Want to be more productive? Here's a quick, three-step experiment. First, think of your busiest day over the last week or so. Second, jot down two or three words that describe what you did that day. Finally, ask yourself a question: Did each of those activities lead directly to an outcome you wanted to achieve?
Nobody is productive all the time. We all spend time at work socializing, laughing, surfing the Internet, or maybe even worrying and daydreaming. That's OK. We're human beings, not machines, and we need to do things like that. Moreover, if you're not as productive as you would like to be, these kinds of activities probably aren't the real problem.
Instead, the true productivity destroyers are the activities that you think get you closer to your goals, but that are actually timesucks in disguise. They're tricky--sometimes because they're things that we do in fact need to do, at least in moderation, or because they're deceptively related to more productive activities.
Here are seven of the most dangerous among them. Were any of these words on your list?
Should you meet more people? Of course, but so many people seem to lose interest after that first step, which makes it a wasted effort. After they've met someone new, whether it's a quick introduction at an event or an introductory email on LinkedIn, they disappear. Be more productive by spending as much time on keeping your professional relationships alive as you do on finding new people to meet.
Brainstorming on its own is an ineffective way to generate good ideas--lots of flash but little heat. Often, when you reach agreement on a new idea, it's at the cost of true brilliance. (It's like the old joke about how a mule is what you get when you try to design a horse by committee.) Improve the creative process by mixing brainstorming sessions with silent idea generation.
Is there value in the planning process? Absolutely. Working through ideas and contingencies pays dividends far down the road. However, executing, learning, revising, and relaunching are as important, if not more so. Fix your planning by constantly seeking maximum information for minimum cost, so that you can improve your agenda and achieve your goals.
These are the less-glamorous cousins of brainstorming, and they're just as dangerous. Sometimes meetings are necessary; more often they aren't. At the least, they run too long. So, focus on the goals and invitation list ahead of time, and keep the meetings short. Moreover, to ensure momentum doesn't dissipate, insist that everyone clearly understands their next steps, and begin yours before you leave the room.
Planning and keeping a calendar is time-consuming, and it only grows more so as you become busier. I'm surprised by the negative reaction some people have to this suggestion, but it's true. If you're running any kind of business worth doing, you need an assistant. He or she should be planning and coordinating your schedule for you.
Do you need email? Of course, but it's often far better to send a short message than a long one. Let Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos be your guide. If you ever have a complaint about Amazon, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If he thinks it merits attention, he'll forward it to someone else at the company "with a one-character addition: a question mark."
American commuters, on average, spend the equivalent of 38 hours per year stuck in traffic. Commuting is an enormous time-killer, and it's not all that much better from a productivity standpoint if you're taking public transportation. You're far better off working from home at least some of the time, and allowing employees to do so, too.
Want to read more, make suggestions, or even be featured in a future column? Contact me and sign up for my weekly email.