Measuring And Improving Your Personal Productivity

Today let’s do something very simple that could make a big difference in the time it takes you to accomplish your goals – and in the satisfaction you experience working towards them.

First, Review Three Weeks’ Worth of Daily Task Lists

I am making the assumption that you are using some sort of daily task list, as I urged you to do in message 103. (If not, do only this today – read the message below entitled “So You Didn’t Do It?”)

Take out and review your daily task lists for the last three weeks. Calculate how many tasks on average per day you failed to complete. Take special note of how many highlighted (priority) tasks you missed. And then figure how often you took longer than expected to complete a task.

Problem One: Not Getting Everything Done

If (on average) you are leaving more than two tasks a day uncompleted, you need to do one of three things:

1. Decide to work more hours and be happy with that.

2. Learn how to do regular tasks more efficiently.

3. Do fewer things.

If you are having this problem, you will probably favor solution #2. And that is fine. (In future messages I will talk about how to read more efficiently, how to write stronger and quicker memos, etc.) But you need to take a serious look at the possibility that you are doing more than you should. Highly motivated people – and anyone who is willing to put up with me everyday falls into this category – often want to do too much themselves.

So even if you decide to work longer and/or faster, please do this too: identify one or two tasks every day that can be delegated or not done at all. Scratch them off your list.

Problem Two: Not Finishing Highlighted Tasks

If some of the tasks you are failing to complete are important tasks – critical to achieving your most important goals –you are in serious trouble. The solution here is to change your schedule so that you can finish these tasks first thing in the morning – before you get to your busy work.

If you are having this problem, you are not going to like this solution. But it is probably the only solution that will work. So give it a try. You will feel very good about yourself when your highlighted tasks are done and the day has just begun.

Start With Tomorrow’s List Today:

You can get started right away by revising today’s (if it is still very early) or tomorrow’s task list. Do this:

1. Allow a realistic amount of time for every task. Highlight only one or two tasks per day. Remember that these are tasks that move you toward your most important goals. They are not “urgencies” (which tend to be less important stuff left undone that become important through neglect.)

2. If you work in an office environment, leave yourself an extra hour every day for unexpected emergencies and interruptions.

3. If you have been having trouble finishing some tasks, scratch off one or two and delegate them. Figure out how and to whom. You may think this an impossible task, but if you persist you will succeed.

4. Break your day into working blocks. (You might want to indicate them on your list with bold, horizontal lines.) Try to group similar activities (writing/phoning/meetings/etc.) in each block. It is more efficient. When you have completed a block of work, reward yourself with some pleasant five-minute activity, such as a brief walk or some stretching or a cup of coffee. A twelve-hour day can be three four-hour blocks, four three-hour blocks . . . even six two-hour blocks.

5. Work until you are done. Realize that you are doing what most people are not willing to do. Count yourself lucky.

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