Productivity Lie #16: You have to complete your to-do list

What productivity lies are you telling yourself?

Whilst I totally understand that we all think we are different, when it comes to productivity, regardless of your industry, the reality is that you all share a common concern. There’s just never enough time. So when working with a team of thirty eight talent management and HR practitioners last week, I was not at all surprised by the level of overwhelm, the reality of their 65 hour work week and the desperate sense that this ‘busyness’ comes at a personal cost that they couldn’t quite bear to ponder.

We discussed deadlines and delegation, time organisation styles and playing to your strengths both as an individual and as a team. We unpacked switching your highest value, highest reward tasks with the obligatory quick fast and easy ones to first thing in the morning and even the hectic panic of rushing from meeting to meeting without time to grab lunch or a moment to breathe. And then we dove straight in to the cost of disorganisation to us, both personally and professionally – the hard costs of time vs. money and how that impacts your bottom line. This room alone could save their company well over a million per annum if they reclaimed just one hour a day, but we needed to start with the basics and for me, that’s always “lists” … the solution to minimising overwhelm, prioritising priorities and simply freeing up room in your pre-frontal cortex to take action instead of stressing about the action that needs to be taken.

What productivity lies are you telling yourself?

PRODUCTIVITY LIE #16: You have to do everything on your to-do list

Okay, so we can’t actually tackle this topic if we don’t talk guilt. Let’s face it, we feel tremendous guilt when we don’t get things done. This brings on more guilt and less action so it’s, counter-productive to say the very least. Now hear this … being productive/efficient/organised is not about doing everything on your list. Seriously, I don’t give a damn if you get through it all or not. What is critical are the important things on your list. The ones of high value, high reward. The ones that help you and your company generate revenue and the ones that bring you closest and most quickly to fulfilling your core job responsibility. Everything else can wait or be deleted, provided you haven’t committed to a deadline, in which case, you need to either deliver on time, or communicate the alternative whilst being mindful of the deadlines you commit to further down the line, asking yourself: “Based on my workload and capacity, when, (if ever), can I commit to this task?”.

But I digress … let’s look at:

The 3 things you can do right now

  1. Keep your list in one place

Over at WNDYR we have a simple little rule, it’s “one life, one list”. Honestly, the simplest thing you could do right now to optimise your efficiency is consolidate your lists into the one that works best for you. While electronic lists such as Wunderlist are mobile, backed up, able to sync across devices and certainly play their part in minimising list overwhelm, don’t be concerned if technology is not your friend. A paper-based list is just as effective, provided you stick to the rule. Make it a non-negotiable habit to constantly add things to your list. Anything that requires an action that is not yet time or date specific should be noted down.

  1. Get clear on your WHY

So why were you hired? This funny little question tends to get our workshop delegates giggling over things like “It was because of my good looks”. So let’s assume you are all stunningly gorgeous, snappy dressers with amazing handshakes, delicious and sexy. Now why were you hired? And once you have that answer, dig a little deeper to fully understand from out of the reasons why you were hired, where you can make the greatest impact on your organisation. So much time is wasted on the assumptions that you are both valuable and adding value. Frankly, you can only know for sure where you are of greatest value, once you’ve checked in with your boss. If he agrees with your “why” you have a basis on which to prioritise your to-do list; if he doesn’t, you should invest some time in getting to the absolute crux of your “why”. Apart from saving you time in the long run, it can quite literally save your career too.

  1. Prioritise your priorities

Prioritisation is the art of sifting through the myriad of actions requiring your attention into a hierarchy of needs so to speak. Your high priority tasks deserve your greatest attention and hence should be tackled when your brain is at its freshest and your energy levels high. These are the things that contribute to your company’s bottom line (Think: Money in the bank), or your core job responsibilities (Ask: Why was I hired?). On any to-do list you’re likely to have a mixture of high value tasks and lower value ones. Human nature means you enjoy tackling the quick fast and easy (Read: usually lower value) tasks early in your day. It’s likely not unusual that despite great intentions and meticulous planning, you don’t always get to the high value tasks later in your day resulting in these being the ones left hanging on your list. Ah, the reason for your guilt maybe? But maybe I’m not yet making this clear … if low or no value tasks are left hanging on your to-do list that’s not a train smash. See if you can delegate these, negotiate a later deadline or communicate an alternative. These, while they might still be needing your attention, should not be the ones causing angst. Focus on the important things first, make sure you deal with these and everything else is merely a bonus.

BONUS: 4 more guilt-free things you can do with the things that get left hanging on your list:

  • Delete them: If no one is shouting for them and they’re of low value, simply cross them off your list. If one of these tasks comes up again, prioritise it accordingly and get it done when it’s due.
  • Delegate them: Can someone else take care of this task quicker and smarter than you? If so, hand it over. Delegation empowers others to play closer to their strengths. As a team player, make it your business to hear where you can add value to your team members’, while understanding where they can add value to you. Ultimately, you’ll all be contributing to the greater good of your company, and that’s good.
  • Diminish them: Not everything requires your full attention all of the time. If a low value task needs to be done and you can’t delete or delegate it, check to see if you can make the task smaller. Perhaps you’ve assumed that a ten page report is the answer when a short bullet pointed list is all that’s really required.
  • Defer them: Not to be confused with procrastination, deferring a task to another time in the week/month/year when it makes better sense to tackle it, means you free up time to focus on the high value, high reward tasks now without compromise. Make a note in your diary to re-add this task to your to-do list so that you don’t forget about it (or if you are using an electronic list, add it to your long term project list with a deadline notification for the time you’ve deferred it to).


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