“Doing more isn’t always better,” according to Laura Stack, MBA, president of the consulting company The Productivity Pro® and author of What To Do When There’s Too Much To Do: Reduce Tasks, Increase Results and Save 90 Minutes a Day.
Working longer hours or sprinting through a series of tasks doesn’t mean you’ll be more productive or actually get stuff done. “No one really cares how many hours you were in the building or if you finished your to-do list. People only care about what you’re able to produce and the value of those results,” she said.
Below, Stack shared her six secrets to greater productivity and value.
6 Steps to Becoming More Productive
1. “Determine what to do.” Of course, not every task on your list is important. Your job is to figure out which tasks are and which ones aren’t. Stack calls this triaging your to-do list. In the ER, Stack said, triage nurses don’t see patients on a first-come first-serve basis; instead, they pick patients based on severity (i.e., level of importance).
“Just as the triage nurse has to decide which patients need the most attention, you must determine which tasks on your list take priority over the rest,” Stack said.
She developed the following cheat sheet to help you clarify your priorities:
- P1: You will get fired if this isn’t done today
- P2: A valuable long-term activity that should be done soon
- P3: Someone will be unhappy if you don’t do this eventually
- P4: Human “pain-management” activities such as socializing and Facebook
2. “Schedule time to do it.” In today’s fast-paced, pressure-filled world, it’s not realistic to plan every minute, or even every hour, of your day. But you can carve out time for your must-do tasks. For instance, you can block out 45 minutes to finish a job report, Stack said.
3. “Focus your attention.” According to Stack, the key to concentration is to “turn off and tune out.” For instance, let calls go to voicemail. (As she said, “There’s very little you have to attend to instantly, unless you’re a trauma surgeon.”) Turn off alerts to social media, email and chats. In other words, “Deactivate all beeps, lights, flashes, noises, and notifications.”
Stack also encouraged readers to be thoughtful about technology. Identify when it’s appropriate to use technology, and when it isn’t, she said. “These are tools, so treat them as such—not as demanding little children constantly crying out for your attention.”
4. “Process new information.” This involves shrinking the amount of time you handle information, Stack said. For instance, “Do things right away requiring less than three minutes,” and “Don’t use your inboxes like a to-do list.”
5. “Close the loop.” Identify what helps you work more efficiently and what doesn’t. Stack suggested asking yourself these questions to identify your productivity boosters and killers:
- What changes can you make to improve the methods and procedures you’re using?
- What can you do to work more effectively?
- What’s holding you back?
- What new systems are benefiting your life?
- What’s frustrating you?
- What’s keeping you from doing what you know you should be doing?
- What obstacles do you perceive?
6. “Manage your capacity.” Focus on the factors that affect your energy, such as getting enough sleep and exercise, Stack said. Check out these tips for healthy sleep and physical activity:
- 7 Tips to Shift Your Sleep Schedule
- Tips for a Satisfying Sleep
- 14 Strategies for Sleeping Better
- 5 Ways to Find the Joy in Moving Your Body
- The Exhilarating Effects of Exercise
- Starting an Exercise Program: The Right Time Is Now