Write Down Your Goals. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re effective. Running in a circle uses energy, but doesn’t get you anywhere. Make sure your destination is clear. A tiny percentage of people bother to write down their goals. Be one of them! Post yours conspicuously, let them drive how you spend your precious energy, and don’t waste time on tasks that don’t support achieving them.
Do you have more than three goals? Ignore the rest. People with 2-3 goals achieve them with excellence, however according to Stephen R. Covey in The 4 Disciplines of Execution, those with 4 or more achieve only 1-2. (Unless you have 20 or more, in which case you achieve a big fat zero!)
Prioritize Ruthlessly. Many busy people are just doing way too much to be effective, and making matters worse through excessive multi-tasking. Force yourself to arrange your list of projects and tasks in priority order according to which are most important to your goals, not which are most urgent to someone else. (Unless the “someone else” is me, in which case you should stop everything you’re doing and work on that particular task immediately.) To make best use of your time, start at the top of your list and work your way down.
Although it sounds deceptively simple, even trivial, you can actually double your productivity by following this advice. For bonus points, review your priorities with your colleagues to establish agreement that you’re working on what matters most to your team. Your good example might even inspire them to get their own priorities in order.
Prototype, Don’t Perfect. Although I’m a great admirer of perfection when it matters, sometimes it can be a giant timewaster. Sometimes only perfection will do, such as when you’re performing open-heart surgery or maintaining an aircraft engine — especially the engines on the planes I’m using, thank you very much! But sometimes “good enough” is good enough. Don’t try to do everything perfectly! Prototype first, then make improvements later if and when required. You’ll find that often you’ll be spared the revision, and usually no one will miss the minor improvements that would have taken another two hours.
One common motivation for perfectionism is the fear of making a mistake. But ignoring other, more important, tasks is an even bigger mistake. You don’t have to shed your perfectionist tendencies all at once. Experiment on just one task a day by stopping when you’ve done enough, and see what happens. Even an Olympic gold medalist doesn’t run another lap after crossing the finish line!
Set Limits. While it’s often impossible to finish your work, you can abandon it, at least temporarily. Weary, sleep-deprived people aren’t efficient or effective. Working day after day is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes the best way to make progress is to go home and get some sleep. You think your team can’t survive without you? Think again. That’s a very egocentric notion. Everyone’s replaceable. When John F. Kennedy, the president of the United States of America, was shot to death on November 22, 1963, he was replaced in just over two hours.
Ask for Help. Business is a team sport. There’s only so much one human being can do. A baseball team with only one person would lose every game. Don’t try to do a whole team’s work all by yourself. Asking for help is a sign of maturity, not weakness.
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