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Achieve Results | 3 Ways to Increase Your Productivity When You’re Really Busy
Think about the week before you go on vacation. You are focused on knocking every major item off your to-do list before you log off. You prioritize the biggest items on your list, wrap up loose ends, and develop a plan for your team to follow when you are out of the office. Right before you sign off, you are probably feeling pretty good about your productivity, what you accomplished, and looking forward to a relaxing vacation.
You are not alone. A majority of people who are about to go on vacation rate themselves as totally “on”—clearly focused and confident that what they are working on is exactly what they should be doing. They also understand that those to-do list items they haven’t gotten to yet were perhaps never really a priority or were self-resolved.
It would be great to feel like that all the time, right?
We don’t need to rely on an upcoming vacation to get us into a hyper-productive mode. We can achieve mental clarity and increase our productivity with simple behaviors that are easy to adopt in our daily lives. And, in these truly unprecedented times, our ability to be productive in the face of uncertainty and constant change is more important than ever.
Here are three ways you can increase your productivity, even if your life is more hectic and busier than ever before.
1. Identify Your Productivity Pain Points
What is holding you back from being productive? What hinders your ability to gain clarity and achieve results? Take time to reflect on your life and your schedule to identify the areas you need to focus on.
I recently asked folks at my company to share what they felt was hindering their productivity, and their comments were illuminating.
Here’s a glimpse of what they identified as being major pain points on their journey to achieve results:
- World Events + Disruptions – Distraction and distress resulting from the increased stress of living in such unsettled times
- Email Backlog – Keeping up with increased volume with everyone working virtual, knowing when to cc people (or not!), responding too soon, responding too late
- Procrastination – Not knowing where to start with a major project or something they never came across before in their careers
- Distractions – Transitioning to working from home full time and experiencing new distractions as a result; dealing with the increased stress of having children home during this quarantine time; trying to balance home and work lives
- Fire Drills – When best-laid plans are pushed to the side because something needs to be handled “right now”
- Meetings – A long list of challenges, including too many, not enough, too detailed, not enough detail, routine and unproductive, without agendas, and more
Before you can dive into new processes or new ways of approaching your work, you need to understand the factors that are affecting your ability to perform at the highest levels and start making corrections.
2. Understand What Information to “Gather”
Have you ever completed a project or a task that wasn’t on your to-do list, and you add it to your list, just to check it off? There is a reason we do that. Our brains love to achieve results—in fact, when we check an item off our to-do list, we get a dopamine rush.
Our minds are like radar, constantly picking up information. As we learn new information and data points, in both our professional or personal lives, we immediately begin figuring out what is relevant to us and start processing how we can start to achieve the desired outcome.
Here’s the challenge: All this information sits in our minds and weighs us down. We only have so much space in our short-term memory—actually very little—and leaving this information swirling around your brain can be emotionally and mentally draining. Also, this information leaves your short-term memory quickly, which means you can forget important thoughts, tasks, requests, or maybe an important, upcoming date.
Consider this: Most people are managing between 100 +/- projects at any one time (personal and professional)—and these projects include more than 150 action items, which are tasks you need to move forward in order to move your project forward. If you don’t have a process or system to manage all this, some of your projects simply won’t get done and, ultimately, you will disappoint yourself and/or others. Linkage’s Commitments of Purposeful Leadership include “achieve,” or the ability of leaders to create aspirational goals by creating clarity, structure, and process for their teams. The first step to being able to achieve this for your teams is to focus on yourself. You must decide which information is valuable to you and which data points you need to act on.
Here’s one way to help you understand where you are at: Clear your mind at least once a month. Sit down with a blank piece of paper and write down all the things you have going on in your life—both personal and professional. This is not a to-do list; rather, it includes worries and concerns, outstanding goals, new ideas, and needs. Write continuously until you pause for one minute, and then take a step back to digest what you have written. Some items on your list may be small (make dentist appointment). Some may require more definition (be more present). And some of what you wrote may seem like a mountainous task (plan wedding). This list is representative of what you are focusing your mind and your energy on; it’s draining. If you don’t have a complete list somewhere, you are probably waking up in the middle of the night worrying about these things. Write them down and keep the list in an accessible place.
Now, ask yourself a vital question: What on this list is important to you and what are you going to do about it? What is next?
3. Manage Your Commitments by Reducing Your Guilt and Stress
You can’t do it all–and it is your decision as to what you do and what you decide not to do. If your list of to-do’s, goals, tasks, and projects is simply too long to effectively manage, you have three purposeful steps you can take:
- OPTION 1: Don’t make the commitment if you are unsure about meeting that obligation. Are you signing on to do too much, in too short of a time frame? It’s okay to say, “Let me get back to you” or to say “no” if you are absolutely sure you can’t commit. When you truly understand the full breadth of everything on your list, you can make better-informed decisions on what commitments you can and can’t (or shouldn’t) make. Set your boundaries personally and professionally. Don’t disappoint yourself and others. By doing this, you will achieve more in a shorter period of time since you will be more focused.
- OPTION 2: Commitments are just that; keep them. When you understand everything that is on your plate and you are in full control, you are better able to keep every commitment you make. By keeping commitments, you will feel more energy and less stress (no guilt) and others will appreciate you more as a person they can trust.
- OPTION 3: Redefine the commitment. Whether it is a personal or professional commitment, on occasion, redefine the commitment and then recommit—well in advance. Understand that many factors affect your ability to achieve results. Redefining a commitment might allow you to recommit to your original promise, or redefining may include adjusting timelines, requirements, scope, or expectations.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY
We all have the right to live balanced, happy lives—and we all have the ability to process information, requests, commitments, and other tasks with focus, flexibility, and finesse.
Achieving the highest levels of productivity in our work and personal lives is an ongoing journey—one that requires hard work and constant reassessment. But, starting with these three practices, you can move toward a more productive, stress-free existence.
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