For years, we’ve associated productivity with getting as much done as possible. Efficiently squeezing the most out of our time, and ruthlessly ticking tasks off our growing list. But this isn’t how we, as human beings, do our best work. In an age where technology is increasingly efficient, it’s time to embrace our human capacity
Make better decisions
Productivity is not about getting everything done. In fact, trying to get everything done will ruin your productivity.
Have you ever tried to work from a never-ending to-do list? How do you choose what you work on? When we try to get everything done, we become overwhelmed. That’s when you’re more likely to cherry pick the quick wins or the easy tasks, or find yourself in your inbox, reacting to the quick and the immediate, rather than even looking at the bigger, more strategic items on your list.
When we’re overwhelmed, we’re more likely to seek the quick relief of feeling like we’ve gotten something done, rather than ask if we’re working on the right things. We become focussed on quantity, rather than quality, on activity, rather than results.
It’s only when we shift our focus away from trying to get ‘everything’ done that we truly start to prioritise “what’s worth doing?” and “what’s the best thing for me to focus my finite capacity on?”
Separate fake work from real work
Real work is the work that moves you forwards towards your goals. Fake work is the kind of work that just keeps you busy. And believe me, there’s plenty of work to keep you busy!
When you’re faced with an overwhelming to-do list, ask yourself, “what’s the real work here?”
What are the one or two things that will make the biggest impact? This is the work to prioritise.
Then ask yourself, “what’s the fake work?” What are the ten smaller items that might make you feel productive when you tick them off, but would actually prevent you from getting to the real work? This is the work to decline, delete or delegate.
Maybe it’s that meeting where you’re not really needed. Or the work that the rest of your team are quite capable of doing, but you get drawn into the email chain and dive in with your input. Or the continual editing, tweaking and refining you keep doing – to your product, your website, or your proposal – instead of actually getting it out there.
Make space for human work
What’s the human value that you bring to your work? Is it your creative flair? Your enthusiastic energy to bring people together? Your keen eye for detail? Or your critical decision making?
All of these qualities require more than just “time”. They require capacity. Your mental capacity to think straight and make good judgement decisions. Your emotional capacity to read a room, to influence, engage and develop relationships with people.
Next time you consider whether to say yes to that meeting, or that extra piece of work, don’t just ask yourself if you’ve got the time available, ask yourself if you’ve got the brain power or the emotional energy to do this piece of work justice.
Thinking is the work!
You might have noticed that the tips here require more thinking than actual doing. That’s because so often people I work with tell me they don’t give themselves time to think, because it doesn’t feel like work.
But as knowledge workers, thinking is the best work we can do! For many of us, the more we think, the less we actually have to do, and the more focused, impactful and satisfying our work becomes. Now that’s what I call really productive!