Over the last few weeks I have seen a number of articles and videos claiming the rising popularity in personal productivity is nothing more than a phase. In some cases I have seen personal productivity be described as a cult, which is rather hurtful, given that the word “cult” is often associated with rather nasty organisations and societies.
I understand the rise in personal productivity popularity. We find ourselves having to deal with so much information it is very hard to decide what to do with and where to put all this information. We are being asked to do more and more things and are expected to do those things faster and faster. I just about remember the days when we received a letter in the morning and we had two to three days to reply. Now you receive an email at 9AM and if you have not responded by 9:30AM you are receiving chase emails and or phone calls asking if you received the email.
In this environment it is very easy to get caught up in irrelevant busy work, doing tasks that maintain a position, but do not drive anything forward. You feel busy, you feel like you are working non-stop and you finish work exhausted, yet when you examine what you have actually done, if you have time to do so, you discover you have done nothing to move anything forward. You are working longer and longer hours, yet achieving less and less. Something is wrong somewhere. It’s as if you are hamster on a spinning wheel going round and round feeling completely spent, yet ending up in exactly the same place you started at.
The problem is often where your tasks are focused. In most work environments it is very easy to get caught up focussing on regular busy work tasks, because they are often the loudest. The less loud, but arguably more important tasks, the tasks that move you closer to achieving your and your company’s goals get pushed to the back of the queue. These are the ones that do not necessarily have an urgent deadline. They don’t shout at you. An example of this would be running through the important presentation you have to do next week. The presentation is important, but it is a week away, so it is not shouting at you. Your boss needing a file about a crisis that happened this morning is shouting much louder. So you spend all morning searching for the file.
The problem here is that the important task of preparing properly for next week’s presentation is relegated to the bottom of your priority list because something else, something less important, is louder. Ultimately, this decision means your presentation next week, although important, will not be as good as it could be. It is interesting to note here, that Steve Jobs would spend two weeks before and important keynote presentation practicing. Everything else, no matter how loud it was, was relegated to a lesser priority. To him the priority was the presentation. Steve Jobs was very good at delivering presentations. Maybe we can learn something from that.
To overcome this problem there is an easy trick you can do. Everyday give yourself at least one task that is important, that you will complete. I call this task my “Today’s Outcome” task. This is the one task that no matter what, must be completed today. At the time of writing this blog post, writing this post is today’s outcome task. No matter what else happens today, this blog post must be written and it does not matter to me if I have to keep working until after 11pm, I will complete this task. Writing this blog post is a “goal task”. It will be completed.
All the other stuff that comes my way today are “regular tasks” these are made up of my daily or weekly routine tasks together with the other tasks that get thrown at me. However, the one task that must be done today is writing this blog post. It will be done
When I do my daily mini-review, the evening before, I decide what one task must be completed tomorrow. Sometimes, but very rarely, there maybe as many as three such tasks on my “Today’s Outcome” list. They all have priority over the other tasks, no matter how loud those tasks are.
Since adopting this method, I have found my productivity rocket. Important things get done, and the quality of my work has gone up. The only change I made was to make it a part of my daily routine to identify the one task I wanted to complete the next day and to make sure it gets done. It is a simple trick, but it is a trick that ensures you are moving forward on your goals and not getting lost in your regular, busy work tasks. The tasks that make you feel busy, but are not helping you to improve or move your life further forward.
Our lives are changing. Information is being thrown at us from all angles and that information is coming at us at increasingly faster speeds. With this change, we need to change the way we handle the work we have to do. Giving yourself ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day to identify your goal tasks for the next day prevents those important, but not urgent, tasks from getting buried underneath a mountain of regular busy work tasks that may make you feel busy, but are not taking you anywhere.
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Carl Pullein is a personal productivity specialist, presenter and author of Working With Todoist: The Book as well as Your Digital Life, a book about using your technology to achieve greater productivity. Carl works with clients all over the world to help them focus on the things that are important to them and to become more successful, productive and creative.