--- Janet Dailey
If you're like time-starved professionals everywhere, at least one of these phrases sounds uncomfortably familiar to you.
Check all that make you nod, cringe or laugh.
____“We want to tackle that big initiative in a few months. We’re busy right now.”
____“I’m so busy I don’t have time to stop and think.”
____“Some days I just want to stay in my pajamas crawl back into bed.”
Feel free to add some of your own.
The good news is you can reclaim your time, sharpen your focus, and get more of the things done that make a meaningful difference.
“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”
--- Dr Seuss
If you are intrigued by the prospect of turning everyday busy into strategic successful, then let’s start with where you are now. Think about your typical day.
You get the idea.
Exploring the reality of your days can be an inspiring experience. Not so long ago I set out to understand where our team’s time was being spent and where we could improve. Our simple getting things done workbook was the only tool we needed to capture and measure the value of our daily activities.
While tracking your activities for a week might seem tedious, it will be well worth the time you commit to it.
As you become more aware of the things you do every day, you will naturally look more closely at why and for whom. Comparing day-to-day activities with your organization’s strategic goals will uncover the gaps and misalignment in your organization. These discoveries strengthen and focus your strategic growth plans.
“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”
Let’s begin by banishing “busy” from your vocabulary. Busy is a safe retreat, a default excuse for failing to make the forward progress you seek. From this moment commit to yourself that you will not let “I’m so busy” be your warm security blanket.
Research has shown that we all have natural peaks and valleys in our daily productivity rhythms. Our ability to produce at a consistent level throughout the day is not sustainable.
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink shares fascinating studies that will help rethink and reshape your daily schedule. For example, research shows that you are most effective at analytical tasks early in the day. Later in the day you lose some of your sharp focus. This less disciplined mental state allows your mind to wander in more abstract ways. You are more likely to see the possibilities among unrelated ideas. A free-floating mind is the springboard for aha moments.
Start your daily planning by taking a close look at what you need to accomplish each day. While it is tempting to plow through your inbox or check off mindless tasks first thing, you are sacrificing your most focused attention time. As hard as it is to change this morning habit, it is one worth doing.
So much of what I’ve read about successful people’s daily rituals says they simply block off large chunks of time and stick to their schedule. As company leaders who often wear many hats, this can seem more aspirational than realistic. You don’t always have the luxury of a large team to make everything happen. You have to create a productivity plan that is realistic for where you are now and where you expect to be in the future.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
--- Yogi Berra
Somewhere in our growing up, we were sold the well-intended but utterly nonsensical notion that idle is bad and busy is good. Staring out the window was the mark of the motivationally deprived.
Productivity and efficiency have become benchmarks for doing more in less time with fewer resources. Measuring the creative output that comes from mind wandering is rarely effective in the moment. But this doesn’t mean that we should sacrifice thinking for results we can see right now.
When you feel your laser focus fading after a long period of time, simply step away. Take a walk. Do something that is unrelated to what has absorbed your undivided attention.
Inspired creativity is an asset that should be as valued and rewarded as immediate productivity. Many of the greatest discoveries were the result of a wandering mind asking “what if”.
“Systematize the predictable. Humanize the exceptional.”
--- Issy Sharp
There is something so satisfying about checking off a to-do list item. It doesn’t even have to be a big deal. It’s just that sense of “done” that releases dopamine in our brains when we do something rewarding.
How often do you have those nagging mental reminders of the things still undone? We all have them, and they can quickly add to our mental muck. This phenomenon is known as the Zeigarnik Effect identified in the 1920s by the psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik. It states that you tend to remember incomplete tasks more than those that have been successfully completed.
It is easy to see how the Zeigarnik Effect contributes to your sense of frustration and anxiety over the things left undone. It distracts you from accomplishing the things that are most important.
The humble checklist is a wonderfully simple solution for getting more things done. Each check is a burst of dopamine that inspires more action and positive feelings.
We became checklist fans in the 1990s quite by accident. Since then we have adopted them as an indispensable part of ---
The list goes on. We have become such proponents of the power of checklists that we even include it as a service in Collaboration Studio B.
“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
―George Bernard Shaw
Ideas are the lifeblood of a company committed to continuous growth and value creation. The challenge with a fledgling idea is it requires time, resources and nurturing to become more than another shiny distraction.
We have never suffered from a lack of ideas. What did frustrate us was what to do with all of them.
To keep us on track with the immediate work at hand and still look to the future, we created this simple Idea Triage Workbook. Each idea is added to the workbook as it arrives. Instead of getting sidetracked with the details, we outsource our idea to the workbook for development in the future.
There is nothing unique about this process for analyzing and developing each idea. The purpose is to make it accessible and useful to everyone in the organization.
Some of the valuable results are:
An Idea Triage reader shared an unexpected, insightful comment with us --- “It helped me get past the fear of executing.”
"I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say."
--- Flannery O'Connor
Outsourcing all of the stuff rolling around in your head to written words has immediate payback. There are no special skills, talents or tools required. You don’t have to be an award-winning wordsmith. You don’t even have to like to write.
This is an easy get-things-done ritual that anyone can start doing right now. When you find yourself distracted by all of the disconnected thoughts sucking up your mental bandwidth, hit pause. Start making notes without worrying about format and structure. You have permission to ignore all the things your high school English teacher drilled into you.
The goal is to declutter your mind so you can focus on your important work right now. Your distracting thoughts need to be captured before they’re gone. You can decide later what to do with them.
The tools you choose should be ones that do the job for you comfortably. If you find yourself spending more time mastering the tools than making your brain dump notes, then you might want to stop and find a more useful tool. No one will grade you on your technique so make it your own.
I confess to being a spiral notebook and blue Pilot Precise V5 note writer. The act of physically writing the words or drawing my very unartistic pictures puts my cluttered thoughts away for the moment. There is a very real feeling of relief when I erase my mental whiteboard and make room for the next round of random thoughts.
Adopting a writing habit is rewarding, even for the most diehard non-writer. Your thoughts have more clarity. You can focus on creating the value that matters to your organization and your clients. There is a surprising sense of accomplishment that naturally moves you forward with a positive, upbeat attitude.
Writing frees your unconscious mind to explore the hidden possibilities in seemingly unrelated ideas. Watching the dots connect in unexpected ways as you write is an eye-opening experience.
“The single greatest motivator is ‘making progress in one’s work.’ The days that people make progress are the days they feel most motivated and engaged.”
– Daniel Pink
Start each day with an accomplishment. This doesn’t have to be the big knock it out of the park homerun, just a simple achievement that says “Done. I did that!”.
An early morning success sparks an energized, positive mindset that fuels the rest of your day. Think about that one thing you are most dreading and do it first. Not only do you have a well-earned sense of success, but you also eliminate the nagging stress associated with it.
One easy way to get started is with a list of 5 things that give you a real sense of accomplishment. Remember, these are strategic, move-it-forward things, not unproductive busywork. “Busy” is no longer part of your vocabulary.
When you’re laser- focused on the big goal, it’s easy to lose sight of the small steps that move you steadily forward. It is important to continually recognize these worthy milestones. When you design your big plan, include reward checkpoints along the way.
Why not use the checklist approach to ensure you recognize and experience your important incremental successes?
“There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen to write.”
―William Makepeace Thackeray
It’s not that you suddenly wake up one morning without one single thought. Your mind is a vast empty wasteland. Not even close.
It’s quite the opposite.
You have so many competing priorities and half-done ideas that you simply hit the overflow level. Sound familiar? Of course it does. It happens to everyone.
When you hear that familiar voice in your head saying “I’m overloaded and I don’t know where to go next”, stop and make a list. Yes, you’re back to writing things down again. I know from too many of my own meltdown moments that my trusty spiral notebook and blue V5 Pilot pen untied my mental knots.
Just start writing until you have completely exhausted every last thought.
A huge thanks to Seth Godin for sharing this exhaustive “every” practice in 2014. It has worn me out many times and made me laugh at myself way too often. You will be amazed how far the edges of your “every” imagination will take you.
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
Deep Work by Cal Newport