January 17, 2018 • 7 minute read • by Saeed
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” ~ Mark Twain
The frog in the quote above is the things you don’t want to do, but actually need to do. We all have them. We all struggle with productivity. We all struggle with efficiency. Time is a finite resource and we can’t get more of it. So, the only way around this problem is to use our time better.
Planning ahead is key. So is starting. Above all, taking action and over thinking is what moves the ball forward.
If you’re a maladaptive perfectionist or a procrastinator who is always holding out for perfection, you might spend a lot of time stuck in this mode. Just pick your frog and eat it without thinking too much about it. Don’t confuse activity with efficiency. Being busy all day is not the same as being productive. The most effective way to be productive is to build effective habits and routines and execute them with military-like discipline.
Organize Your Tasks
First things first, organize. Get a birds-eye-view. In order to get an overview of your tasks you can use a method such as the Eisenhower Box Technique to divide your to-do list in 4 categories:
- Things you don’t want to do, but actually need to do.
- Things you want to do and actually need to do.
- Things you want to do, but actually don’t need to do.
- Things you don’t want to do, and actually don’t need to do.
Now that you know what needs to get done, here are a few of my favorite ways to get stuff done:
Set it up for Success
One of the greatest barriers to productivity is not having a plan. Many of us want to exercise in the morning but never take our idea beyond that initial thought to set our self up for success. If you want to exercise in the morning, make a mental note before going to bed that you’re going to go for a run first thing when you wake up. Take out your running shoes and clothes and put them by the door. Get your iPod ready with your favorite playlist or audio book too. Then, once you wake up, you’ll remember the first task on your list for the day and have everything you need right at your fingertips to do it.
Have the Right Tools
The right tools are critical to getting stuff done. Let’s say you’re going on a business trip. Yes, it’s great that you can read emails on your phone, but I doubt you’re going to type out a report on it. So by simply investing in an iPad and keyboard cover, you can multiply your productivity while on the road. I use my cell for all it’s worth so I recently invested in an external battery pack so I don’t have to walk around airports looking for charging stations. Portable MiFi devices can also come in handy. If there’s some item that will help you work better, think of it as a tool in your arsenal.
Set a Deadline
Timeboxing is a technique that encourages you to focus on time rather than tasks. The premise of the principle is simple. Having more time does not mean more productivity. Think about it: When you have all afternoon to finish a task, you’ll take all afternoon to do it. You’ll make fridge runs, go for coffee breaks, check email or social media here and there, and do other things that are wasting your time. Studies have shown that putting limits on your time to complete a task actually increases the speed of your work. Such deadlines improve your focus and enhance creativity. Time limits are particularly effective because they force you to ignore distractions and prioritize work. Time limits force you to dive in and power through. This is concentrated time and not the false promise of multi-tasking your way into productivity. Once you complete one task, you can switch to the next and timebox that one accordingly. We each have peak productivity periods. Mine is early in the morning. My brain is freshest. My thoughts are crisp. By the end of the day, I’m pretty well fried. So I know that I’ll do my best thinking work between 5-7 AM. It is now 6:31 AM. The critical rule of timeboxing is that work should stop at the end of the timebox and progress should be evaluated to know if the goal has been met. Setting a timer is an effective way to do this, especially if you can see (or hear!) it counting down. Get a big old-fashioned LED or wind-up one to put on your desk, and you’ll have a constant reminder that your “deadline” is approaching. Shorter sprints, by the way, are best because your brain is able to focus on any given task for up to two hours (after which it needs a 20-30 minute break to recharge).
Have an Accountability Partner
Having an accountability buddy helps you get your work done better and faster. Whether it’s having a running buddy for your exercise routine or a team mate at work, the social facilitation of having someone who encourages you when you feel discouraged or someone who shares some of your goals gives you a competitive edge. You need someone nearby to help you keep pace, expect you to keep going, and celebrate with when you’ve made it to the end. The back and forth and inspiration you can get from an accountability buddy is especially good for powering through work you don’t enjoy. So, find a colleague and see if you can hunker down in a conference room one afternoon and power through your work together. There’s certainly a time for quiet, deep thinking work, a time for working more loosely without a deadline, and a time for solo work. But when you have something that is a challenge or a stretch for your own current capacity, there is nothing like having an accountability buddy.
Bundle Your Work
In life and work, there are things we like to do and things we don’t like to do. Research suggests that combining the things we want to do, with the things we should do, could be a way to get more stuff done. The so called ‘temptation bundling’ technique says to simultaneously combine two differing, but complementary, activities. The theory is that pairing a thing you like with something you don’t like, will give you a greater incentive to do something you might be putting off. For example, listen to an audio book (something I like) while I run (something I despise). The benefit is derived from simultaneity. The risk is associating your enjoyment of the task you like by pairing it with something unpleasant. I may no longer like audio books after I try this and I end up avoiding both. Nonetheless, the technique is premised on finding tasks that complement each other, and perhaps even work better, when combined. Although sustainability is a question for further study with this technique, we can’t magically become more productive so applying new methods to see what works is worth the effort.
A Final Word
It’s important to note that these aren’t the only strategies or strategies to use all the time for productivity. They are best practices and we have to experiment to see what works best for each of us and when to apply which technique. The bottom line however is that developing lifelong habits of productivity is what leads to success. The business world rewards those who produce results—not those who are simply busy. It is worth your time and effort therefore, to learn the habit of diving directly into major tasks and work steadily and tenaciously until that task is completed. If you regularly set priorities and get important tasks done quickly and efficiently, you’ll be recognized as an effective and productive member of the team or entrepreneur who not only talks the talk but also walks the walk.
So what if I have two frogs you ask. As Twain said: “If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
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