Our last article began a two-part series on how to get things done. In this article we conclude our “best of” list for high performance and productivity. Combined, this two-part series of articles can be thought of as a blueprint for how high-performance people think and work.
I’ve always believed and personally experienced that success is learnable and predictable – meaning that if I consistently do the things that other successful people do, I’ll usually get the same successful results they do.
Batching – A Key To Boosting Your Productivity
Do you find yourself trying to cram everything into your busy day? Every time you reply to an email three new ones arrive. One of the most sensible productivity techniques tips I’ve ever received is batching. Batching can save you hundreds or thousands of hours that would otherwise be wasted.
We’ve previously looked at taming technology – especially email. There we’ve introduced the idea of only checking email once or twice a day at most. The reason for this is that batching similar tasks greatly reduces the overall time needed to complete them. This is especially the case for smaller and more regular tasks such as responding to email, voicemail and running errands. For example, to respond to email as it arrives, the process might go something like this:
- Email “ting” notifies me of a new email (interruption)
- I go into my email inbox (set up time)
- I reply to the email and then delete or file the original one (doing the actual task)
- I go back to what I was doing prior to being interrupted (re-focus)
The above sequence might take me just three minutes. However, repeated fifty times throughout my workday would take up two and a half hours in total.
Had I scheduled a time in my day to respond to the fifty emails as a single batched task, it’s very likely I could have done this in half or even a third of the time.
Efficiency is gained because I have eliminated 50 repetitions of the interruption, set up and re-focus cycles.
On top of that, the productivity gains of not being interrupted every time an email arrived would be huge.
Email isn’t the only task that can be batched. Anything that happens multiple times a day or multiple times a week are perfect candidates for batching. Some common examples include: returning phone calls, replying to or sending email, meetings, running errands, handling snail mail, sales calls etc.
Doing multiples of a similar task in one session keeps your frame of mind focused, reduces set up time and boosts overall productivity.
The Art Of Thoughtful Neglect
Productivity is often focused on getting as much as possible crammed into your day. Using tools like Outlook, Gmail, various list systems or the excellent Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, one has a myriad of options for becoming highly efficient.
The only problem with being efficient in this sense is that it rarely ever results in making progress on our most important goals. Busyness and efficiency can deceive us into thinking that we are actually accomplishing something, when in fact all we are doing is spinning the wheels but going nowhere.
What would happen if you concentrated fully for a set block of time, say 3 days or a week on that one big goal – you know that big one which has been gnawing away at the back of your mind?
Blow everything off. Don’t reply to the emails, don’t return the phone calls (or at least do the bare minimum you can get away with). Would you get it accomplished? Would you at least make a big dent in it?
Ask forgiveness not permission. “Sorry I’ve been away on some important project work for a few days”, can precede any belated return emails or phone calls.
Let’s take this a step further, what if you only made two goals for the entire year – one personal and one professional? Choose the two biggies. Rather than ten goals that only get partially completed due to lack of focus, what if you absolutely smashed through and achieved your two biggest? Would that make your year?
Do What You Love
This one is huge. When work doesn’t feel like work, getting things done is not burdensome – or at least it’s much easier.
I frequently tell people I’ve never worked a day in my life. That’s because I’ve always followed my interests and created businesses around these interests. Even though I was building fast-growing businesses it felt like a hobby – like I was a kid playing when I should be doing my homework instead.
That’s not to say I enjoyed every facet of what I did. Of course there were tasks which in themselves were no fun, but overall the “mission” was something that I felt passionate about and enjoyed doing.
The side benefit is that it is very easy to get really good at what you do when hours fly by and they feel like minutes because you’re so engrossed in what you’re doing.
I really can’t say it much better than Alan Watts does in the narration of this short video:
When Is The Best Time To Plant A Tree?
When is the next best time to plant a tree? Today!
Have you ever thought about the things you should have done in days gone by? What should you have done a year ago, two years ago, 5 years ago or earlier? What benefits would you be reaping now if you had done them? This is not an exercise in wallowing about the past – but we do want to use the past as a teacher.
What should you be doing today to reap the benefits in one year, two years or five years from now and beyond? Don’t let it slip this time. Plant that tree today and water diligently.
In my experience, the most successful, intelligent and driven people have and maintain a long view of things. Today’s activities are destined to be tomorrow’s benefits.
Look at each of the important areas of your life. What are you doing today in each of these areas that will have a positive impact in a year, two years, five years, ten years?