I think and talk a lot about productivity. I’m in the middle of preparing a talk on the subject as well. As I have been thinking about this talk, I believe that being insanely productive comes down to your mindset, your habits, and your tactics.
Here are the three mindsets that are making me more productive:
- I don’t use the word busy. In fact, I don’t believe in busyness in general. Busyness is like a goldfish, it grows to the size of its tank. Let’s do an exercise, think back to when you were in 8th grade, did you think you were busy? How does that compare to now? Now, think back to your 20’s, did you think you were busy? How does that compare to now?
I remember thinking I was busy before I had kids, then I had one. Then, I thought I was busy; then I had two, etc., now I have five. You know what I realized? At every stage of life, we are convinced that we are busy, we are maxed out, and then we move to the next stage and do more.
The reality is that we aren’t nearly as busy as we think we are as evidenced by our freedom on weekends, TV watching habits and so on. If all of the “busy” people in the world took stock of how they use their time, 90% would find that they aren’t as busy as they thought, or that they are spending time working on things that don’t matter in the long run.
- Focus on doing less stuff. The best leaders do less. The Pareto principle (80/20 rule) states that in many areas 80% of the outcomes come from 20% of the causes. For me, this tends to mean that 20% of what I work on effects 80% of the outcomes I want to see. 20% of my daily work grows my organization by 80% of its total growth.
Therefore, my goal is to do more of that 20% of work that matters and less of the 80% of my work (email, busywork, etc.) that doesn’t move the ball forward. I find that for this, having a “don’t do” list is helpful. It will remind you not to do the things that don’t matter and help you focus on the things that do.
- Think first. Too often I have been guilty of just diving into work to get a lot done. And sure, I get a lot done, but not a lot of the right things. Per the 80/20 rule, just realizing that only about 20% of your work is paying off isn’t enough.
Next, you have to block out time to think on a regular basis. Thinking first will help you identify the most important work that must be done, rather than defaulting to the work that is easy or that you want to do. Blocking out regular time to think is critical. I try to block out a little time each day to think and reflect on the day, a larger chunk of time each week to reflect on the week and think through large issues the organization is facing, and a day or two a year to think through and plan for a great year. In our professional, intellectually driven society many of us are paid for thinking jobs, and yet we rarely turn off our devices and think deeply. If we think first, we will be infinitely more productive with what comes next.