If you are constantly struggling to find time to finish the million things on your to-do list, it’s probably time to take a step back and review your work processes.

Here are key ideas from 3 different books that could transform the way you work.  BUT, don’t just read this article.  Make a decision and commit to implementing at least one of these systems to see real results.  Take action right away, don’t procrastinate!

1. Start by Creating Time

[Ideas from Get in the Go Zone: Making the Most of Me by Mark Mckeon]

Wish there were 48 hours in a day instead of 24?

The Go Zone is an interesting “time creation program”, which builds productivity techniques into your daily routines and habits. The idea is to develop positive habits to get important things done in less time, manage your stress levels by controlling when to focus and when to cruise, and learning to enjoy “me time” with no guilt.

Here’s a quick overview of the 3 zones:

The key idea is to set aside 8-10 Go-Zone hours in a week, when you are operating in your “Ideal Performance State”. In this zone, you are focusing intensely on 1 item at a time, for two-hour periods, with totally no distractions or excuses (yes, that means no smses/ phone calls/ emails etc.) You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish in just 2 hours if you set your mind on getting the most important tasks – and nothing else.

For every Go-Zone hour, you reward yourself with a No-Zone hour. This is when you do the exact opposite – you focus on staying totally away from work. That includes not even thinking about work. Instead, immerse yourself in something or anything that you enjoy fully, so you can recharge for the next Go Zone.

Everything else outside of these 2 zones (and your sleep time) is your Slow-Zone, which is also the default mode that most of us function in. Here, you are in cruise mode – work gets done, but with much more wastage and not at optimal productivity.

Get in the Go Zone_key ideas

Obviously, implementing this system requires some changes to your current routine. But, if you can create more time for yourself and get more work done, isn’t it worth it?

Read more in our book summary of Get in the Go Zone here.

2. Organize your “Stuff” and Clear your Headspace

[Ideas from Getting Things Done (The Art of Stress-Free Productivity) by David Allen]

How do you enter the Go Zone with a prioritized list when you don’t even know what you must/ should do?

If you feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks / loose ends in your life, then this is a great book to start with. Getting Things Done (GTD) outlines a detailed workflow that helps us to get more productive by clearing our headspace.  By getting “in the zone” and operating with a “mind like water”, we can handle an overwhelming number of tasks with relaxed control. In the end, we accomplish more, yet feel more relaxed and energized.

How does that work?  GTD is made up of 5 key stages:

Getting Things Done_the 5 phases

The broad idea of the approach is this:

  • You start by collecting everything big or small that could require your attention and put them in one place (so you know it is “safe” and you can find it any time). This could be a physical place (like notes/ slips in an in-basket) or a digital place (like an organizational tool/ app).
  • Then, you decide if/ what to do with each item and organize them into baskets that you can retrieve and act on systematically. [The book explains the different baskets you should create.]
  • By having everything organized and handy, you can act on the most productive item during scheduled time slots, and/ or whenever you have free time.

Specifically, in a typical day, you could evaluate your work priorities using this 3-fold model:

Getting Things Done_evaluating daily work

As and when you find yourself with some spare time on your hands (e.g. when a meeting is cancelled or while waiting for a bus), rather than start doing the first item that comes to mind, identify the best item to work off your “Next Actions” list, using this 4-criteria model:
Getting Things Done_in the moment actions

Read more in our book summary of Getting Things Done here.

3. Put First Things First

[Ideas from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker]

It’s impossible (and ineffective) to try to do everything.  The key is this: don’t just get things done; Get the right things done.  This is where prioritization and personal management comes in.

If you are not yet prepared to change your daily routines and personal systems (suggested in items (1) and (2) above), then at least understand and apply this fundamental success principle: Put First Things First.

How exactly do you do that? 

Stephen Covey suggests that you focus on the important activities, not just the urgent ones. To do that, you plan weekly and act daily, giving time to your priorities.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People_quadrants

Using the time-management matrix above, prioritise time for Quadrant II activities.  Specifically, to ensure that you are preventing and not prioritising crises, do your planning weekly, with 4 key activities :

a) Identify Roles: Write down the key roles in your life

b) Select Goals: Identify 2-3 key results to achieve for each role in the coming week, incorporating Quadrant II activities.

c) Schedule: Plan the week ahead and set aside time for these goals.

d) Adapt Daily: Adjust activities to manage unexpected developments.

In his book The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker outlines several principles for prioritizing your work. Here’s one powerful principle – As part of your weekly planning, consciously ask yourself this question about you and your team’s work: “if we did not already do this, would we go into it now?”. Use this question to identify activities that are no longer productive, eliminate them, and direct the resources to new opportunities.

[Check out our book summaries of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People  and The Effective Executive.]

Getting Started

There are so many ways to improve your personal productivity and effectiveness.  This article outlines 3 powerful systems/ ideas that you can apply immediately to your life.  Pick the one that resonates most with you, and build that into your daily routine immediately. There’s absolutely no reason/ excuse to wait.

Remember, the faster you take action, the faster you will learn and see results!

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