Productivity, what does it mean?
The Common definition
Dictionary.com defines productivity as the quality, state, or fact of generating, creating, enhancing, or bringing forth goods and services. Unfortunately, this definition has led to an industry that tries to interpret productivity as “Do More.” The pundits want to teach you to manage your time better as if we can control time, create task lists, use project management tools, and so forth.
But productivity isn’t about doing more with less; it’s really about doing the most important things at the right time. It’s about not forgetting the things you need to do. We need to do those things that bear the most impact on our lives, goals, and projects before we start clicking on the counter that measures some artificial measure. For example, if you’re only counting tasks done per day, you aren’t productive if you only do unimportant tasks.
We are determining the importance of tasks.
The first step to becoming more productive is to have a running list of all the tasks you need to do. Then, each time you or someone else comes up with a new job, add it to the list.
The second step, more complex, is to assign each task a level of importance. One way of looking at this is to ask yourself, what will the impact be if you don’t do this task? This task list doesn’t require much prioritizing, like numbering all your tasks from one to n, with one being the highest priority and n the lowest. You only need a few levels. You can use a matrix of four quadrants where one axis is labeled importance, and the other is called urgency. Then your productivity is higher if you did all the important-urgent items first and the unimportant-non-urgent tasks last or not at all.
Then step 3 is to regularly review the tasks you need to do that day and items that have been on the list for a long time without any action. The later ones you may want to delete.
But this prioritizing process ignores a dimension of the tasks. For example, some tasks have a more significant impact on your life than others. It also ignores the time-energy dimension of your workday. An example of this is a task I will call daily reflection. Which quadrant does this fall into, and do you consider it a task. What do you do with the challenging tasks vs. the easy ones? When in your day, do you do both?
What does optimizing your productivity mean?
To optimize your productivity, you must first understand your energy level throughout the day and match the difficulty of your tasks to coincide with when your energy is available to do them. For example, when your energy is high, do your most demanding tasks and when your energy is low, do the mundane easy tasks like cleaning out your email in the box.
So productivity is doing the essential tasks that coincide with your energy level. Don’t use vital energy at your peak times doing mundane tasks. Save them for another time when your energy is at a low point. It’s you knowing you regularly check task lists than doing them at the right time.
This simple change in your thinking will improve your productivity!