I am currently sitting in Legal Seafoods in Boston waiting for my flight to Houston. I will be coaching at the JO training camp this weekend and I am stressed trying to figure out how I will get it all done. I am a notorious list maker. The best intentions and most focused to-do list can be derailed by the slightest distraction. Productivity killers are everywhere.
Like a dog who hears “squirrel” or a kid who sees dessert sitting on the counter before dinner, it’s easy to find ourselves off track even when we have a pressing desire or responsibility to work on other priorities.
Productivity is a corporate buzz word that is thrown around when talking about worker effectiveness, and of course, the bottom line. But productivity is much more than just how much work we can get done in a certain time frame — and it goes far beyond just the corporate realm. Productivity means that we are working on tasks that are meaningful and will help us reach our goals more quickly — both at work and at home.
When you putter away a morning surfing social media, you aren’t being productive (unless your job is checking your Facebook wall and “liking” your friend’s status on her kid’s latest sports win). Productivity is embarking on tasks that strategically align with your goals. This strategic alignment can be professional — like when you have meet entries due or a yearly competition plan to finish and you consciously create a plan to finish it pulling in resources to make it happen by the deadline. This strategic alignment can be personal — like when you have a dream of paying off debt so you can send your kids to college. You consciously choose to cut out the daily fancy coffee drink or those to-die-for shoes that you really want but don’t need. You consciously choose one activity or decision over another to get you closer to your goal.
Productivity is about much more than just getting work done. It’s about getting the right work done for the right reasons to achieve your goals. But between the constant beeping, ringing, dinging and blinking of our always-on technology and the work demands, polite requests and family must-dos, it’s often hard to stay productive even when we want to be productive.
Here are seven surprising ways to keep yourself on task when your productivity is suffering.
1. Do something else. This seems completely counterintuitive, but when you step away from something you need to focus on, you will come back with a fresh perspective and newfound energy for the project.
2. Add a deadline. When you try to accomplish tasks with no time frame attached to them, they get pushed off and pushed down the priority list. Instead, create a hard and fast deadline for completion to kick you into productive mode.
3. Delegate. Sometimes we just aren’t inspired by some of the tasks we must complete in the course of our daily lives. Whether it’s that totally meet entry sitting on your desk or the mundane task of putting up holiday lights, life is full of drudgery. In these cases, find partner who can help or unload the task completely onto someone else.
4. Rename the project. Some things just sound foreboding. No one wants to do a Yearly Competition Plan. No one wants to do the laundry. But it’s exciting to say it’s time to Plan for Nationals or to refill your closet (do the laundry). Be creative and spin the boring tasks into more fun ones.
5. Ditch the list. There is power in lists, but sometimes they just get overwhelming and too detailed to be productive. When you feel overloaded, throw away the list and let the most important tasks naturally rise to the top. What needs doing most will pull for your attention and action leading to productivity.
6. Reward yourself. A job well-started is more likely to end up a job well-done. Once you take that first step on a big goal, reward yourself with a treat — a trip to the coffee shop, a long lunch break, a movie or night out. Build in these little rewards throughout the project to keep you motivated to finish it.
7. Start over. Big projects have a way of taking over our brains. If we get pulled down a negative or unproductive path during the process of a big project, it can often feel like we’re stuck or lost. When this happens, just start over. It’s better to lose a little time and work than to get spun off in the wrong direction for a bad end result.