Promoted to management 10 years ago, Leon Ho decided the best way to improve his productivity was to read the top books available. In total, he has delved into 100 books, and from them catalogued 15 elements to being efficient and effective, which he shares on Lifehack, the site he founded:
- Don’t wait for others to set your deadlines; set them for yourself. In school, deadlines are handed to us. But when we enter the world of work, it isn’t the same. “Successful people don’t wait, they set deadlines for their personal goals. While meeting external deadlines (those that are given to you) helps you to survive and meet the bare minimum, internal deadlines (those that you give yourself) make you push through your boundaries. The key is to be proactive, not passive,” he says.
- Keep track of your time like you do your bank account: Time is money. But while you can always earn more money you can’t retrieve wasted time. Watch your time as carefully as your money.
- Don’t focus on your weaknesses – work on your strengths instead: If you focus on strengths, your growth can be exponential. Make that your primary focus and, indeed, try to use strengths to turn weaknesses into an asset.
- Rank tasks by importance, not the order you received them: Regularly prioritize your tasks and tackle the vital ones first.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew: Taking on too much at once can be discouraging. Break down big tasks into smaller, more digestible chunks.
- Delegate: smart people know when to hand off tasks. “Recognize which tasks can be passed on to others so that you can focus on more challenging and important tasks,” he writes.
- Use your brain for thinking, not remembering: Trying to remember too many things just taxes the brain. Use your phones, notebooks and other tools to write down important stuff rather than trying to keep it all in your memory.
- Review your productivity at the end of the day: Take time each day to reflect on what was accomplished. Four questions he suggests: What have I done well? What have I done poorly? Why did some things not work out as planned? How can I do better tomorrow? “When we don’t reflect, we rely only on natural growth. Successful people concentrate on deliberate practice, where they actively identify and focus on things to improve. Even if you feel that you’ve done a job well done, still consider what could be done in terms of improvement. There is always something!” he says.
- Sometimes cutting tasks is better than adding them: Cut the clutter, be it tasks or folders on your computer. Don’t only add. Subtract from time to time.
- Estimate time on your tasks: Neglecting to estimate your time can cause you to waste effort since you don’t have a deadline you are working towards or a goal of how much time to spend on the task.
- Stretch your creativity no matter what your job is: We need a bit of creativity for every task that we complete, no matter how mundane it may seem. Consider everything you do as presenting scope for creativity.
- Know when to stop: Tasks tend to devalue over time. Know when your productivity is diminishing on a project and it’s time to re-evaluate your game plan and perhaps move on.
- Always assume you don’t know as much as you think you know: Don’t become arrogant. Stay humble. Keep learning. There is always more to know.
- Identify your instant gratification and ditch it: If you keep hearing you’re doing a great job, you may become so confident you stop trying to do any more. Watch for such triggers, moments that provide so much gratification they prevent you from digging deeper.
- Start with the big picture and work down to the details: Don’t work mindlessly. Know how everything you do fits into the larger scheme of things.
You have probably heard many of those tips already. But you may be forgetting more than a few as you hurry through your day. Keep the compendium in mind, today and tomorrow.
2. Career management lessons from golf
- Work on your long and short game: In golf, you can’t rely on a successful long game or short game alone. It might be fine to spend a lot of time at the practice range slamming the ball hard, but you also need to pick up your wedge and putter. “Just like in golf, it’s important to set short- and long-term career goals. Although you should always have your eye on the big picture, don’t forget to break down your long-term goals into smaller, short-term goals,” she writes on the Dumb Little Man blog.
- Play the wind: Factors beyond your own control – the wind, the rain – can determine whether you have a good round. Similarly, you can’t control many aspects of your career. Adaptability is key. When doors open or close, you need to be ready – and confident – to go with the flow.
- Enjoy the sand traps: Even the best players can lose their confidence when trying to hit the ball out of a bunker. They need patience and a positive attitude. The equivalent in your career is a growth mindset, the belief you can learn and move on from all situations to a better place. She says of your career: “When your ball lands in the bunker, remember that it’s a learning experience and not a failure. Be patient and treat your mistakes as growth opportunities. Reflect on what went wrong and determine how effort can lead to mastery in your career.”
- Take practice swings: Golf takes practice, learning to improve your grip or hit out of that bunker. So does your career. Spend time exploring different options and trying different roles. That can help you determine what the best path is before you have wasted too much effort.
3. Work-life questions to ponder on vacation
Vacations are a respite, a chance for reflection. At FastCompany, Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, offers these four questions to ponder as you're away from the hurly-burly of your desk:
- Setting aside the stress and worry each day, am I happy, over all, with my work?
- Where am I headed – where do I see myself in five years’ time?
- Of the community of professionals doing work in my field and allied ones, who don’t I know that it would be convenient to connect with? (Supplementary question: What’s the best way to meet them – joining a professional society, attending networking events, reaching out directly, or….?
- What’s missing in my life?
4. Quick hits
- Advertising legend David Ogilvy said one of the reasons his firm won its clients was “our competitors walk their clients to the elevator but we walk our clients to the sidewalk.” Alberta consultant Michael Kerr asks on his website: What would your version of “walking your clients to the sidewalk” be?
- Downtime is often regarded as wasted time by busy CEOs. But BCG consultants Roselinde Torres, Martin Reeves, Peter Tollman and Christian Veith say there are rewards for reflection and it should be regularly scheduled (and protected) on the leader’s calendar. Unstructured and unguided thought tends to dwell on immediate worries and familiar problems while this structured thinking time can take the CEO beyond.
- Your business should have at least two suppliers for all key items, in case an interruption occurs, advises consultant Donald Cooper.
- Knowledge is increasingly generated by teams rather than solo researchers. A recent study found that in science research, team size has grown steadily each year and nearly doubled from 1.9 to 3.5 authors per paper over 45 years. Solo authors tend to be more prevalent in the arts and the humanities, though collaboration has increased there as well.
- Check your organizational metrics dashboard or other data half as often and do twice as much with what you learn, advises entrepreneur Seth Godin.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter.