6 Steps to Achieve Extreme Productivity and Overcome the Limitations of Your To Do List

increase productivity



It happens all of us, at one time or another.

You have so much to do that you don’t know where to start, or what to do next.

Do you use a “to do” list in an effort to organise yourself and ensure some productivity?

A “to do” list is a help, but isn’t enough.

It’s a blunt instrument because it doesn’t take into account two vital factors:

  1. the importance or priority of a specific task on your list, and
  2. the timing or urgency of the task.

I have recently begun to use a method of productivity which reduces stress and procrastination, helps me prioritize the tasks to be executed, and ensures that I am extracting the maximum return from my time.

I will explain exactly how I do it.

Sounds good?

How to Become Seriously Productive

  1. List everything you do

The first thing you need is a piece of paper or a spreadsheet. then, list everything you do in your job or business on a  regular basis. This is a list of all the tasks you need to carry out routinely on a daily or weekly basis.

This list should also all the things you would like to do, if you were not in a regular state of firefighting.

    2. Time frames

Secondly, you need to divide this list into 3 time periods:

  1. career/business aims (5+ years)
  2. objectives (3-24 months)
  3. targets (<1 week); Targets are “action steps”, things you will do routinely on a weekly basis.

Then, check that each of your objectives has one or two associated targets, that is, a step to advance that objective.

If you have an objective that does not have a target you need to think about the next step you can take to advance your objective, and add this to your list of targets.

Next, you need to put aside your career goals and turn your attention on your objectives and targets.

    3.  Rank your objectives

The third step in this process is to rank your objectives in terms of importance. But before you do that you need to think about your objectives being in three categories:

  • what you want to do (supply)
  • what you are good at (supply)
  • what the world needs from you (demand).

Broadly, you should rank your objectives in accordance with the list above, by giving a higher ranking to those things you want to do and are good at-the supply side-but you will need to be mindful of your obligations to your employer or business (the demand side).

You, therefore, need to exercise smart judgment in how high or low you rank your objectives. This is a tough exercise requiring qualitative judgment, but an exercise that is well worth doing if you want to be more productive and stress less about your massive to do list.

Because it will ensure you have great clarity in relation to your objectives and you will be matching your time spent on tasks in proportion to the importance of the objective it advances, rather than reacting to less important things.

Once you have thought about your objectives rank this list in order of importance from 10 to 1, with 10 being the most important one.

These objectives can be reviewed on an annual basis.

      4. Rank your targets

The fourth step is to rank your targets, that is, the action steps you will take on a daily/weekly basis. First, though, you need to recognise that there are two categories of targets:

  1. enabling targets-these advance your objectives
  2. assigned targets-these must be done, for example filing tax returns or putting out the bin.

Then list your enabling targets and rank them in order of importance with 10 being the most important down to 1, the least important.

This ranking will be based on how important the associated objective is and how well the target advances the objective.

Assigned targets are generally low priority, and you should not be expending too much time on them, and delegate where you can.

      5. See how you actually spend your time

The fifth step is to see how you actually spend your time at the moment.

Questions you should be looking at are what are the 3 things you mostly spend your time on and how many hours each week do you spend filling out reports, responding to emails etc.

Now compare the time you spend with your ranked list of targets and objectives.

    6. Allocate your time based on your priorities

The sixth and final step is to allocate your time based on your priorities, and to fix the mismatch identified when you look at the time your are currently spending on tasks.

Essentially you are going to spend your time in proportion to the importance of the task and objective.

The McKinsey consulting firm has found that the vast majority of professionals only spend 50% of their time on the most important priorities. The mismatch between time spent on the most important priority items and other stuff arises because of the failure to allocate time properly after properly identifying objectives and targets.

What they spend a lot of time doing is reacting to crises.

You won’t have that problem, though, if you follow the steps we have discussed above.

To assist with your time allocation you need to make a list of your objectives and tasks in order of priority. This should be a dynamic list, though, which you review every week to allow for new objectives, projects, and tasks.

You may also drop less important tasks or delegate them, if that is possible.

In a nutshell this method of extreme productivity focuses on prioritising your tasks and objectives and allocating the time you spend at work in order of priority of those tasks and objectives.

Remember a task is what you do on a daily or weekly basis, and it should advance an objective. If it does not, then you should consider why you are doing it or get someone else to do it (delegate).


How to Avoid Distractions and Manage Your Time Effectively With the Pomodoro Technique

Do you find yourself getting more distracted lately?

Use your time efficiently with the Pomodoro technique

Do you find the combination of your mobile phone, computer, email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. shortening your attention span and interrupting you on a more frequent basis?

The Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique is a time management technique that I have begun to use quite a lot lately. The reason is that I have found myself getting increasingly distracted in my work.

Let me explain.

Most of my work day is spent at my computer and this is absolutely essential, but because a lot of my business initially comes through email enquiries I would always have my email account open. I use Gmail.

I also use social media quite heavily to promote my business and build my platform.

But the distractions from my email notifications, new email messages, Google calendar reminders, comments on some stuff that I may have shared on LinkedIn or elsewhere, text messages, mobile phone calls, landline calls, faxes, Twitter notifications on my phone, etc. make it increasingly hard to concentrate on any one thing for a period of time.

I strongly believe this is dangerous and is breeding a mind that is a little bit on the “grasshopper” side-jumping from one thing to another with a short attention span.

So, I have been using the Pomodoro technique and, I must say, have found it really useful and effective.

It was developed in the 1980s by an Italian man, Francesco Cirillo, and it works like this: you work in sessions of 25 minutes and take a break of 5 minutes between the 25 minute sessions. “Pomodoro” in Italian means “tomato” and the tomato shaped kitchen timer used by Cirillo gives this time management technique its name.

I find it works really well because when you sit down for a session you know you only have to work solidly and with concentration for 25 minutes; then you get a break.

Maybe it is the break and the knowledge that you are only working for 25 minutes which makes working in a concentrated fashion easier but I guess it is a little like the answer to the question of how do you eat an elephant:“one bite at a time”.

It is easier to work in intervals of 25 minutes rather than thinking about a day of 8 or 10 hours stretching out in front of you.

It is critical that you set a timer and stick to the 25 minutes sessions. You can get a physical timer, or use your phone, or there are many browser extensions and online timers which you can download to your computer and which will alarm when the 25 minutes are up. Here’s the one I use with the Google Chrome browser.

When you have 4 sessions done you can take a longer break of, say, 15-30 minutes. And you can be flexible with your breaks but the important thing, I think, is that you are focused for the 25 minutes once the session starts.

Apparently there is benefit to the task of winding up a physical timer, hearing the ticking during the session, and the alarm at the end signifying the break.

Regardless of the psychological reasons for the effectiveness of the Pomodoro technique, I find it really useful to switch on the timer and commit fully to something for a relatively short, but substantial, block of time.

It works for me.

If you find yourself getting more distracted in your daily work, try the Pomodoro technique. You have nothing to lose but some distractions that you can probably manage perfectly well without.