“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

There are three common productivity traps.

1. The busy trap

It is so much easier to let yourself get wrapped around the latest and loudest things, the brightest baubles of your work, than to grapple with all that must be considered and processed and reviewed to trust that what you’re doing is the most productive thing to do in the moment.

2. The psychic RAM trap

When you file something you need or want to do in your mind, without writing it down, it will have some of your subliminal attention and can drain your energy. The short-term-memory area in your head has limited space, and it’s a terrible office. If it’s only in your mind, it will usually bother you more than it should, at inappropriate times (when you can’t do anything about it), or you won’t be giving it the proper objective attention it deserves.

3. The “stuff” trap

“Stuff” is anything that has landed in your world, psychologically or physically, that doesn’t belong where it is, the way it is, but you haven’t decided what to do about it yet. These three traps are all actually part of the same overall problem — how to keep a clear head [and] stay focused on tactical priorities.

The proven cure involves five things: collecting, processing, organizing, reviewing, and doing.

  • Collect

Make sure you have everything out of your head and collected into a few leak-proof buckets that get processed and emptied regularly. In-baskets, paper-based note-taking tools, computers and PDAs, voice-mail and answering machines, e-mail, and dictation recorders can all serve that function.

  • Process

Empty your collection buckets every day or two by determining, on each item, whether it is actionable or not. If it’s not, then trash it, tickle it for potential later action, or file it as reference. If there is action required, do it, delegate it, or defer a reminder into your system for doing it later.

  • Organize

Maintain seamless categories of action reminders, reference and support materials, and “back-burner” action options.

  • Review

Keep your personal management system current, consistent, and complete.

Do

Anyone who tries to give you a simple answer about how to set priorities is trying to sell you something. Complex variables come into play every second to influence your choices: What can you do where you are? How much time do you have until you have to do something else? How’s your energy? What are all the options? What just showed up that you didn’t expect? What is your primary job? Where do you want to be next year, or next decade?

What you choose to do has to come from your gut.

(Ed. Note: David Allen is president of David Allen & Co. and the author of “Getting Things Done” .The above article is one of thousands about leadership, management, and business success that are available on “The Instant Consultant” CD from Executive Excellence Publishing.)