Productivity Tips to Restore your Focus
My executive coaching clients often tell me that they want to be more productive. It’s a lofty goal, but what does ‘productive’ really mean?
When we talk about productivity we tend to think of getting a bigger volume of work completed, but often what’s really needed is a balance of quality and quantity. There’s no use producing a lot of work, if that work isn’t of good quality – or if it isn’t contributing to your bigger picture goals.
One of my favourite quotes is from Peter Drucker:
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
More work vs meaningful work
If you want to be more productive, it’s important that you’re working on the right tasks. If something isn’t contributing to your overall goals then it isn’t meaningful. Ideally you should look to delegate or remove the task. Occasionally, there are tasks that don’t contribute to your goals that you do have to complete yourself. These should be the exception and not the rule.
Next time you have a task, ask yourself how it’s contributing to the bigger picture. If it isn’t, consider how you can remove or delegate it.
When you allow yourself to get distracted mid-task by emails, telephone calls, and other interruptions, then you are constantly switching contexts. This context-switching slows you down while your brain adjusts to each task, compared to just focusing on one thing at a time. In fact, it can cost you up to 20% of your time just switching between tasks. Imagine how much more productive you’d be with 20% of your time back!
You can’t eliminate all distractions. However, simply switching off email and social media notifications and checking them at scheduled intervals will save you time by reducing your context switching.
Being productive is often a case of effectively prioritising. Many leaders are familiar with the Eisenhower Matrix, where you place tasks into quadrants based on importance and urgency. Unfortunately, when faced with high workloads we sometimes forget to use this tool and find ourselves focusing on the wrong tasks.
If you’re not familiar, or need a refresher, the Eisenhower Matrix breaks tasks down into four categories:
Important and urgent
These are tasks that you must do immediately, and not doing them would have a significant impact. These tend to be ‘crisis’ tasks, like responding to a very serious customer or client complaint.
You can’t completely avoid all crisis tasks. Try to leave a little ‘wiggle’ room in your daily schedule to accommodate them when they arise.
Important but not urgent
These are tasks that contribute in some way to your goals, but that don’t necessarily have a short deadline. They’re also the tasks we tend to procrastinate on, placing more ‘urgent’ tasks above them and constantly knocking them down the priority list.
These are meaningful tasks, and ideally should be high on your priority list.
Urgent but not important
Answering emails, handling interruptions and last-minute work requests from other people all fall into this category. These are the tasks we normally fill our days with. Unfortunately they rarely contribute to our goals.
There is usually some kind of urgency attached to the task. Often, the urgency is based on other people’s priorities rather than your own.
Limiting these can be difficult. While they’re rarely important, you will need to complete them.
Not urgent or important
These are the tasks that we should spend the least amount of time on. They are the tasks that you can remove to make way for more important activities. If it’s not adding value, and it’s also not urgent then you should try to remove the task completely.
Some leaders can struggle with delegation for various reasons. They may feel guilty for ‘offloading’ work or worry that someone else won’t complete it to the same standard. Perfectionists often struggle with delegating tasks. However, effective delegation gives you more time to handle meaningful work. It can also give your team members extra responsibility that helps them grow.
Some tips for effective delegation:
- Delegate tasks that are within that person’s skill set
- Provide clear instructions to prevent miscommunications
- Delegate responsibility for the task and allow them to get on with it–don’t check up every two minutes on them. Following up at an appropriate, pre-agreed time will reduce stress – for you, and for them.
If you have too many things to do, shifting your focus from work to ‘meaningful work’ will increase your control and coordination of priorities, which will restore your focus, energy and enthusiasm for your work.
One thing I love to do is help leaders overcome their feeling of being overwhelmed. If you’re ready to stop dong more work and start making real inroads into meaningful work, then why not book a call to see how I could help?