If you are feeling easily distracted and unproductive, you aren’t alone.
From the 24 hour news cycle to an increasing dependence on and distraction caused by smartphones, collective productivity levels are on the decline.
No doubt the occasional low-energy day or a need for contemplative, unscheduled break time can help us refuel and re-energize. But spending an undue amount of our days in a semi-productive state takes a toll.
It can lead to decreased quality of work and low morale. It can result in missed deadlines, revenue loss, or delay production schedules. Over time, ineffectiveness leads to unnecessary stress, burnout, and dysfunction.
No doubt, setting realistic goals and priorities helps hit your targets over time. But if we aren’t working on the right things to begin with, we will most certainly end up falling down on the job or missing our goals. We can excuse these misses away — employee drama, customer delays, product glitch, sick kids, traffic jams, and so on. Whatever the reason, we can find a way to justify to ourselves why we aren’t achieving our most important goals.
To get to the root of our productivity problems, it helps to go back to the basics of time management. Are we focused on the most important tasks that lead to results? Do we do what most needs to be done when we start our day, or instead knock out what’s easiest or quickest?
Doing what’s toughest first is not an easy mental shift to make and requires discipline and intention.
But is it worth it?
Absolutely. According to E.M. Gray, “The successful person has the habit of doing the things the failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them necessarily either, but their dislike is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”
General and former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower was known for being a master organizer. We’ve modified the infamous “Eisenhower Box” for modern based on testing and assessment of other time management principles. Here’s how you can use this tool to get the most of every day:
Put First Things First
1. Start by making a list of how you spend your days.
2. Next, organize this information into the 4 categories listed below. Some things will be easy to categorize, while other areas will challenge you to re-prioritize.
3. Now assess yourself honestly. Many people hold on to tasks that are really better delegated. Other times, they delegate the harder, more important priorities that ultimately require them to dig in, focus, and make tough decisions.
4. Lastly, structure and organize your time around what’s most important for achieving your short and long-term goals. If you determine there are areas you need to delegate, prepare to invest time upfront to get new systems or processes in place. If you can’t decide on your own how to differentiate between the quadrants, seek out a trusted colleague, adviser, or mentor for help. Don’t let indecision or overwhelm stop you from completing the exercise.
Studies show it takes 21 days or more to form a new habit, so you’ll need to keep this up for a few weeks. Be systematic about it; measure your results and track your time. Once you’ve done it for yourself, you can work with your employees or direct reports to do the same. In time, you will start to move the needle on your annual priorities, objectives, and overall mission.
*A version of this post was initially published by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.