall victim to it.
Here are a few things that I find helpful in order to create the room you need to achieve greater productivity.
Pareto Principle — The 80/20 rule
The Pareto Principle simply states that 80 percent of the results are achieved from 20 percent of the effort. You’ll see this principle everywhere. Today, one of the few areas this principle is not accurate is in wealth distribution, given the concentration in the top 1%. But as examples, most companies see 80% of sales come from 20% of clients and Farmers see a “vital few” plants produce the majority of the harvest. This rule also compounds. So an additional 20 percent of your effort accounts for 80 percent of what’s left to achieve.
80% + 16% (80 percent of the remaining 20%) = 96%. So 40% of your effort accounts for 96% of your results. After this point the law of diminishing returns starts kicking.
So the key to peak productivity is working out what’s important. You can get your results to as close to 100% as you care to, with only 40% effort if that effort is laser focused. Eliminating the unimportant tasks and distractions then also gives you more time to focus on really valuable activity. Another useful way to think about this is attributing a monetary value to each task. Your highest value tasks are worth £10,000, so you obviously focus on those. The £1 tasks therefore get eliminated because there’s no value in anyone doing them.
The Eisnhower Matrix — Elimination and Delegation of tasks
The “Eisenhower Method” stems from a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower:
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
This principle is often visualised in a matrix, the image at the top of this blog is one way to represent this matrix. I find this a useful visualisation to help drive your thinking around productivity. Important tasks are generally those that are valuable and only you can complete. Unimportant tasks could be completed by others or really do not need to be completed at all. Learning to spot the difference and therefore delegating or eliminating the unimportant activity will be the key to you releasing more time for valuable tasks.
Important / Non-Urgent tasks are generally the most fulfilling activities. According to our new friend Pareto, you should be aiming to spend 80% of your time working in this quadrant. These tasks bring the most value to your business, but are also the activities that will stretch you most and help you develop. Focusing on this quadrant will help you create the perfect conditions resulting in most of the Important things that could become Urgent, never actually reaching that state.
Switch Tasking — FOCUS! Multitasking is a myth
There is clear evidence that the time it takes your brain to refocus after switching tasks has a significant impact on the time it takes to complete these tasks. This simple experiment will help you understand this concept. Start a timer and write the following sentence on one line followed by a single line of numbers from 1 to 50.
This sentence is longer than it needs to be to prove the point
Now repeat the timed task, this time alternating between a letter and a number on the two rows. So first writing “T” on the first line, then the number “1” on the second, followed by the letter “h” on the first line and the number “2” on the second and so on. Compare the time for the two methods. It took me nearly twice as long when switch tasking.
So what can we all do to become more productinve?
- Kill notifications on your phone, #catsoninstagram notifications shouldn’t get between you and great work.
- Disable notifications in Outlook, you don’t need to know every time you receive an email. Carve out some time at various points in the day to review email.
- Segment your time to allow you to work uninterrupted on a specific task. You may find something like the pomodoro technique a useful framework for this.
- Find a method to notify others that you don’t wish to be disturbed, especially important in open plan offices. Book a room for quiet time if you can, or just put headphones on so you can pretend to be on a call ;)
Get help now!!!
Go and seek out productivity tools you can use to make sure that your time is being maximised on IMPORTANT tasks that only you can do.
- Calend.ly or the Bookings app from Office 365 — meeting scheduling is not a good use of anyone’s time
- Evernote or OneNote — snip all those things you want to refer back to. Photograph an article in a magazine or a page in a book, snip content from a webpage or an email.
- Microsoft Planner, a new part of the Office 365 suite, or Trello to get your life organised.
- If you are easily distracted, install something like the StayFocused Chrome Extension to keep you off Reddit and Facebook when you should be focused.