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  • Tamar Balkin

What is The Key to Being More Productive?

My clients regularly talk to me about conflicting demands on their time and strategies to ensure they are focused and gain a sense of accomplishment. In a previous blog I mentioned Steven Coveys techniques and provided a link to a worksheet on my web page. Over the weekend I read an excellent article which links a weekly prioritisation process to personal values, and giving to others which go a step further to increasing motivation and a sense of accomplishment. The process is best described in an interview between Adam Grant and Clay Skipper.

"I'm curious how you engage with the "Cult of Productivity". I imagine you're pulled in hundreds of different directions, and yet you're still unbelievably prolific. So I'm curious how you manage to make sure that the things you're doing aren't things you're doing just to do them—that you're doing the things you actually want to be doing, or making sure that you're getting the urgent things done. I've gotten comfortable with a couple of shortcuts that I use to try to navigate this problem. I try to start every week with three things that I want to accomplish that I care about. And then three ways that I want to help other people. And that's the compass for the week. I'll plan my whole schedule around those things. Sometimes I find that I overshot dramatically. I could only accomplish one thing and be helpful in one way. But I try to have the three and three front and center, so I evaluate everything else that comes in through the lens of, "Is this going to stand in the way of the major things that I'm trying to get done this week, and the major ways that I want to show up for others this week?" And if the answer is yes, I'm either not going to do whatever comes in or I'm going to schedule it for the next week, or the following week.

I used to feel frustrated because nobody ever achieves as much as they plan to. There's this whole body of research in psychology called the "planning fallacy" on how we dramatically overestimate how much we're going to get done in a given day or week. To the point where, [when] software engineers estimate how long it's going to take them to code something, a lot of tech companies of take that estimate and immediately multiply it by four. We don't breakdown all of the depth, or we forget about the moments when we don't know how to solve a problem, or when we need to take a break for lunch, or when our motivation is going to falter. There's all these hurdles that we have to jump over that we don't factor in to our time estimates.

I used to get frustrated by that. I have all these goals and I'm always falling short of them. And I've changed my view on that. I still feel that frustration, and I still fall short of my "what I want to get done" goals much more often than I hit them. But instead of just feeling frustrated by that, I have a second reaction, which is then saying, "I know from experience and from evidence that that frustration is now going to motivate me to be more productive." Instead of feeling "Wow, I am a total failure again, and I never get anything done in the window that I plan, why am I not more efficient and productive?" I say "Wow, this is really frustrating and this frustration sucks and I don't like feeling it. But it's probably what I need to feel right now in order to propel me into a better mode of working."

I've tried to move away from productivity as the end goal. I still have ideas of what I want to accomplish in a particular window because that helps me stay on track and gauge my progress. But mostly productivity is a means to an end, not an end. I think the worst way to be more productive is to set your sights on being more productive. What you want to do instead is to focus on a reason to be more productive. Who's going to benefit from this project? Why did I start this project in the first place? I try to reconnect with the motivation for doing it, what's fascinating about it, what's meaningful about it. And then the productivity kind of naturally kicks in."

Let's all begin today by writing down the answers to these two questions: 1. What are the three things that you want to accomplish this week that you care about? 2. What are three ways that I want to help other people? If you want increased accountability email me your answers and I'll send them back to you in seven days time. As always please be in touch if you or anyone in your network would benefit from executive coaching. Reference:

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