Questions to Boost Your Productivity
You know it’s going to be a busy year when it’s your first day at work in 2016, and things are already ramping up. Your productivity is already being squeezed.
Maybe you’ve been asked to take the lead on a new project, even though you’re still finishing up some of the things you started last November. Or maybe it’s a relationship or a personal goal.
But if you’re like most people, you’ll find that even with a clear priority it’s hard to stay focused. Unexpected things come up all the time.
You can try to squeeze them in and hope you’ll get it all done somehow. But when your bucket (or your coffeecup) gets too full, it’s going to overflow. Your productivity dives.
Three months later, when you find the time to check in again with your priorities, it’s all too common to realize you haven’t made progress on the important things – the ones you care about most.
You can’t stretch time, or create more of it. But you can do something even better. You can do less in the time you have.
Another word for doing less is focus. Focus the key to meeting your goals and living your life with intention.
And the key to focus is saying no.
Ask yourself this…
Saying no, for most people, is harder than it sounds. But it’s a skill everyone needs, and it will shift your ability to shape your life in a big way.
Learning to focus can be as simple as asking yourself a series of questions before taking on something new. These questions can help you say no to things you’d rather not do anyway. But they can also help you say no to new and tantalizing possibilities that come up all the time. They are usually things you’d love to do…but now isn’t the right time.
Below are four focusing questions to use in the new year. Let’s look at them one at a time, and consider how each one can powerfully affect your productivity.
Question 1: Can I let this go?
Simply asking yourself this question creates an Intentional Pause, a space that allows you to make a choice. Consider what you’re about to do. Is it something you want to take on? Does it help you accomplish your very few most important goals? Do you have the time, energy, and resources to make it happen? Is it the best use of my time right now? Is it truly essential?
One of my clients, Lynn, was a certified massage therapist, and she really wanted to create a business. She told me, “I’d do it for free if I could, but I have to support myself.” Her goal was to create an income of $55,000 by the end of the year. She thought it would be possible to do this, but not easy.
Lynn also wanted to write a book. She had plenty of ideas, and she thought having a book would give her the credibility to help jumpstart her business. There was some truth in this – a book can give you credibility and open doors. But writing a book takes time, and when it’s finished you need to take more time to market the book.
For Lynn, it made more sense to focus her marketing directly on her practice, and write the book when she had met her real goal – do work she loved and create income.
Question 2: Can I make it simpler?
If you can’t let something go, perhaps you can make it easier, less time-consuming, or automatic. Think about creating routines and using technology. For example…
- Make a donation instead of spending all day working at a fundraiser
- Decide whether you can send out your next internal report without photos, since photos mean double the production time
- Do an aerobic routine at home instead of driving to the gym
- Listen to Spanish podcasts on your commute instead of taking a Spanish class
- Use online scheduler instead of scheduling clients, one-by-one, by phone
These particular examples might not work for you, but there are ways that creating systems and routines can simplify your life and save significant amounts of time.
As you go through your week, ask your self which tasks might be simplified or automated. Then choose one each quarter and create a system for it. By the end of the year, when you’ve done this four times, you’ll be amazed at how much your productivity increases.
Question 3: Can someone else do it?
Delegating and hiring help are great ways to save time for things that only you can do. This might be obvious when it comes to routine tasks. But it’s also important to get help for tasks you enjoy when, 1) they aren’t central to your most important goals; or 2) someone else can do them well enough.
This might seem counterintuitive. If you’re like most people who like to do a top notch job, you might find yourself taking on projects because you have the most experience, or because you can do them better than anyone else.
Surprisingly, those aren’t necessarily good reasons to take something on. Even if you’re the best person to do a task, it doesn’t mean that you should be the person to do it. Not every project needs to be done by the best-qualified person.
Here are some things you might hand off to others to enhance your productivity:
- Essential but routine tasks
- Time-consuming tasks
- Tasks other people can do better
- Tasks you can do best – but shouldn’t because your time would be best used in another way
- Tasks that could help someone else learn something new or develop a skill
- Tasks you are not responsible for – even if you don’t mind doing them
- Any task that doesn’t move you toward your top priority
Question 4: Can I postpone it? For how long?
This question is surprisingly powerful.
Think about it: have you ever postponed something so many times that you finally decided it wasn’t worth doing at all? That’s exactly the point of this question.
Sometimes it takes a few weeks or months for the emotional attachment to a project or an idea to loosen a bit. Simply delaying action can help you get to the point where you can let go.
There’s another advantage to postponing things. Scheduling tasks for tomorrow, instead of jumping on them today, can skyrocket your efficiency. Author Mark Forster describes this simple strategy in his excellent productivity book, Do It Tomorrow. By waiting just a day to tackle a new task, you can almost double your productivity.
The 4-Question Routine
If you’re like most people, you’ve started the New Year with some inspiring goals. To give yourself the best chance of accomplishing those goals, you’ll probably want to make asking yourself these four questions part of your daily routine.
When you pour too much coffee in your cup, it’s going to spill out somewhere. These questions won’t help you create time, but they will keep the inevitable surprises of daily life from overflowing until all your “free” time is gone and you abandon your new goals by February.
Use them to empty your in-box and clear your calendar, so you triple your productivity and have room for what you love.
Here they are again. Printing them out or write them on an index card, and keep them by your desk or calendar.
- Can I let this go?
- Can I make it simpler?
- Can I give it to someone else?
- Can I postpone it?
How will you use these questions in the New Near? Drop me a note and let me know.
Happy New Year!