(Pickup up from my last post’s #6):
7) BEWARE PERFECTIONISM! – Remember the old 80/20 rule: 80% of the results you want can be achieved in 20% of the total time allotted. While this is not literally true in every instance, the fact is that the quest for perfection (whether writing a recommendation or report, rehearsing for a speech or meeting, or researching the best recipe for artichoke pesto) often results in using up time that would be better allocated to other tasks. Furthermore, if you tend to be a slow producer you are much more likely to miss a deadline by trying to dotting every i and crossing every t. Then there’s the emotional cost of perfectionism: feeling that nothing is ever perfect results in an inability to feel satisfied. This is not to say that accuracy is unimportant; certain projects need to be perfect. Just make sure you know which ones do and which ones can be completed satisfactorily with a lower level of attention to detail.
8) CALENDAR ALMOST EVERYTHING – Too often we rely solely on our memories to contain the “to do” list. When memory fails (as it frequently does) it throws off our planned activities and results in either slapdash results or inefficient use of time due to the unscheduled interruption. Enter any task of significance on your smartphone, or on a little paper booklet that you should carry with you at all times. Then be sure to consult these records frequently so you’ll know what remains to be done.
9) SET PRIORITIES – In order to set priorities you need to know all of the tasks facing you in the immediate future, and then select the ones that deserve your immediate attention. Cleaning out the attic or weeding the garden is usually a less important task than finishing a document you’ve told your boss you will have done by week’s end.
10) TAKE SMALL STEPS, ONE AT A TIME – I often find my clients paralyzed by the thought that the project they need to undertake (or complete) is so complex or unappealing that they put off the effort necessary to take it to the final stage. Frequently they characterize this state of mind as “feeling overwhelmed.” Then, to avoid that very unpleasant feeling, they will procrastinate or escape into a mindless activity (like watching TV, checking Facebook, or playing an online game). Virtually any project can (and should) be broken down into small parts. For many people ackling those parts one at a time will enhance productivity.
11) MAKE BETTER USE OF TECHNOLOGY – I am continually surprised by the underutilization of the internet by most people as a tool to help solve problems. I have previously blogged about the importance of Google to advancing one’s career; in a broader sense Google (or Bing if you prefer) should be the first place you turn when confronted with difficulty concerning just about any project. Remember, there are virtually no original problems. Someone somewhere has faced the same struggle as you, and that person’s solution can most likely be found on the internet. Then there are apps specifically designed to enhance productivity: calendaring and “to do” apps (e.g. Wunderlist), apps that store all your passwords (e.g. Keeper), apps that make it easy to schedule meetings with a number of different people (e.g. Doodle), even apps that show you how you are spending your time (e.g. RescueTime).
12) DELEGATE / PAY OTHERS TO DO YOUR WORK – One hallmark of people with low productivity is that they create bottlenecks to their output by trying to do things they are underqualified for, or postponing things that could be handled by others. If you have people who report to you, be sure you are appropriately delegating. Those people are there to help you accomplish the organization’s tasks and goals; the organization is unlikely to care about who actually does the work as long as it’s done. And if you are attracted to the idea of solving complex problems yourself make sure that you are not spending dozens of hours on a task that could be handled in half an hour by an expert to whom you could turn for paid help.