Productivity is one of the major factors that will separate a mediocre work ethic from a solid one. I am not an expert on productivity, but from my 12 years in retail sales and management and 10 years as a leader in nonprofit organizations, which are prominently volunteer-driven, I have learned a few things. Added to that, I am an avid reader of books on productivity, leadership and execution. (Feel free to recommend your favorite blogs and books in the comment section below.)
The point – Productive people are a desirable resource, and organizations promote them higher and want more of them! The awesome thing about productivity is that it can be learned. You can apply the ideas below and immediately find results in whatever organization you work.
ONE – Write Everything Down!
Get it out of your head. Get your business projects, personal to do’s, and thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Productivity guru, David Allen in Getting Things Done goes into more detail. He explains when your mind is overloaded with tasks you will be less productive. It doesn’t matter if they are personal or business related, get them laid out so that you can begin to manage them.
You can use Microsoft Outlook, a moleskin, Wunderlist, apps like Evernote, or even the legendary legal pad. I personally have used all of those, but continue to find the legal pad by my side for smaller tasks. Larger projects dominate the multiple moleskin journals on my office desk.
TWO – Live by a System!
If you consistently receive results that are unsatisfactory, then you need to change the system you use. Know this, the system you develop, if used consistently, will always give you the same results consistently. If the results are constantly bad, change the system. This may be a hard one for you creative types, but you are creative enough to make a system that will work for you.
The system I currently use is a combination of David Allen’s ideas and those of Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson publishing, the largest Christian book publisher in the world. The idea is four simple words – Do, Delegate, Defer, Delete. Decide right away what to do with every piece of information that you come in contact with, whether it is an email, project, or personal agenda item.
THREE – Break Ideas Down into Action Steps!
Building off the previous, create manageable action steps, especially for extensive projects. Large projects can take all your time and focus. Even the most dedicated person will become distracted and bored. You may begin searching for smaller projects that make you feel like you get more done, but the large projects are usually the most necessary. So create action steps, timelines, and accountability.
Scott Belsky in Making Ideas Happens expounds on the importance of prioritizing your energy flow. A solid leader knows the difference between what is urgent and what is important. He recommends choosing a daily focus or five projects that matter most, so that all the smaller urgent items that seem to pop up at inopportune times won’t derail your priorities and momentum. I currently use Belsky’s Action Method Online (and iPad app) for larger projects.
FOUR- Develop a Balance Between Strategy and Execution!
Gary Harpst in Execution Revolution explain, “We all know what to do, but we rarely do it.” Thinking and planning are necessary, but thinking is never profitable if not executed. Your employer is looking for solid results not great thoughts. We all have tons of great ideas in our heads, but without the three steps discussed above, they rarely come to fruition.
What I currently do is plan days that are mainly Blue Sky Days and days that are mainly Execution Days. These are written in my calendar so others can know my rhythm. For example, on Mondays, I typically spend time thinking and planning on larger projects (Blue Sky Dreaming). By Thursday, items seem to be piling up so I spend the entire day executing action steps. So my Monday and Thursday look vastly different, but both of them are needed. The key is balance.
FIVE – Give Yourself Grace to Grow
Change is hard. Chip Heath and Dan Heath in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard do a fantastic job dealing with this principle. We all want to change, but most of us stall out because we simply don’t know how. The Heath brothers break it down into three action steps – Direct the Rider (your thoughts), Motivate the Elephant (your emotions), and Shape the Path (your direction). Early in the book, they explain an underlying principle, “to look for bright spots,” and learn from them. Don’t focus on failed attempts to be productive, focus on your strengths and success and celebrate each one!
- What idea(s) above catch your attention the most?
- What idea(s) do you need to work on or enhance?
- What idea(s) would you add? Subtract? Expound on?
Let the discussion begin…