The Productivity Project is a fresh, personal, and entertaining exploration of a topic that concerns all of us: how to be more productive at work and in every facet of our lives.
Work at a pace somewhere between the monk and the stock trader
Take for example the world’s most devout monk, who meditates all day, and takes an hour to do anything because he wants to do it slowly and mindfully. The monk does a little as possible, as deliberately as possible, and can do things so purposefully because he moves at a snail’s pace.
The opposite of the monk is the cocaine-fueled stock trader, who works quickly, automatically, at the most frenzied pace imaginable. Unlike the monk, the stock trader doesn’t often step back from what he works on to reflect on its value or meaning–he simply tries to do as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Because he works so fast, he doesn’t have any spare time or attention to do things purposefully or with intention.
Meditating all day may bring you inner peace, and working at a frenzied pace may be incredibly stimulating, but productivity has nothing to do with how much you do, and everything to do with how much you accomplish.
As a monk or a cocaine-fueled stock trader, you won’t accomplish much. When you work like a monk, you work too slowly to accomplish much of anything, and when you work like a stock trader, you’re too hurried to step back from your work to identify what’s important so that you work smarter instead of just harder.
The most productive people work at a pace somewhere between the monk and the stock trader–fast enough to get everything done, and slowly enough so they can identify what’s important and then work deliberately and with intention.
Where should you invest the majority of your time, attention and energy?
THE IMPACT CHALLENGE
Estimated time to do the challenge: 10 minutes
Energy/Focus required: 8/10
What you’ll get out of it: You will discover the highest impact tasks in your work, which will show you where you should invest the majority of your time, attention, and energy. Before you invest in increasing your productivity, it’s crucial you determine which areas you want to become more productive in. This simple activity will help you do that.
Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog, recommends a linear process to identify your highest-impact tasks, projects, and commitments. His method is quite simple, and I have modified and expanded on it a bit to make it more helpful:
1. Make a list of everything you’re responsible for in your work.
This part of the activity takes the longest, but it feels incredible to get everything you’re responsible for onto a sheet of paper in front of you (or into whatever your preferred digital equivalent is). There’s a good chance you haven’t taken a moment to step back and think about everything you’re responsible for in your work on a weekly or monthly basis
2. After you’ve collected a list of everything you’re responsible for, ask yourself:
If you could just do one item on that list all day, every day, what item would you do that would allow you to accomplish the most with the same amount of time? Put another way, what item on the list is the most valuable to your boss or yourself (if you’re self-employed as I am).?
3. Finally, ask yourself:
If you could do only two more items on that list all day, what second and third tasks let you accomplish the most in the same amount of time?
These three tasks are the 20 percent of your tasks through which you contribute at least 80 percent of your value. Value is the operative word here; unlike your most meaningful tasks, your most purposeful tasks may not necessarily contribute a lot of value or meaning to you, but they contribute an incredible amount of value to your productivity.
As I began to deliberately and intentionally invest more time, attention, and energy into my highest-return tasks, my productivity shot through the roof. Working smarter instead of just harder is impossible without first stepping back from your work.
After you’ve begun to lay the groundwork by determining your smartest tasks to work on, what comes next?
Working on them, of course.