Cafe Witness

Friday, March 16, 2007

What IS Productivity?

If you're like me, these are the days of your life:

Some days are spent in front of your computer, churning out email after email, tackling tasks, searching for information, making phone calls, assisting friends in need and otherwise making full use of your web capacity? Time seems to fly, and suddenly it's 5 o'clock... and you realize you haven't actually done anything of substance.

Meanwhile, other days, you can make one edit to a video, record one line of audio or write the equivalent of a quick blog post and walk away with a paycheck.

These two realities are not congruent.

How do you judge how productive you're being?

Try these 5 Easy Hacks to Improve Productivity:

1. Weigh Your To-Do List

Not all tasks are created equal. Sometimes, the time-consuming ones offer minimal benefit, while the "easy" tasks provide maximum payoff.

Instead of gauging your workload by the amount of time to be spent, gauge the individual tasks by how important they are to reaching your goal. For example, cleaning out your entire "to-do" mailbox may talk all day and result in zero new business, whereas taking ten minutes to finish that webpage design that's been "almost done" for a week now may trigger the payment that will cover your rent for a month.

Do the math. Decide which tasks get you closer to your goal. Put those "heavy" tasks at the top of the list. (Even if there's only one or two of them, accomplishing them is FAR more productive than accomplishing the 20 smaller items at the bottom... even though they're easier.)

2. Stop Twittering

At my old job, I had the benefit of being able to IM while I worked. Inevitably, this caused a slowdown, especially when the real-life drama (or comedy) was more interesting than my actual workload... which was often.

Twitter is the modern version of the IM (or the chronic MySpace toggle), and it's a time-sucker. As interesting and useful as it CAN be, it's also pathologically addictive.

As an experiment, don't Twitter today. Or, don't IM. Or MySpace, or Virb, or email, or blog, or whatever "side communication" it is that you allow yourself to indulge in during the workday.

See if those extra few minutes result in the accomplishing of an extra few hours of work.

3. Become Unavailable

Akin to #2, you can also choose to go cold turkey and become completely unavailable.

Granted, most of us can't get away with this; we need to be accessible at least in case of emergency. But, by and large, you'd be astounded how much more you can get done when your concentration isn't interrupted -- voluntarily or not.

Turn off the cell phone. Quit the email program. Hell, unplug your router.

At a cafe with wireless? Move to one without. Do whatever it takes to forcibly keep your eyes on the ball, rather than the cheerleaders.

4. Filter Emergencies

Not all emergencies are created equal.

Most of the time, new information that seems pressing is really information that can be (and should be) processed later. Making snap decisions in the heat of the moment is a great trait to develop, but so is being judicious enough to realize that every new email, every new phone call and every knock at your door is NOT the most pressing thing on your plate.

When a problem arises, a complication occurs or an opportunity presents itself, before you make a decision, buffer your choice with the following qualifier: is this new action more important to me in the long run OR the short run than the action I'm currently taking?

If yes (i.e., "Mister Eisner is on the phone," "Please pull over to the side of the road," "The office is on fire," etc.), then take that new action -- but only grant it as much time as it's worth.

If no (i.e., "Accounts payable is on the phone," "Subject: Discrete Tran$fer of Fnuds," "Would you like dessert?"), then postpone that new action -- or ignore it altogether.

Sometimes there are more important things on your to-do list than that piece of tiramisu.

5. Be Honest with Yourself

And, sometimes there ARE more important things than sealing the deal and paying the bills.

Sometimes, you need to spend time detaching, or thinking, or creating, or letting your mind (and body) wander.

Sometimes, you need to allow yourself the freedom to STOP going at 100 miles per hour.

Personally, I tend to need a nap during the afternoon. Even a 20 minute respite can help recharge me for the rest of the day. Instead of telling myself I'm wasting time, I remind myself that I'll be more focused and productive after I nap.

The catch? Actually BEING more focused and productive after the nap. Don't confuse recreation with productivity; recognize it as the balancing half of an effective day's work.


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