Joseph Law is the CEO of Living Greatness, a training and consulting company that helps individuals and Fortune 500 companies enhance their performance and leadership potential. He is the author of Living Greatness: A Practical Guide to Living an Enlightened Life.
Here, he offers us his five favorite productivity tips.
1. Set specific goals with clear outcomes – Stephen Covey talks about the principle of beginning with the end in mind, in which you have a clear vision of the outcome before you begin each task. When playing golf, Tiger Woods visualizes every shot before he takes a swing.
Be strategic and purposeful in your day. When you start every morning, think about the three most important objectives you have for the day, while linking these to your weekly, monthly and yearly goals. Here’s a great tip for setting goals: they need to be grand enough to excite you, yet realistic enough that you believe you can reach them. Consider management guru Brian Tracy’s rule of thumb: you should feel as though you have a 50% chance of reaching your goal.
2. Create blocks of time - Learn to protect your time and say no to interruptions. Create blocks of time to focus on specific activities you need to accomplish. Turn off all technology for 60 minutes a day and focus on doing your most important work. To handle important projects, your full focus and dedication is needed; creating blocks of time where you will not be disturbed by phone calls, emails and meetings will help you get those important tasks accomplished.
Don’t respond to every email right away unless it is both urgent and important. Even though each email might take only minutes to write and send, all those minutes accumulate and eventually diminish your attention, energy and focus, thus causing you to feel scattered, as if you have a hundred things that need to be done now. Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, only checks his Blackberry three times a day. A study at Microsoft showed that scattered attention will lead to a drop in productivity. One group of research showed that we have more than four interruptions per hour. The study showed that 40% of the time, the disrupted task was not resumed immediately following the interruption.
3. Allow breaks in between periods of work – Firstly, work in 90 minute cycles. Lots of scientific research is now confirming that this is the optimal work to rest ratio. Secondly, take one day a week as a complete recovery day to refuel and regenerate (that means no email, no phone calls and zero work). Leonardo da Vinci tended to take liberal short naps from his work on the Sistine Chapel against the wishes of those who commissioned him. He responded by explaining that he accomplished more by working less.
Top athletes spend 80% of their year in the off-season preparing for very short, intense outputs of energy. An athlete builds capacity by stressing his or her muscles beyond their current capacity and then letting them recover and rebuild. On the other hand, most people in the corporate world spend 95% of their time expending energy at work and get only a few weeks of vacation per year. Instead of rhythmically alternating between periods of stress and recovery, we tend to always have the pedal to the metal. Unless you rest and recover, you will not enhance your capacity, and the law of diminishing returns applies as your performance, energy and productivity declines.
4. Focus on priorities – Constantly remind yourself of the 80/20 rule: 20 per cent of what you do will produce 80 per cent of your results. Work out what brings you maximum results, and then focus on activities and projects that will contribute to the greatest success. Understanding the difference between urgent and important activities will not only make you more productive, but will drastically reduce your stress level.
An issue can be both urgent and important (an important assignment with a deadline), urgent but not important (a telemarketer is calling), important but not urgent (that big project you’re working on), or neither (surfing the web). We need to develop the ability to quickly identify urgent and important interruptions that need to be dealt with right now, and set aside the rest to be dealt with at regular intervals when they will not interrupt us from the tasks we are focused on completing.
5. Handle your most difficult task with your best energy – Some people find that they are more clear-headed and energetic in the morning or after lunch. Whatever time it may be, schedule the most difficult task in that period. Strategically use that time to your advantage. By handling your most difficult task while you are in your most resourceful state, you will be more effective and efficient at completing it.
If your most effective time is in the morning, complete your most important task first. This will give you a psychological win, which can be an effective boost for the day. Schedule mundane activities and tasks for times during the day when you feel less effective and alert. Rush unimportant jobs, or even better, delegate them. So often we spend too much time on the unimportant. As investment genius Warren Buffett likes to say, ‘What’s not worth doing is not worth doing well’.
Joseph Law is a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers, and has appeared on SBS, Sky News and Channel 10. He is a sought after speaker and speaks to companies like Optus, L’Oreal and JP Morgan. Please visit www.livinggreatness.com