Like many of you, I am in the middle of the process of strategizing how to best achieve my 2015 objectives, which include optimizing results for my family, business, friendships, activities, and so forth. And when I look back on 2014, I think I did a decent job of improving results in each of these areas. However, if there is one thing that was a barrier to more success, it is the insidious habit of focusing on non-productive activities.
The subject of wasting time reminds me of the famous quote which opens Leo Tolstoy’s book Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I can probably guess what attributes make you a good marketing manager, sales executive or business owner – but I have a harder time understanding what activities make you unproductive. Heck, I have a hard time figuring this out for myself, but here is a list of the usual suspects:
- Surfing the Internet for information that has nothing to do with your business.
- Going to meetings that seldom accomplish anything.
- Producing reports that people don’t read or act upon. Good rule: If the information is not actionable, don’t report on it.
- Endless rounds of office conversation/gossip about people, sports, etc.
- Spending twice as much time on an activity to make the results 5-10 percent better.
By the way, if you want to understand the value of practicing intense focus on productive activities (FOPA), think about the last time you were heading off to a vacation. Perhaps you only had a day to accomplish 2-3 days’ worth of work so you ignored all distractions and plowed straight ahead. You probably felt pretty good about what you produced and a little voice inside you was saying: “Imagine how much I could accomplish if I worked like this all the time!”
This proves Parkinson’s Law, based on Cyril Parkinson’s observation when he was with the British civil service: that even a series of simple tasks tends to increase in complexity to fill up the time allotted to it. Conversely, as the length of time allocated to a task became shorter, the task became simpler and easier to solve. So instead of giving yourself two days to complete that white paper or finish those dashboard reports – lock your office door, shut off the phone and email, and give yourself only four hours. You’ll be amazed at how more you can accomplish with intense focus. This produces much better results than endless worrying about the project.
We all know of co-workers who brag about how hard they work and how many hours they put in – but if you analyze their results, they produce no more (sometimes less) than those who work fewer but more focused, hours. I’d rather be the former type of person, and spend the saved time with my family – I bet you would as well. And so my mantra for 2015 will be to spend as much time as possible focusing on productive activities (FOPA) and as little as possible focusing on that which is unproductive.
Carpe New Year!