03 March 2008

“The Ultimate Guide to Productivity”

Over on his Instigator Blog, Ben Yoskovitz last year started a very interesting Group Writing Project Meme called “The Ultimate Guide to Productivity”.

So far, people from all over the world have contributed their own top tips on productivity and Ben has been busy collating all of the top tips into a useful guide for all of us.

Among the best tips that I’ve seen so far are:

Clarity – Monk at Work (Adam Kayce) suggested this little gem and states that clarity comes from having a message: “Your Message is the sum of who you are, what your passions are, what your values are, and what comes to you naturally to give, share, and contribute to your world.”

Just do something, already – Lorna Doone at Something Good. Don’t let yourself feel “too down” by looking at your mile long to do list. Just start taking the first step and the next will follow.

The childlike secret to productivityKim and Jason at Escape Adulthood have got some very good and simple ideas about how you can plan as long as you remember your passions.

So without further ado, I’d like to add my own suggestion to this. It all comes down to the general principles of the "oldie but goodie" Time Manager® planning tool.

Plan using Key Areas

Pretty much everything you do in life can be organised under some major headings – whether it’s at work or in your private life. If you divide all of your tasks and activities into 7 – 9 major key areas then you can also plan how to spend your time more effectively. I.e. if it doesn’t relate to any of your key areas it is very unlikely that it is important enough to require your immediate attention.

An example of how my key areas as a company CEO look are as follows:

  1. Finance & Administration
  2. Sales & Marketing
  3. HR
  4. Product Development
  5. Organisational Development
  6. Personal Development
  7. Private

For each of these key areas you are likely to have some goals and it will require you to undertake a number of tasks in order to achieve that goal. Some tasks will be a lot bigger than others and you will therefore have to break the tasks down in a number of activities.

Let’s take a closer look at one area: Personal Development. I have a wide range of things that I would like to improve in my professional and personal life. My goals can be described as the following:

  • Be able to conduct a business negotiation in French by the end of 2009
  • Improve my ratings on public speaking engagements by 10% by the end of 2008
  • Speak at 5 major conferences

Therefore my tasks under Personal Development look like follows:

6. Personal Development

6.1. Improve my French

6.2. Improve my public speaking skills

6.3. Secure speaking engagements

If we proceed to break one of these down further, then what exactly would it take for me to learn enough French to conduct a full scale business negotiation? Looking at the level that I’m at now I know that it would require a lot of work and there are a lot of activities that I would need to undertake. As with any big goal in life you need to break it down into manageable portions (sometimes referred to as the Elephant Technique):

6.1.1. Learn 5 French business terms per day

6.1.2. Attend French classes weekly for 2 hours

6.1.3. Book extended stay in Paris with personal tutor – 4 hours per day

6.1.4. Spend Summer holiday in France to improve conversation

6.1.5. Sign up to and read French newsletters

6.1.6. Subscribe to Le Monde newspaper

6.1.7. Sign up for events at French chamber of commerce

Based on the activities that I have listed above I can then start to plan my time knowing that I will need to find the time for:

Learning 5 French business terms per day – 10 minutes per day

Attend French classes – 2 hours per week

Extended stay in Paris – 2 months

Summer holiday in France – 2 weeks

Read French newsletters – 30 minutes per week

Read Le Monde – 20 minutes per day

Attend events at French chamber of commerce – 2 hours per month

Based on this information I now know that I can plan my time around the following:

Daily activities: 30 minutes per day

Weekly activities: 2 hours

Monthly activities: 2 hours

One-off activities: 2 weeks of holiday and 2 months of leave

In reality this means that I will be able to get my French from zero to a very good standard with a daily expenditure of 30 minutes, attending one monthly meeting of 2 hours (instead of spending the time at the pub or watching a movie on the couch at home), fitting half an hour in weekly to read the newsletters, spending 2 weeks of my holiday and taking only a 2 month leave. Suddenly the project doesn’t seem completely insane and I will still manage to keep up my day job – even while I’m in Paris. It just means that 4 hours of my day are blocked off for learning French and that I will spend my spare time talking in French with French people. Hey presto!

This combination of using key areas and the elephant technique means that you can actually make a start on doing something and it also helps you keep clarity as I know that I:

  • WANT to learn French
  • And breaking it down into manageable portions I actually don’t fear the task and keep on putting it off – rather I now know what I have to do in order to achieve it

It might mean reprioritising some of the other things in your life, but then again it would probably be better to spend the 30 minutes a day spent focusing on learning French rather than surfing aimlessly round the net or however you spend the last 30 minutes before you go home.

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Jason of Kim & Jason said...

Great stuff, Casper -- thanks for the link!

Casper said...

You're welcome, Jason. I hope that you enjoy the articles.