How’s your daily routine working? Is it supporting your success and productivity?
Are you getting things done that matter? Are you achieving what you want to achieve?
Yes? No? Maybe?
Over the years, you’ve probably established a few habits – for better or worse – and you may have done so by following the latest advice of the hottest gurus or just created your own way to try to keep up.
You’ve had to juggle a lot of demands on your time and respond to changes from moment to moment as you strive to get things done in the best way you know how.
But in the midst of all the workday mayhem, you may have become more reactive than you realize. Multi-tasking can take over before you know it. You could be buried in an avalanche of paper. You can get caught up in a wave of new email which can easily distract you from your most important priorities. Time leaks out of your day, and in trying to “do it all” you get nothing done.
And it’s killing your productivity and progress.
Here are three common productivity killers to avoid and three easy ways to keep your productivity alive and well so you can be more proactive and operate at a higher level of performance.
Productivity Killer #1: Running your day like a short-order deli
Some clients tell me they’re “living from their Inbox,” answering email after email as they come in. Some clients try to complete tasks as they show up – like making sandwiches in a short-order deli – which ignores the level of priority for each task, making everything equally important.
If you’ve done this, too, you know how much time can pass as you jump from email to email or task to task, and before you know it, you realize you never accomplished your REAL priorities for the day. Instead, you were pulled through your workday by a series of new calls, emails, visits, etc… instead of addressing what’s ALREADY on your list of things to do.
When you address and complete tasks as you become aware of them just because they’re in your face – and/or you’d rather not put one more thing on your to-do list – then you’re addressing items on a first-come, first-served basis. You’re taking care of tasks and requests, yes, but is it at the expense of your priorities?
Easy solution: Get clear on the most important tasks you have to finish each day. Even if they’re small steps, figure out what MUST be accomplished. Then protect your time to keep your focus and finish what you start.
Also, avoid the all-day, open-door policy. Set boundaries on time for others and time for yourself. You’ll feel good about accomplishing one or more important tasks in one sitting when you can get brief stretches of time just for you.
And finally, don’t check email every two seconds, turn off those email alerts, and let calls go to voice mail once in a while. Allow yourself at least two hours each day that are all yours – quiet and uninterrupted – to get things done.
If you stay reactive to what others deem important, then you’re not proactively spending time on YOUR priorities.
Productivity Killer #2: Trying to manage tasks without a plan
When you’re away from your computer and you need to get to-dos out of your head, it’s true: anything to write on will do.
I’ve seen clients use lunch napkins, cocktail napkins, paper towels, and even a barf bag from an airplane for writing down to-dos. Hey, that’s OK with me! It’s a great first step, but that’s not the end of the story for those to-dos.
It’s very difficult to really “see” all of your tasks and prioritize them when you’re using a variety of places to document and manage to-dos. And if you’re not seeing them or prioritizing them with reality and accuracy in mind, it’s too easy to miss, lose, or forget something. And that’s a productivity killer.
Easy solution: Create a digital “Mission Control” to gather, track, prioritize, and accomplish to-dos.
There should be one place where you can feed ALL of your tasks and reminders – ideally using the digital task list in your email system. No matter where your tasks come from, always bring them back to the “mother ship.” This will greatly reduce the need for paper to-do lists, post-it notes and leaving files “out” as reminders of things to do.
This will also reduce the chaos and confusion around you – represented by all of the reminders vying for your attention – and you won’t miss, lose or forget tasks and priorities that need you first.
Using a digital Task list, you can consolidate tasks, keep them in your vision, and plan action steps when you want to take action. You can more easily prioritize and get important tasks accomplished, making great progress on what matters. Your visibility will be SO HIGH you can easily make smart decisions about how your time should be spent.
Productivity Killer #3: Following the “Touch It Once” Advice
You’ve heard that age-old advice “touch it once” for your papers and files, right? It’s meant to help you avoid handling things twice, thereby saving you time and boosting your efficiency.
But think about it. Is that really possible?
You may touch something more than once or twice in its life cycle as a task. You may touch something ten times as you work on a multi-step task or project for a few days or weeks.
You won’t ALWAYS be able to touch something ONCE and then never have to touch it again. Not for tasks that require follow-up emails or phone calls, research, or getting consensus from others.
But guess what? That doesn’t really matter anyway.
There’s something more important here to focus on.
Easy solution: Whether it’s for reference or action, everything you receive needs a decision about where it goes next. Instead of trying to touch something only once, make a decision about it that moves it FORWARD.
Moving reference information forward would mean saving it in the right place for that type of information. It could be an attachment you want to save in your e-document library or contact information you want to save in Contacts or putting files in a file drawer. If you don’t have an action to take, but it is useful information to keep, then it needs a home.
Moving action items forward means articulating what your next step is going to be and getting it on your digital Task list.
And sometimes, you’ll have a combination of steps: read, then toss. Review then take action. Read and file. Take action and then take a follow-up step. Hence, not being able to “touch it once.”
What’s important to avoid is picking up a new file or paper and putting it down again without thinking through what you REALLY need to do with it . Without your decisions, things will stall.
Same goes for opening an email and not moving it along in some way, or receiving a phone call, but not determining what to do with the notes you just made on your legal pad.
Avoid leaving anything where it first appeared. Those are “inboxes” for a reason. They bring things in, but they have to move on from there to a better place for reference or action.
And if THOSE places are missing, that’s the real productivity killer.
In summary, avoid the reactivity of dealing with things as they show up. First in, first out ignores priorities. Work more proactively by creating a digital Task list that allows you to gather ALL of your tasks – no matter what you need to do or when you’ll do it and you’ll automatically become a better at planning and prioritizing. And forget about touching things only once. Focus on moving things forward to better places of reference or action.
It’s time to get out of the short-order deli and make the meaningful progress you were meant to make. With a system that really works, you can make smarter decisions about how to use your time, and you can accomplish more of your important tasks and projects with less stress and greater focus.