We all know the downside of New Year’s Resolutions. You sign up for a 12-month gym membership and you’re disheartened by February. You aim to get that qualification, but the studying stops before summer. You resolved to cook fresh, healthy dinners, but it’s getting late and there’s a McDonalds on the way home…
…in other words, you started with the best of intentions – but life got in the way. And it’s no different with your productivity at work.
Luckily, there’s a solution.
Do you know what elements all failed resolutions share? They look at the goal as a single event, not a journey. And that makes the route to success look more difficult than it really is. So in this blog we’ll explore how you can make permanent productivity gains – by breaking your resolutions down into a series of steps.
Step 1: Break it down
First up is a simple instruction: accept that every goal is a series of steps. Stretch goals look impossibly hard; that’s the point. But they look a lot easier when you write down the milestones between where you are now and where you want to be.
Are there ten milestones? Twenty? Two? It doesn’t matter. Just identify the big ones first. Just break it down.
TRAINING: Practice breaking-down, by listing the steps in making a cup of tea. Have you got a cup? A kettle? Milk? Does it involve a trip to the cellar? To the shops? To India? Describe them as if you’re explaining to someone who doesn’t know what tea is.
Step 2: See multitasking as the lie it is
There is no such thing as “multitasking”. Repeat: there is no such thing as multitasking. You’re simply swapping out one task for another, then swapping back. All the pick-up and put-down is called “transaction costs”, and they’re a thief of your time and energy. So slay multitasking.
What’s on your To-Do list? How long will each take? 30mins? An hour? Say to yourself, “I will complete that task in this time”, and focus solely on that task, no interruptions, for that time. You’ll find it concentrates the mind on getting things done.
TRAINING: Every day at work, try switching-off for 30 minutes. Reschedule that whiteboarding session; cancel that videoconference. (Today’s tools make it easy.) And focus on getting one thing done completely before starting another. In time it becomes natural.
Step 3: Take micro-holidays every hour
Today’s high-tech productivity tools – larger screens, collaboration apps – are brilliant. But to get the most out of them, you still need to do what comes naturally: move.
Don’t sit at your desk eight hours straight. Resolve to be more productive by regularly re-energising yourself. It only takes a few minutes of walking, bending, or stretching each hour to get your productivity juices flowing.
TRAINING: Stand up. Stretch. Tense, flex, release. Pick imaginary apples off a tree; make fists with your toes. Rather than Skype people in your building, visit them at their desk – save conferencing for remote workers. Who knows, it may lead to chance encounters that refresh your ideas, too.
Step 4: Do the worst, first
For all our love of lists, putting something on your To-Do is not the same as doing it. And too many of us put off that hard-looking or unpleasant task. Instead, resolve to meet it head-on – by always attacking the worst task first.
Get it off your desk before elevenses, and you’ve shown that task who’s boss. Best of all, you can reward yourself with a croissant, because you’ve made your whole week simpler and it’s not even lunchtime! Your mind is now free to focus on stuff that’s more fun. Nothing else can ruin your day now. You’re on a roll, productivity hero.
TRAINING: next time you find yourself making a To-Do list, and there’s an item that appeared on the last one, STOP. Move that item to the top and the moment you finish the list, DO IT. Face the fear, and you’ll feel great afterwards.
Step 5: Take an axe to attendees
When organising videoconferences or sharing sessions, make like Carroll’s Queen of Hearts: off with their heads!
A meeting is productive in direct proportion to the number of people you can keep out of it who shouldn’t be there. A meeting list is a special forces operation, not regular army: aim for a small, tight-knit group no larger than the job needs.
HBR suggests 8 people is a maximum if you want to get anything done.
TRAINING: look at your past meetings. Remember those projects? For each, look critically at who came to conference versus their contribution to the project. (Sometimes there’s even a negative correlation: the loudest voices in meetings do the least work.)
Five steps, five simple habits to develop – habits you can start small and build up over time. All it takes is one less browser window open, one less meeting attendee, and you’re on your way to years – even decades – of steadily improving productivity. Can we take that as a resolution?
- To be productive, think milestones, not projects
- Multitasking hinders productivity. Stop doing it.
- Short breaks in the working day deliver big productivity rewards
- Make sure meetings only contain the people you need!