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The Better You Work, the Easier You Fall Into This Productivity Trap

The Better You Work, the Easier You Fall Into This Productivity Trap

The longer your working career goes on, usually the more responsibilities you gain. These could be promotions, managing teams, or taking on more projects and tasks. They’re positive changes, as it’s good to grow and encounter additional opportunities.

However, in time, you may come to realize that there’s a limit to the amount of responsibilities you can handle. You’ve become busier and busier, but you’ve ceased to achieve big things. You may be setting yourself daily, weekly and monthly targets, but when you look back at the end of each month on your tasks and goals, you see that progress has been poor – or even non existent.

The Productivity Trap

In most cases, as your career progresses, and you gain more responsibilities, there are more things that hinder your ability to work efficiently. Here are just a few:

  • More people want to contact you because of your good work, knowledge and expertise.
  • You receive tons of emails, invitations to meet, and connections on LinkedIn.
  • You manage a team with members who constantly ask for your help or feedback.

Unless you’re superhuman, you’ll find that your own tasks are swamped by the above. And while it’s fair to say that the above tasks are valuable, they’re not the most meaningful or productive for you or your career.

Put another way, you’ve fallen into a productivity trap. This trap is called shallow work.

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By being constantly occupied helping others and dealing with unimportant communications, you lose the time and energy to focus on the vital stuff. You may be helping to make your team or department run smoothly, but you’re not really moving the needle in your favor. For example, you’ve no time left to seek continual improvements, and no inspiration left for innovative thinking and big-goal achieving.

It might help you to think of it this way: 80% of your work is probably spent on low-value tasks, while just 20% is spent on high-value tasks. You sit in meetings half a day, and spend the bulk of the remaining time processing your expenses, answering emails, helping colleagues, etc.

If you want to get your career back on track, and start to achieve big things again, then you’ll need to time manage your work. Let’s see how it’s done.

How to Spend Your Work Time Wisely

The Pareto principle is a good way to start. It refers to the observation that often 20% of what we do produces 80% of our results. And conversely, 80% of what we do produces only 20% of our results.[1]

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    In terms of your personal work, it’s likely that 80% of your efforts are focused on shallow work – which only gives you minimal results. However, the remaining 20% of your efforts (which you put into non-shallow work), is the part that produces the results that really matter.

    What steps should you take to reverse this? There are two things you can start doing right now.

    1. Minimize non-essential work activities

    When I say minimize, I don’t mean cut off. Most tasks have value, but you need to make sure that you’re focusing on the high-value tasks as a priority.

    To achieve this, you may want to consider ‘time blocking’. This is where you schedule time to do your own important tasks – without being interrupted. Imagine saying to your team: “I’m going to work in a private office for the next two hours so I complete a piece of urgent work.” By saying this, you’ve set the boundaries, and also given yourself time to commit to whatever important tasks or projects that are on your list.[2]

    Another suggestion for you, is to set a maximum limit per week (and even per day) for responding to peoples’ enquiries or announcements. This can stop others from reaching you too easily. For instance, if colleagues normally expect near-instant responses from you when they send you an email, start to loosen your response times. By doing this, you’ll demonstrate that you’re genuinely busy, and your colleagues may start to look elsewhere for answers – or even come up with answers of their own.

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    2. Delegate tasks and responsibilities

    Are you doing work that people who report to you could do? It’s a common problem that many managers (especially new ones) experience. However, if you’re to achieve your goals, you must learn to delegate some of your tasks to members of your team.

    To do this, first decide what you can delegate. If it’s not something that only you can do, consider delegating it to others. You should be the one who takes care of the big picture – but is not lost in the details.

    How best to delegate? The most important thing is to set clear guidelines for people. Don’t allow any ambiguity in your instructions, and don’t assume others will understand everything you ask them to do.

    Often, it makes sense to delegate responsibilities, rather than just one-off tasks. For example, instead of asking one of your team to prepare this month’s stats for a presentation, make them responsible for all the stats that your team needs. By doing this, they’re likely to become experts at sourcing and collating stats, and will enjoy the extra responsibility that has been given to them.

    Of course, there will be times when people don’t meet your expectations. This might leave you thinking: “Why can’t they do what I asked?” or “Why can’t I make then understand what I want?” Be careful, as when you start asking these type of questions, your stress levels increase, and you’ll begin to think about taking back some of the tasks you hoped to delegate.

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    The answer to the above dilemma, is to regularly review the performance of people you’ve delegated tasks or responsibilities to. This will enable you to ensure that they understand what’s required of them, and if necessary, you’ll be able to provide added guidance if needed.

    It’ll also be helpful to both parties, if you focus more on the overall skills needed to complete tasks, rather than going over every single step required to finish specific tasks. In other words, learn to let go.[3] For instance, instead of going word-for-word through how to write a sales email, simply focus on the key elements, such as punchy headlines, concise sentences, and strong call-to-actions.

    Reap Powerful Rewards by Making Time Your Friend

    If your career has gone off the rails, then you’ll need to spend some time reassessing your priorities, and how you manage your workload.

    Make sure that the important tasks are your priority, and let these occupy around 80% of your work time. Use the remaining 20% of your time to work on non-essential tasks. If this results in you having insufficient time to complete the non-essential tasks, then this is where delegation comes in.

    Train competent members of your team to take on tasks and responsibilities that you no longer have time for. They’ll benefit from learning new things, and you’ll benefit by having time to focus on the important stuff.

    There’s only so much time in a day, so make sure you’re using it wisely. Do this, and you’ll begin achieving more than you ever thought possible.

    Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How Continuous Improvement Can Enhance Your Personal Life

    How Continuous Improvement Can Enhance Your Personal Life

    Kaizen is the Japanese philosophy and practice of continuous improvement. This concept of continuous improvement was first conceived in the USA during WW2.

    To maintain the production levels and meet demand, the industry had to come up with a system that would allow for incremental progress in production rather than no progress at all – which was very much the reality the industry was facing.

    This concept of consistent incremental improvement proved to be a huge success and saved the US manufacturing industry from a rapid decline.

    After WW2, as part of the rebuild programme for Japan, the Japanese were invited to visit manufacturing plants through out the USA. The Japanese took this successful concept of continuous improvement and adapted into Kaizen.

    This philosophy formed the base from which the Japanese have built a manufacturing industry that dominates the world today.

    In this article, I’ll look into what continuous improvement is and how you can make use of this concept to enhance your life.

    What does Kaizen (continuous improvement) have to do with you?

    So what does Kaizen have to do with us? How can it help us enhance our personal lives?

    “Persistence, perseverance, and continuous improvement are the ingredients for forming a successful person.” — Debasish Mridha

    While Kaizen was originally developed to help businesses improve and thrive, it’s just as applicable to our personal lives.

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    The Kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement I believe is a failure proof system that enables us to achieve and sustain our personal goals and dreams in life.

    The concept of continuous improvement offers us a way where we can live our lives to the fullest by continuously learning, growing and thriving.

    We live in a world of never ending disruption and change. By adopting the philosophy of Kaizen, we become more adaptable, flexible and resilient to dealing with the constant demands and disruptions we face in our lives.

    What continuous improvement is exactly

    The philosophy of Kaizen is based on the concept that instead of making big changes at once, the continuous improvement approach focuses on making small improvement over time.

    Kaizen is often referred to as the “strategy for 1% gains”. It is these 1% gains that athletes focus on to improve their performance. The 1% gains are incremental and if you keep building on the 1% gains the rewards are phenomenal.

    Continuous improvement is perpetual and so to maintain gains and improvement, you need to work on them continuously.

    Your personal improvement journey is never finished! What this means is, if you are truly committed to philosophy of continuous improvement, you are less likely to quit because you are always in search of the next goal.

    How continuous improvement empowers you

    How many New Year resolutions have you made and never achieved over the years?

    Unless you are one of the small minority who are goal orientated high achievers, maintaining motivation and the commitment to achieving your goals is hard work and dare I say it – with not much success – one big FAILURE after another.

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    Hence, these are the reasons why New Years’ resolutions are never achieved.

    Continuous improvement can help you to achieve any goals you set. If you commit to the practice of continuous improvement, your motivation to achieve your goals and aspirations in life will never die.

    “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” — Benjamin Franklin

    You will never have to struggle with the dilemma of giving up or giving in because it all became too hard.

    Your achievements and success in life will be as a result of you taking continuous incremental steps toward your goals.

    Continuous improvement is not about reaching the big goals in life but about taking small steps and improving and refining along the way.

    How to commit to continuous improvement

    If you truly desire a successful life where you are thriving, the first thing you must do is embrace and accept that your journey of self improvement and growth will never end. It is a lifelong journey of learning.

    Once you have accepted that your journey to improving your life is life long, you then follow these steps:

    1. Set your goals based on the philosophy of 1% incremental achievements

    Remember that setting the goal is the easy bit. Keeping motivated, focused and on track to achieving any goal is the hardest part.

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    The concept of continuous improvement provides you with a system or a process that if you commit to following will enable you to confidently achieve any goal you set- you are guaranteed to win.

    “Instead of trying to make radical changes in a short amount of time, just make small improvements every day that will gradually lead to the change you want. Each day, just focus on getting 1% better in whatever it is you’re trying to improve. That’s it. Just 1%.” — Brett and Kate McKay of The Art of Manliness

    It might not seem like much but continuous 1% improvement/achievements every day will gradually add up to 100% and the goal is achieved!

    In their book The Art Of Manliness, Brett and Kate McKay talk about how the journey of self improvement and personal growth is a lot like a rollercoaster ride – scary, exciting and with lots of ups and downs.

    They believe that by following the concept of Kaizen (the 1% improvement) every day enables you to get off the roller coaster ride of feeling like a failure and being angry with yourself because you keep giving up.

    2. Break down the system into small actions

    Continuous improvement is a journey of personal growth where you are making long-term steady progress. It is not about random bursts of improvement with fits and starts of activity. This approach to self-improvement will not give you the sustainable long-term changes you seek to improve your life or achieve your goals.

    For example, if you have huge debt and you want to pay it back but it is all too much, so you hide away from taking any action. To put the concept of continuous improvement into action, the first thing you need to do is not focus on how much you owe, instead focus on creating a system or process that enables you to pay back an incremental amount each week.

    Once you have created the system, you must break down the system into small actions or behaviours with the least resistance and effort. Commit to these actions on a daily basis until your original system is habit.

    Commit to paying back a realistic amount each week and then increase the amount you pay back by 1% plus every week after that. Keep going until the debt is paid off.

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    3. Keep track of your 1% success

    The other important factor about incremental achievement is that you must measure and keep track of your 1% successes.

    Evaluating and measuring your improvements are important for your own motivation and commitment to the journey. If you are not measuring your progress, your subconscious brain will kick in and sabotage your progress by convincing you that it is all too hard and you are not making any progress at all.

    Your subconsious brain only believes what you tell it. Unfortunately you have told your brain a lot of untruthful things over a long period of time about how you are a failure, not motivated and never really achieved anything in life. Your subconscious brain as a result believes all these “facts” that you have told it to be true.

    Measuring and evaluating your 1% successes is key to you retraining your subconscious to believe that Yes – you can achieve your goals and succeed in life!

    Focus on the progress, always

    Continuous Improvement does not focus on making huge gains or big improvements all at once. Instead it focuses on long-term steady progress.

    When you follow the philosophy of Continuous Improvement, you won’t radically change your life but over time with consistent and constant improvement and change, you will find that you are living your life to the fullest – empowered, resilient and thriving.

    Why would you not want to embrace this philosophy of incremental improvement and growth into your personal life?

    “Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will be a stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” – Sir Winston Churchill

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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