It’s not the “doing”.
It’s not how fast, or how well.
Nope, it’s none of these.
The secret to a lifetime of productivity is simply this: Making the best selection of WHAT to do at any given moment.
(Although it certainly doesn’t hurt to do things fast and well – as long as they’re the RIGHT things)
In any day there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of actions you can take. Which ones you choose are critical to living a productive life, or being the most productive person at the office.
It’s the art of constant prioritization – a mental “to do” list that goes through a special kind of algorithm, a kind that only a properly focused human brain can pull off.
And that’s the rub: a focused brain. If we all had the time to sit down and write out all of the things we needed to do, and then painstakingly arrange them in order of priority, the world would certainly be a much more productive place.
But we can’t do that.
So we must develop an intuitive process to make these split-second assessments on the fly. How can we help our brains with this task?
I’ve found that there are 5 things we can consciously do to pave the way:
- Turn off the yes reflex. Your brain doesn’t have a chance to react and process if “yes I can” is the first thing out of your mouth. Over committing is the cardinal sin of productivity. Try “Let me think about it” or “I’ll get back to you” – or just “no” (once you get better at the intuitive stuff)
- Reduce the multitasking – severely. Think about how hard it is to have a meaningful phone conversation while you are answering e-mail or Tweeting at the same time. Now add the critical task of prioritization on top of that. Tilt!! Our minds are a marvel of nature, but there not that good!
- Come up with a daily “Top 5″. While writing down everything is impossible, you can certainly sit down and focus for 5 minutes every morning and at least put to paper the 5 most important things you need to do that day. That’s it, just 5. Your brain will thank you for the assistance (I do this as often as I can, and it works very well).
- Learn how to take the “Big Picture”. Don’t get lost in the weeds – take that step back before moving forward. Taking a “big picture” perspective can only be enabled by your ability to pause, breathe, rise up a few thousand allegorical feet, and “see” the situation from a better place before making a decision.
- Cut your losses on bad decisions. Don’t waste time carrying through on something that is clearly failing or not working. We humans are proud lot, and sometimes our “refuse to lose” attitudes can put us down dead-end roads that keep us away from more fruitful pursuits. That pride needs to be swallowed every now and then.
Do these 5 things consistently, and you’ll get the focus you need to make better and better decisions.
And productivity will certainly follow.