Achieving a productive week is challenging. According to statistics, 80% of people don’t want to go to work on Monday morning. When they do, the two most common things they say are “I have too many things to do” and “There’s not enough time to do it all”. So we procrastinate, look at our task lists, sometimes with up to a hundred items on them, and have no idea where to start. Here are some tips to be productive and enjoy your week. It’s all about achieving more by doing less.
Limit the number of your plans
Start with weekly planning. It’s crucial to focus on what’s important and to do those selected things really well. Usually only a few of the dozens of items on our to-do lists are tied to big crucial goals and high-impact objectives. It’s ideal to limit the number of weekly plans you absolutely have to achieve to a maximum of 5 per week. That’s one big hairy goal that you have to achieve per day, whatever it takes. As for the smaller tasks – they are nice to have, but their turn will come only after the big things are done.
Focus hard on one thing only and don’t give up until it’s done
Too much choice is bad. It’s human to choose the small and easy-to-accomplish tasks, not important strategic ones. Achieving many small goals gives us an illusion of progress. At the same time multitasking lowers IQ by 10 points and kills productivity by 40%, according to Harvard Business Review.
If you listed your 5 key goals for the week, choose the most important one of them and start working on it. Not two or three. Just one. By not having multiple options, you can’t choose the path of least resistance. Keep grinding until the plan is accomplished and you can report it as progress.
List your progress and reflect on it at the end of the week
Choosing a few key plans for the week is not easy at first. What helps is reflection at the end of each week. Was what you did important and worth one full week of work? During the week, whenever something gets done, don’t just delete it or tick it as done, but write it down as progress. On Friday, look at your progress list and study each item. Have you cheated a bit, so that there some things that in hindsight really did not matter? Could you have done something else instead? Repeat the process weekly, learn and iterate. You’ll soon get pretty good at listing your key goals.
If you feel stuck, communicate the problem
Not everything you plan gets done. Quite often there are external reasons. Things get stuck or delayed. Don’t procrastinate on things you can’t solve yourself. Ask for help from your manager, your team mates, advisors or anyone else.
Companies like Skype have used the 3-part PPP (progress, plans and problems) process for their team communication and planning for years. Some companies call it ROC: results, objectives and challenges. There are other names, but the logic is the same. You set a goal and it either gets done in a week or there must be a serious reason why it did not move ahead. A plan always becomes a progress or a problem.
Be picky. Because something can be done, it does not mean it must be done. Be mindful of your goals. Take a minute or two to think whenever someone asks you to do something or you start writing something down as a to-do. Start saying no to many of the things and focus only on selected plans. Leave out unimportant things. Do only the big things.
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Plan your next week on Friday
Reflection each Friday is important. Planning your next week on Friday evening before leaving work is even better. You’ll keep your weekend worry-free and you can start right away on Monday morning. Many managers do their weekly planning on Sunday evenings, yet Friday evening would be more productive.
Focus on outcomes and results, not on process or actions
Looking at our to-do lists, we often write down not measurable results to be achieved but actions or processes. Consequently, quite often it is hard to say if the task has been achieved or not. If possible, try to focus on results instead. This way it will be much easier to declare a goal accomplished and move on to next big weekly objective.
Share plans with others and let them know what you’re working on
In a team environment, always explain to others, why you have chosen one goal over another and how your resources are divided. When your plans get accomplished, communicate the progress. Expect the others to do the same. Whenever a challenge comes up, share that as well. It helps both with getting feedback from others as well as keeping the team on the same page. A weekly paradigm is often ideal for these three – not too often, like daily e-mails and not too seldom, like monthly reports. Use either e-mail, Google Docs, intranet or a specialized tool like Weekdone weekly reporting, whatever works for you.
Divide your week into regular functional area days
People who have different responsibilities can divide their week into 5 days of different work areas. Then stick to them each week. Communicate your days’ focus to your co-workers as well.
When Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and CEO of Square was doing 80-hour work weeks between the 2 companies, he was very strict about his daily planning. So he themed his 5 days like this:
- Monday: Management meetings and "running the company" work
- Tuesday: Product development
- Wednesday: Marketing, communications and growth
- Thursday: Developers and partnerships
- Friday: The company and its culture
Don’t overload others with information
You would not want others to disturb you and waste your time. Being interrupted, be it via e-mail or meetings, is an annoying waste of time in any team. Be nice to others and whenever possible, do not e-mail or IM them, do not call for another meeting.
All in all, you can enjoy your daily work much more by limiting yourself to a smaller number of important goals and executing those really well. Keep it simple. Declutter. You’ll do more by doing less.
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