How to be Ultra Productive – Six Tips

How to be Ultra Productive – Six Tips

 24 November 2006 at 5:34 pm

SalaryScout.comI’m a procrastinator. There, I’ve said it. I also have perfectionist tendencies. As you might imagine, this can sometimes be a lethal combination. Not only do I "wait until the last minute", but I’m never satisfied with the outcome. I’m sure you’re asking, "how do you get anything done?"

Several years ago I recognized that this was an area of my life that needed improvement. Although I’m still reluctant get started on tasks too early, I have made much progress in determining the optimum time to work on a project. Completing work weeks or days ahead of schedule is often not desirable and may result in work having to be re-done. However, waiting until the night before a major deadline, no matter how small the task, can lead to unnecessary elevated stress. Depending on the scope of the project, the optimum time to start a project is a few days or weeks before your most conservative projection.

Those of us plagued with perfectionism have a tendency to never be satisfied. While this can be valuable at times, more often than not it leads to major delays and missed deadlines. To address this problem, I consciously try to set attainable goals, be pragmatic, and realize that a completed product/project/or task is much more important than perfection. Perfection can only be achieved when a project is refined over time. It is unrealistic to believe that perfection can be accurately defined during a project’s inception.

Before anything, I want point of that I am not expert in this area. I am a person with more interests than time and continually look to take on new projects and responsibility. Rather than get bogged down, I decided to approach the problem directly and find ways to increase my work efficiency. I offer no guarantees and can not really take credit for any of it. The tips given below are simply an explanation of what has worked for me.

Write down what needs to be accomplished

As soon as you recognize that a certain task that needs to be completed, write it down. Otherwise, additional time and concentration (another resource) will be wasted thinking about all of the things that need to be done, rather than actually doing work. By keeping a list of tasks to be accomplished, you can keep yourself from being overwhelmed by seeing that that the amount of work to be done is finite.

Break tasks down into the smallest unit possible

It’s not enough to write down broad project descriptions. e.g. ‘Complete Web Project’ Tasks should be broken down into the smallest unit possible. This will ensure that whether you have 5 days, 5 hours, or 5 minutes to work on a project, something with be accomplished. Any time you sit down to work, the mantra should be, ‘complete at least one task, complete at least one task, complete at least one task…’

Prepare your environment for productivity

Determine the environmental requirements for you to be most productive. For me, it’s a clear desk, up-tempo music without words (typically electronica, techno, traditional Irish, bluegrass, jazz), a steaming cup of tea (yes, I put milk in my tea), and dark outside (after 9:00pm) with the window open. After years of telecommuting, I realized that I seem to get the most accomplished when all of these variables fall in place. Find what works for you and recreate that environment time and time again.

Start with the quickest/easiest tasks first

We all love the sense of accomplishment. Projects often fall behind due to frustration and lack of initiative/excitement. When possible, complete the quickest/easiest tasks first. In order to maintain the motivation required to see a project through to completion, the ability to show steady progress is key. In certain circumstances completing smaller tasks first may not be possible. However, it is important to maintain the sense that the project is not stagnant.

Set small, medium, and long term goals

If you don’t know exactly what you want to accomplish, you’ll waste a lot of time in the process. Set attainable small, medium, and long term goals for all projects. For example:

Small goal:
I will create three images before I make a cup of tea.

Medium goal:
I will have the template completed before I go to bed next Sunday night.

Long term goal:
I will have this web-application completed in 3 months.

Long term goals encompass the entire scope of the project. Medium goals are for the major sections of the project, and small goals are groups of tasks that can be completed in a very short period of time. For me, setting goals is usually not enough. I always reward myself for accomplishing each goal. As noted above, after I create three images, I’ll go make a cup of tea. Other rewards may be eating a snack, taking a break, putting on music, turning on the fan, checking Google news, etc. Typically a small goal consists of multiple tasks and takes around 30 minutes to complete.

Medium and long term goals require accountability. Once you have established medium and long term goals, tell as many people about your deadline as you can. Doing this provides extra pressure to ensure that goals are achieved on time. Be sure not to be overly optimistic when setting goals. Tasks always take longer than expected.

Only work on one task a time

In the age of multitasking, it seems counterintuitive to focus on one task at a time. All I have to say, it works! Rather than chatting on your instant messaging client, refreshing Google news for the 100th time of the day, pulling up your RSS reader, listening to a podcast, and working on several tasks of your project all at the same time, work to discover the value of pure concentration.

I have found that focusing on tasks sequentially rather than in parallel is much more effective. While I have difficulty focusing intensely for a long period (the Internet is too distracting) of time, I have found that I can regularly do it for periods of 5 minutes. This goes hand in hand with breaking down tasks to the smallest unit possible. When each task has been completed, physically mark it off the list so that you feel the sense of accomplishment and can visually see progress.

End Notes

By knowing what needs to be accomplished, breaking tasks down into manageable pieces, setting goals, rewarding yourself, and focusing on one task at a time, you’ll be surprised of what can be accomplished. Although these tips can be helpful, often the greatest road block is lack of commitment to change. If you truly want to improve work efficiency, don’t just think about it, make it happen.


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