Stan Pohmer is president of Pohmer Consulting Group in Minnetonka, Minn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 952.545.7943.
Time – Your Big Investment
I’m sure that, like me, you leave educational events and trade shows, such as the OFA Short Course, full of energy, inspired and with a sense of empowerment with great new approaches to business and new ideas. And many times, that creates a problem.
The problem isn’t that the ideas are bad or that they can’t benefit me or my business. It’s that the sheer number of these ideas is overwhelming and, because there’s no human way I can implement them all at once and it’s difficult to prioritize them all or I’m conflicted about which one will give me the biggest payback, I end up implementing none of them at all! So not only was the time spent in collecting these great ideas a waste, but I missed prime opportunities for personal and professional improvement; intentions are great, but without implementation, they’re worthless.
Been there, done that?
Like most people, I always have a million things I want to get accomplished every day, and unless I write them all down on my to-do list, I can never remember them all. But then the distractions start creeping in — phone calls, emails, Facebook, Twitter, people dropping by to ask for my help in solving their problems — sucking away my time and preventing me from attacking the things I personally wanted to get to each day. And then a sense of frustration sets in because I didn’t do what I intended to do, and I complain that there’s never enough hours in a day to get everything done.
Again, intentions are great, but without execution, they’re worthless.
Been there, done that?
Hairy & Audacious
I almost always have at least one BHAG — Big Hairy Audacious Goal (or project) — that I’m working on, something that will yield major benefits, but is intimidating because of its scope and the fact that it’s a huge, oftentimes consuming endeavor that is made up of a multitude of individual steps and activities. (And I know better than to try to tackle more than one BHAG at any given time because I get overwhelmed and frustrated, but I do it anyway!)
One of the major problems with BHAG’s is that they’re always on my to-do list, but they never get done because it’s easier and more convenient to tackle the smaller easy tasks, just so I can get that feeling of accomplishment for crossing something off the list each day — the feel good effect. But is this approach really helping my productivity?
Been there, done that?
Your Multi-Tasked Problem
Maybe it’s due to down- or right-sizing our businesses because of the challenging economic environment in the recent past. Maybe it’s because our lives are more complicated with the constant involvement or encroachment of social media into the fabric of our daily lives. Maybe it’s because we feel the need to be connected 24/7 and there’s a blurring of our personal and professional lives.
Whatever the reason, to cope we’ve looked to multi-tasking as the fix to our problems (and some people actually boast at how many things they can do at once and wear the term “multi-tasker” as a badge of honor!). But a recent study by Stanford University shows that heavy multi-tasking may encourage even heavier multi-tasking as it leads to a “reduced ability to filter out interference” or distractions, resulting in lower productivity and higher stress and frustration levels.
Ideally, we’d like to believe that 50 percent of results come from 50 percent of the effort; this plays well to our psyches and has a sense of fairness attached to it. In that world, all of the tasks and projects have equal ranking and benefit, so there’s no need to prioritize. Unfortunately, this is the way most of us approach our to-do lists, and then we wonder why our productivity goes to hell in a handbasket every day!
The reality is that we live in a world where very few things are exceptionally valuable. Some things we do yield very little benefit, while others produce huge results. Many of you know from some of my past articles in Lawn & Garden Retailer that I’m a true believer in the Pareto Principle that supports the 80/20 theory — 80 percent of the results are produced by 20 percent of the effort or investment of resources. The whole concept of differentiating the trivial many from the vital few — prioritizing those few projects or tasks that truly will make a difference is both challenging and refreshing.
It forces us to identify and focus on those things that are essential, eliminating or deferring those that are non-essential, and then committing the time and other resources to accomplishing those are truly beneficial and of import.
Productivity isn’t necessarily about how many things you get done every day, but rather doing the right things. Considered in a slightly different way, sometimes what you don’t do is just (or more) important than what you do!
Where to Start?
Consider this process; you can adapt it to your own style,
1. Write down ALL of your tasks or projects. Mark each one as either “vital” or “trivial.”
2. For BHAG’s, break the project down into bite-sized, sequential tasks. Make sure that you include the sequential tasks from your BHAG project in your master list, so you stay on your project time line.
3. At the end of every day, go through your list and write down your top six priorities (from your vital tasks) you want to accomplish the next day on a Post-it note.
4. Cross off the bottom five on your list (keep this list handy to refer to AFTER you complete your No. 1 task each day)
5. Write down your No. 1 priority on another Post-it note and place it on your computer keyboard or in the middle of your computer screen.
6. Block out as much time as needed on your daily calendar to tackle and, hopefully, complete your No. 1 priority. If you have time left, you can start on one of the remaining five priorities you identified the night before.
7. Beware of distractions! Try to avoid checking e-mail, looking at Facebook or Twitter, interruptions from staff members, phone calls, etc., that break into your blocked out time. If you do need to be disrupted, make a conscious effort to write down what the interruption/distraction was and why you allowed it — this will help mentally reinforce the need to minimize distractions.
This process will help you prioritize and focus your time, effort and resources on those activities that provide the maximum payback, while eliminating busy work.
Sure, we’d like to be able to do everything, but your time is limited. Make sure you invest it wisely! Over time, you’ll find that some tasks will never make the vital side of the ledger and will eventually drop off your list completely; in most cases you’ll find that no one (yourself included) will know or care that they weren’t completed. You’ll find that you accomplish more important activities that have real payback and increased productivity. On the personal side you’re more satisfied and stress free, with less frustration.
Sound simplistic? Maybe it is, but the concept really works if you are serious about it and use it consistently. It’s all about focus…