We live in a busy world, we're barraged by 1,000s of marketing messages each day, and our attention span is officially less than a goldfish. It's no surprise that there is such a global obsession with "productivity".
But my motto is that 'productivity is less about doing more things, and more about doing the right things'.
And for more people this makes sense.
Why spin your wheels on tasks that don't really matter, when instead you could be spending your time on tasks that really have an impact on your business, your community or your personal life?
But when you're busy, perhaps feeling a little overwhelmed and constantly putting out fires as then come up it can be difficult to get your head above water to prioritise what's really important.
How to choose what's important.
Having facilitated leadership and teamwork for over a decade there's lots of models that you could choose. David Allen's 'Getting Things Done' system is familiar to many, as is the Eisenhower Box (does 'urgent but not important' ring a bell?).
But for me these systems help me prioritise what should be on my list, but not necessarily what I should do with the rest of the items that still need to be done (not necessarily by me).
Instead I find that a Focus Funnel works much better to triage each task as it hits my desk/inbox/phone each day.
What is a Focus Funnel?
The Focus Funnel was made famous by Rory Vaden who penned the book Procrastinate on Purpose. This easy read unpacks why procrastination needn't be a dirty word and how to save tasks until an 'optimum' time.
I've tweaked the Focus Funnel a little for my own use and you can find it below.
The Focus Funnel is a simple tool that I use to triage tasks as they come in.
For example, an email comes in with a request from a client. Do I drop it, design a system for it, delegate it, defer it or do it. This simple tool helps me.
Let's step through the process in a little more detail.
Ok. Does this task REALLY need to get done? Does this task align with my stategic plan/priorities for the year? There's only 24hrs in a day and someone much wise once said "if I said YES to this, I'm saying NO to something else". If I can say "sorry, I can't help you directly, but here's someone/somewhere that can" I will.
If you do something more than 3 times the same way you should think about automating it (or part of). Or at the very least documenting the system to you can do it on autopilot.
If something really needs to be done and it can't be automated then it's time to look at who does it. Many years ago I came across the phrase "delegate everything that anyone can do so that you can focus on the things that only you can do".
Whether it's someone on your team, or another business/contractor that you partner with, delegating the task to someone else is a great way of reserving your time for only the most important tasks.
Batching is probably my favourite productivity secret weapon.
According to research by the American Psychological Society context-switching, or shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40% of someone's productive time. If this isn't enough to kill that 'multi-tasking' appetite of yours I'm not sure what is.
The alternative is to batch your work. Whether you theme your days (eg, Tuesdays are always invoicing days), or you just bundle similar tasks together when you have have enough to warrant (such as scheduling all your week's social media posts at once) batching is a great way to combat context-switching. Not only do you keep your brain in the same gear, but you've probably got all the right tools in front of you at the same time.
This is really where Rory Vaden's procrastinate on purpose comes in - strategically hold off on doing a task until a more optimum time.
Ok, by now the only tasks left should be ones that are strategically aligned with my goals, are uniquely appropriate for my skills, and it's the best time to do them.
As Nike said just do it!
So when an email arrives from a client wishing to update their digital strategy it becomes a simple process.
- Is this something that's important to do? The answer is yes.
- Can I automate the entire process or part of? Well I already have a system around extracting the key pieces of information from a client for their digital strategy.
- Can I delegate this to someone else? At this stage no, I'm doing all digital strategy work.
- Can I batch this task? Not really as I'm not preparing dozens of strategies a week. But I will schedule it for an early morning when I know I do my best thinking work.
Now it's over to you. What kind of strategy do you use to triage your tasks? Or what other tools do you use to help you ensure you're doing the right work rather than just lots of work?
I'd love to hear. Tell me in the comments below.