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A businessman superhero (iStockphoto)
A businessman superhero (iStockphoto)

Competent just doesn't cut it any more Add to ...


By Laura Stack

John Wiley, 252 pages, $25.95


By Dave Crenshaw

Jossey Bass, 166 pages, $23.95

Most of us try to be competent at our jobs. But productivity ace Laura Stack says that no longer cuts it. These days, you must rise above mere competence. You must be supercompetent.

"Success will come to those who can accomplish more in less time and consistently perform at their productive best. The people who achieve their fullest potential are not simply competent; they're supercompetent," she writes in SuperCompetent: The Six Keys To Perform At Your Productive Best.

She says that becoming supercompetent is not about mantras, but about mindsets. She outlines six steps to be fully effective: You must determine what you should be working on, make time for it, focus on those tasks, organize the information required to complete the tasks, be responsible for your results, and never give up.

Those six steps require six universal traits, each which she begins with an A:

Activity: Supercompetent people are driven by a clear sense of priorities and sense of direction. We all know that a person who works an eight-hour day can be more productive than a more aimless soul putting in 12 hours. The key is to know what is valuable. "Value determines priority; priority determines goals; and goals determine activities," she observes.

Availability: Supercompetent people control their schedules, making time for important activities and avoiding the unimportant. They know they can't be available to everyone, all the time, and therefore devise priorities, protecting themselves from unwanted incursions. They also use technological productivity tools to accelerate their productivity and streamline their schedule.

Attention: Supercompetent people are superfocused. They pay attention to the task at hand, tuning out distractions. She notes one superdistraction, e-mail, has four ways of alerting Microsoft Outlook users when a new message comes in, and explains how to turn them all off - if you don't follow her advice to close Outlook completely for periods. As for your instant messenger … well, you get the point.

Accessibility: Supercompetent people organize the information they need to do their job, building systems that allow them to locate data quickly. They sort, filter and process the e-mail, reading material and other documents flooding in. She stresses there is no one-size-fits-all organizational method, but the effort starts by deciding whether you lean toward an electronic organizer, a paper system or, like her, a hybrid of the two.

Accountability: Supercompetent people take responsibility for their actions and the outcomes of those actions. They question processes, rather than just going along with inefficiency, and strive for continuous improvement. They are disciplined, give themselves deadlines and avoid procrastination, breaking seemingly unmanageable tasks into smaller chunks, and then, like Nike adherents, they just do it.

Attitude: Supercompetent people have a positive outlook and a pro-active approach. They don't, for example, wait for bosses or the company to supply training; they get what they need to be successful. They stay away from the pessimism that can puncture morale, and subscribe to Winston Churchill's maxim: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give in.

In Invaluable, productivity coach Dave Crenshaw, author of The Myth Of Multitasking, presents a fable in which a young marketing employee and his boss set out to learn the secret of being irreplaceable. That involves focusing on their most valuable activities - the ones that produce the most value in the marketplace - and getting out of their least valuable activities.

They learn that it takes more effort and skill to tackle their most valuable activities, so the least valuable ones are a seductive trap. Those are easier, after all. But that means more people are willing to take on these tasks, so you can delegate them to someone else.

Often productivity experts blithely declare you should get out of work that is not valuable but then don't deal with who assumes those tasks when they still must be completed. The book takes a stab at it, suggesting that one person's trash - or least valuable activities - may be another person's gold. In the story, it turns out that the two main characters, working together, can seamlessly hand off to each other tasks they don't do well. But then it is a fable.

The book highlights processing time: The large chunks of our day that we spend deciding what we're going to do next with something and when, or where, something belongs. The average person, the book suggests, spends 25 per cent of the day processing. The goal is to cut it to about five hours a week.

SuperCompetent starts somewhat vacuously, but picks up steam, and has lots of tips and lists for approaching work life more effectively, although much of is a compilation of already reasonably well-known ideas, tailored to Ms. Stack's six keys. Invaluable is less wide-ranging, but has an interesting system, which is presented with various charts for assessing your current productivity and reformulating your calendar toward the most valuable activities.

* * *

Just In:

Consultant Mark Mueller-Eberstein shows how to exploit technology to take your company to a new level in Agility: Competing and Winning in a Tech-Savvy Marketplace (John Wiley, 247 pages, $47.95).

Jay Conrad Levinson pioneered the idea of using low-cost marketing techniques in his books on guerrilla marketing and now he fittingly turns his attention to social media in Guerrilla Social Media Marketing (Entrepreneur Press, 250 pages, $25.95), written with sales trainer Shane Gibson.

Microsoft Office 2010 QuickSteps (McGraw-Hill, 356 pages, $34.95) by tech writers Carole Matthews, Marty Matthews and John Cronan can help if you are moving up to the latest version of the popular software.

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