Do you ever finish a day at work feeling that you weren’t productive? I’ve researched the topic over the years, experimented with some different techniques, discarded some ideas and settled on the ones that work for me. I do feel some of the basic ones have really helped me to focus and become more productive in life.
When there is a lot of pressure on and many activities to complete with fixed deadlines, it is easy to forget the basics, become stressed and less productive.
Plan with an end in mind
The main technique for me is to always begin any task with an end in mind. Ask yourself, what would you like the outcome to be and think about what activities you need to do in order to achieve it. Sounds easy doesn’t it? But so many people just start out without thinking about what they are trying to accomplish and waste valuable time and effort before getting on track.
If you were going on a mountain climbing trip, you wouldn’t set off without thinking about the fact that you wanted to get there safely, in the shortest time so that you had enough energy for the descent and the right gear to keep warm whilst up there, and have food for the whole trip. Taking a moment to plan before starting any activity also makes you think about the value added stuff, such as hiring an expert or consultant who has the knowledge to give you that head start rather than spending time on re-inventing the wheel. The approach would be no different to being in the workplace and taking a new product to market.
Don’t rush and take your time
Another good one for me is to think like a marathon runner and run in sprints. Breaking down something large and complex into many smaller simpler steps makes each step forward seem more achievable, giving you a sense of accomplishment along the way and making something that seemed impossible to start with much more attainable. It also gives you time to review what you’ve achieved so far, take some time to think about adjusting the remaining activity to keep your goal on track.
Do you remember the tortoise and the hare fable from your school days? Slow and steady wins the race as you have more time to think about the hurdles you may encounter along the way. Rushing ahead and confronting something unexpected may actually cost you more to fix and may actually cause you to go backwards and redo something before you can begin to move forwards again.
Learn to say no
And finally for me, politely learn to say ‘no’. If you already have a clearly defined scope and are asked to do more, simply say ‘no’ or ask the following questions: What would you like me to stop doing? Is it acceptable for the timescales to move as it is the only way you can have this additional item? Will additional resource be made available to do this extra item if the timescale is immovable?
At the end of the day, you are more effective and productive if you don’t take on the additional work that you can’t achieve, especially as it is likely to have a negative impact on the other things you were also doing.
Another key question for me is: Would you prefer someone to say they cannot do something upfront and set realistic expectations with you or for them to say they can do something and then fail to deliver? Remember, in business, your stakeholder may have communicated the expected delivery date on to other teams and they may have dependent activities on yours. Cancelling or delaying these at a later date may ultimately cost the company far more cost and effort.
Each and every one of us are different. Try out some of these tips for yourself, adapt them to suit your style if necessary, and remember that it’s all about continuous improvement.
When taking on any project, it’s important to remember what you’re trying to achieve and what the end goal is. This will help you to plan for it and account for any obstacles along the way. However, it’s also key to take a slow approach to some things to ensure nothing is rushed. If you start feeling like there are just too many things going on, just say no to any new projects to help you finish existing tasks without losing the quality of work. You can achieve a lot more by doing this.
Hopefully, these tips are useful for anyone wanting to learn how to prioritise projects and improve personal productivity. When you find something that really works for you, then share to help others.