In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is get nothing done. – Theodore Roosevelt
Individual productivity is one of the most valued attributes in society. Many different entities – from federal government to personal households – measure productivity in some way. There are also a number of different definitions for productivity, but they can all be summarized one way: the ability to get things done efficiently.
We are no different in the sense that we all have things to do. However, we are different in that we all accomplish tasks at different rates while using different methods. A small minority people are productivity experts, but the vast majority struggle with implementing principals that will make them more effective.
There is also a proliferation of books, seminars and CD’s that promise to make someone a modern-day Edison. Of course, these folks are seeking to capitalize on the productivity epidemic that many of us face. Fortunately, these for the most part are unnecessary.
What is necessary is that we recognize and counter habits that negatively affect our ability to get things done. Doing so will help us be increasingly productive and happier people.
Here are 7 things that keep us from getting things done:
1. Not prioritizing tasks
Failure to prioritize renders every other item on this list useless. Prioritization is, by far, the most important requisite for getting things done. All tasks are not created equal, especially when measured in terms of effort, time or reward.
Making a habit out of tackling low-priority tasks first thing wastes valuable time and energy. For example, many of us check our e-mails numerous times throughout the day. A small number of jobs require that we attend to email constantly, but most do not. Checking email in the morning and evening hours will usually suffice.
Instead, try to address the three most important tasks early on and stick to them. If we do this, we’ll free up time later in the day to complete the lower-priority stuff.
2. Not preparing for the unexpected
Many of us have a calendar chockfull of appointments, meetings and other events that require our presence of mind. In an eight-hour workday, ample time to resolve things that “drop on our desk” is admittedly difficult.
After setting priorities and preparing for a day’s work, attempt to note certain slots of time that can be used for unexpected issues. Having an hour available may not be feasible (if so, great), but even 15 minutes of time allocated for clearing out issues that surface is better than nothing.
Controlling what can be controlled and preparing for the unexpected are great habits that’ll help us get things done.
3. Forgetting about the “big picture”
Not only can forgetting about the big picture create a productivity barrier, it’s also disheartening. In starting any new venture, it’s common to have goals we want to achieve. Yet, the day in and day out demands of our time and effort can manifest into a contemplative or defeatist outlook.
From a productivity standpoint, it’s beneficial to keep our big picture in mind every day. Keeping our big picture at the forefront accomplishes two important things: (1) it keeps us motivated and (2) it prioritizes our work. An example of the latter is someone that has problems creating a to-do list; remembering our big picture – promotion, financial independence, vacation, etc. – should provide insight into how something should be done and when.
4. Overloading our “to-do” list
Too many people unnecessarily treat to-do lists as a brainstorming session, scribbling down anything and everything to be done in one day. There’s a big problem with this practice: it doesn’t work. LinkedIn performed a survey of 6,500 professionals that demonstrates this fact. Here are the two key outcomes of this survey:
– 63% of all professionals frequently create to-do lists.
– 11% completed every item on their list.
11%…that’s an abysmally low number. The simple reason is that we flood our to-do lists with mundane, low-priority tasks. The solution is to write down the day’s three most important tasks and steadfastly complete them. As mentioned, this will naturally free up time that can be allocated to lower-priority tasks.
5. Always being available
Is there such a thing as being “too available?” Yes, without a doubt in our collective mind. Only in rare circumstances do we need to be attached to our inbox, phone, etc. Advancements in technology have led to instant “anywhere, anytime” communication – great for social circles, bad for productivity. Even the guy or gal that drops by for a “quick hello” somehow thinks we’re “free.”
For our productivity’s sake, we needn’t feel guilty about not responding to that text or e-mail ASAP. We have things to do; we have goals to achieve. Nobody has priority over need to do what’s necessary. Tell the office butterfly that the break room is free.
6. Succumbing to distractions
Does anything really need to be said here?
Distractions are everywhere…plain and simple. By the way, most workplaces do us no favor is this regard with their open offices and constant frolicking. It’s shocking that some workplaces get anything done at all.
It’s unnecessary to itemize every distraction, and it would take an extraordinary amount of time. So, remember these three key culprits: internet, phone and people. Internet, phone and people…understand that these are going to be the most prevalent and tempting distractions – at home, the office, anywhere.
Recognizing distractions is only one part of an extremely important productivity equation. It’s up to us to establish and maintain attention and self-discipline.
Internet, phone and people…
7. Not being specific
Specificity is an important element in goal creation and execution. We cannot achieve magnificent goals with an absence of detail.
Consider this quote by David Allen, a productivity expert and author of Getting Things Done: “Ninety-nine percent of every to-do list I’ve seen are nothing but incomplete lists of unclear stuff.”
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The solution: be specific when constructing our to-do list. Instead of writing down something ambiguous like: “Call boss,” write down what is to be accomplished during the call. “Call boss with time-off request.” Taken a step further, we can construct our long-term to do list in the same manner: begin with our end goal and detail the steps necessary to achieve said goal.