Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Get stuff done - real life tips

Do you have an ever growing to do list? Are you managing mutiple tasks at the same time and seem to take a long time to get everything done? Dr Edward Hallowell a physchiatrist and author identified a condition called "attention deficit trait". A workplace phemomenon that leads to distractibility, restlessness and impulsiveness caused by having too many tasks to do. 49% of us are interrupted by distractions every 15 minutes resulting in a third of us not being able to get our work done and 1/4 of us not being able to think creatively.

Over the past few months I decided to put into practice some new strategies, based on sound psychology and coaching principles to improve my productivity, creativity and passion for work. Here are some of the things that have worked for me which may help you too.

1. Focus on why
When you link daily tasks to something meaningful you are more motivated to make it work. Think about the purpose of your organisation or your role in the organisation. Think about what that task contributes to your purpose. If the task does not make a difference then don't do it. If it does than think about it in the context of achieving your goal. That report you are writing, that meeting you need to arrange, that data you need to mine will take on more momentum if it is seen as an important part of making your goals happen.

2. Do what's important
You can spend your whole day engaged in busy activity without actually moving forward. You need to find a way of doing the most important. The problem, when you priorisite (as I have always found) everything can seem important and most people will end up with 25 priorities - just another to do list with a different name.

So I started putting tasks into piles -  MUST DO and NICE TO DO - and really challenging myself to ask how essential each task was in achieving my goal. When I really put the musts down on paper it helped me to gain clarity on what I needed to do - and there were far fewer musts than nice to do's. Interestingly I started getting through more of the important tasks and was able to move onto more of the nice to do's. I was also able to let go of tasks that really contributed little to the overall outcome.

3. Eat a frog for Breakfast
This comes from a Mark Twain quote. If you have to eat a frog (which may be a daunting thought for many!), have it for breakfast and the rest of the day will be free from worry. Effectively you need to do the biggest/ the scariest/ the least liked task first otherwise you will worry and procrastinate over it all day. In my own experience, though tricky to stick to, its incredibly effective. The additional benefit is that those big scary tasks, when done straight away become less onerous, less daunting and far easier.  

4. Find a place to put mental distractions
Distractions are inevitable. Whilst you can shut yourself away from colleagues and family to get stuff done, you can't get away from your own mind that easily. So here's an exercise that can help.

Think about all the distractions that you want to put aside for a period of time to get something done. Focus on them intently. Now think about where you want to put these distractions. It could be anything - a box, a room, a basket, another country! When you have a place focus on what that place looks like - what colour, shape, sound, temperature it has. When you have a clear image you can mentally move the distractions to this place. When you are ready to deal with the distractions you can let them out.

5. Keep track
Keep a log of everything you do and what distracts you. Whilst you may have a timesheet if client facing or feel you have a grasp on what you work in the week, you'll be amazed at what is really going on when you honestly track it.

6. Take a break
This may seem counter intuitive, but there is only so much our brains can handle when immersed in a project. Taking 5 minutes to do something else, change your perspective, get fresh air, go for a walk can give you much needed perspective and renewed momentum to get the task done.

7. Allocate realistic time
Often we try to snatch time inbetween meetings, late at night or whilst doing other things. We block time out for meetings but few of us schedule time for actual work and stick to it. If you have something important to do block time out in your diary. Treat it like a real meeting  - with yourself. Then only focus on the task in hand.

8. Work out how you personally get things done
There is lots of advice out there about getting stuff done. Often you have the best answers yourself. Neurolinguistic programming is all about modelling the stuctures of behaviour. It's about finding out how you uniquely do things and then repeating that model. Here's an exercise...

Think back to a time when you were the best you could be at getting a task done. Think about how you got the task done. What happened to make you start the task; what happened when you worked on the task; how did you finish the task; what helped you and hindered you in getting the task done? When you understand what it is you personally and uniquely do to get something done then you can apply it to any new task. Here's my personal model for getting big stuff done (whether I have a week or a day to do it this is what works best for me)...
  • Focus on why I am doing it - the benefit
  • Allocate time to start
  • Do some research - get inspired
  • Write down ideas
  • Do something else
  • Come back to the task and get 25% of it done - doing more research and ideas
  • Do something else 
  • Come back to the task and get 95% complete - remind myself why I am doing it
  • Do something else
  • Come back to the task - check the 95%, complete the 5% and check it.  

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