Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

It doesn’t matter how fast you move if it’s in a worthless direction. “Picking the right thing to work on is the most important element of productivity and usually almost ignored. So think about it more!” entrepreneur Sam Altman says on his blog.

His own system boils down to three rules: Make sure to get the important stuff done. Don’t waste time on stupid stuff. Make a lot of lists.

Lists help with focus. Properly made, they point to what’s important. You also don’t have to keep as much in your head, reducing distractions. If Altman is not in the mood for the task he is doing, he can always find something else.

Story continues below advertisement

“I’ve learned that I can’t be very productive working on things I don’t care about or don’t like. So I just try not to put myself in a position where I have to do them (by delegating, avoiding, or something else). Stuff that you don’t like is a painful drag on morale and momentum,” he writes. And remember that’s also true for others; they won’t be productive at things they don’t like, so figure out what your subordinates enjoy and delegate that to them.

If deciding your most important task is difficult, productivity consultant Chris Bailey has a five-minute exercise to handle it:

Make a list of every activity you do in your job over the course of a given month.

Ask yourself: If you were limited to doing just one thing every single day, day in and day out, which one would lead to the most being accomplished? “Which is the one task that adds the most value to your team, and makes you the most productive? Which one is the most consequential?” Bailey writes on his blog.

If you could only do one additional activity from the list during the day, which would it be – which offers the most additional value? That’s the second-most important activity.

Similarly, which is your third-most important activity?

That’s probably enough – the most important tasks that help you be productive. Make them visible, putting them on a sheet of paper on your desk or atop your to-do list to internalize them.

Story continues below advertisement

But as well as knowing them, you must actually do them and ignore the rest. “When you can, stop doing the activities that remain on your list. If you can’t, plan ways to spend less time on them. If something is a distraction, tame it. If you have a team, delegate as many of the tasks that remain on your list to them as possible,” Bailey says.

The one exception – the thing not to strike from your list – is something that is fun. He says the point in investing in productivity is not to become a mindless, super-efficient robot, but to let you do more of what you love.

Another approach is to aim for a one-three-five list. Michele Debczak, a senior staff writer with Mental Floss, explains that system allows you to organize not just by importance but by size of the task. Start by identifying the biggest job of the day; then write down three smaller, but still important tasks to fill out the middle of your list; and finally pick five small items you’ll be able to take care of quickly. That allows you to contour your work to the day’s ebb and flows.

Here’s one more list to keep you focused: A tangent log. Keep a notebook or piece of paper beside you and every time you think of something you should do that will take you away from what’s important now – for example, realizing you need to book a doctor’s appointment – write it down for later, Grace Marshall, author of How to Be Really Productive, tells Good Housekeeping.

Quick Hits

  • Knowledge is the compound interest of curiosity, says blogger-author James Clear.
  • “What constraints make you more creative?” asks entrepreneur Lauren Bacon.
  • In periods of uncertainty, people shut down their job searches, notes executive recruiter Gerald Walsh. They feel like nothing is happening. He advises you to do the opposite: Heighten your job search efforts and establish as many contacts as you can, notably work-related colleagues and associates who move in different circles than you.
  • Here’s entrepreneur Seth Godin’s plea, on behalf of your customers or colleagues: “Tell us when you are going to finish. Tell us if you fall behind. Don’t make us ask.”
  • Toronto executive coach Rachel Weinstein has put together a free, downloadable Q&A – Quarantine and After – Journal with provocative questions to help you make sense of the situation and take action. Sample: How do you feel about working from home, on a spectrum from “love it” to “I’d pay to go back to the office?” Name six things that would make working from home awesome. What’s one way to make it just one per cent better, as a starting point?

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies