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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 November 11, 2019

    How to Find Your Keystone Habits to Change Your Life

    How to Find Your Keystone Habits to Change Your Life

    When a young CEO stepped in at the helm of a dying giant, his first task was to figure out what needed to be done to save the company. After he spent some time researching the company and the market situation, he came up with a simple plan which he introduced to the shareholders in his first speech as the CEO.

    He spoke just about one single thing–safety. Everyone in the room thought he was crazy and some people jumped the soon-to-be-dead ship.

    15 years later, he not salvaged the giant, but made it one of the strongest steel and metal companies in the world and made a global name of himself.

    The company is Alcoa and the guy was Paul O’Neill.

    But the story matters to us for one thing only and that is the relentless focus he had on safety and security in his company. Paul O’Neill said that his employees deserve to leave work the same way they arrived at it–unharmed.

    And it was this radical focus on a single habit in the company that made it great. A single focus on a single habit which had a massive ripple effect.

    This is known as a keystone habit.

    The Importance of a Keystone Habit

    A keystone habit is a habit which has the biggest ripple effect in your life which means that by implementing it, you will radically change everything in your life.

    It’s quite easy to spot the keystone habits which make your life miserable.

    Take overeating as an example. If you weigh 400 pounds, you’re bedridden and your physical health massively declines. You can’t function individually so you need help to even do the basic things like going to the toilet or walking up the stairs. Since you can’t move, you can’t go to your job so you probably lose it. And since you can’t move, you can’t go out and meet someone so your dating and social life decline as well. And as a formerly overweight person, I know how this sucks.

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    This is just one example of how a keystone habit creates a ripple effect which creates change in every sphere of our lives. So we better open our eyes and make sure that we use the power of the keystone habits for bettering our life.

    Why Less Is More

    A keystone habit is about one thing and, the one thing only which you do to radically improve your life. And a lot of people would, at this point, ask what are the best keystone habits to implement in their lives.

    And here is the big truth: Nobody knows and nobody can tell you exactly.

    Everyone is specific and has different things going on for them in their lives, so claiming something is always superior to something else would simply be irresponsible.

    So even though I can’t tell you what to see, I can tell you where to look.

    Every keystone habit can be situated into one of the following four quadrants:

    It’s either a physical habit, intellectual habit, emotional habit or a spiritual habit.

    Any keystone habit I ever encountered which changed the life of someone falls under these 4 categories.

    And the trick is recognizing what kind of habit right would benefit your life the best at this moment. Asking what the best keystone habit has the same effect as asking what the best book in the world is– it depends on who you ask and what your current life situation is.

    If you’re struggling with the meaning of life and want to find hope in this crazy world we live in, I would point you to a great book which recently came out called Everything is F*cked by Mark Mason. If you were a struggling parent of a 10-year old kid who just found out the perils of the internet, I would point you to a security app.

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    You get the point…

    But just because everything is relative, it doesn’t mean that some things aren’t better than other things. War and Peace will always be a great book no matter if it currently befits you to read it. And the same thing can be applied to keystone habits so let’s see what kind of keystone habits fall into the great category.

    Great Keystone Habits

    I have already mentioned how all keystone habits fall into one of the four categories: physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. So the following keystone habits will fall into one (or more) of these buckets.

    But before we proceed into the habits, know this.

    What got you here, won’t get you there.

    So if you already have a keystone habit which you implemented for quite a while now and you think it’s no longer working, you are probably right. We need certain things at certain times of development, but we need to let them go later on to grow to new levels. So use the habits to better your life, but don’t worship any one of them for your entire life.

    Physical Domain

    When it comes to great keystone habits in the physical domain, they all fall into two buckets:

    • Exercise
    • Food

    These two are the pinnacle of the physical domain when it comes to keystone habits. I don’t even have to tell you all the ways exercise helps you in your life.

    From better hormonal regulation, to energy levels, to looking better, to feeling more confident, to increasing your lifespan and the quality of your life, a keystone habit of exercising is one whose effects you will feel fast.

    When it comes to food, it’s literally the building block of your life’s energy. If you eat garbage, you will feel like garbage–garbage in, garbage out. And your energy levels are one of the most important factors you need to regulate in your life if you want to achieve anything.

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    None of your dreams will ever come true if you eat a massive bag of chips every single day, which makes you drowsy and lifeless no matter how much ambition you have.

    But the physical domain is just one of the four domains so let’s jump to the next one.

    Intellectual Domain

    There are many great intellectual keystone habits we can pursue, but I will just name a couple of them which most of you who read the article will find relevant:

    • Reading Books
    • Writing (columns, articles, personal blog or diary)
    • Learning new languages
    • Learning a new skill set (copywriting, coaching, cooking…)
    • Teaching your skillset or your life experiences

    All of these have their own benefits and can massively improve your life and the life of people around you. When you, for example, learn a new language, you don’t just learn a new language, you learn a completely new way of thinking and form unique connections in your mind.

    But we don’t stop here, we have two more domains to cover.

    Emotional Domain

    This is a difficult one because, for one, it’s really hard to measure it in any quantitive way. You can’t just call your wife every single day and think that by doing just that, you are a good husband. It doesn’t work like that.

    I wrote about the problems of measuring emotional habits before and I won’t go in-depth about it here, but I will just mention that measuring these kinds of habits requires your and yours only subjective analyses. It’s like giving yourself a daily score of 1-10 on the question of “Did I do my best to be a great husband today?”

    The keystone habits of the emotional domain are one of the most complex and difficult ones to pull off because they require most people to change things they do in relation to other people.

    If you want to be more sincere and honest in your emotional responses, that means that you will have to make some people angry by doing that. It can be a difficult conversation you need to have with your spouse or with your friends, maybe a disagreement with your peers and colleagues, or a deep look within yourself with an honest look about your actions and mistakes.

    Emotional domain keystone habits improve your life in any stage, but since they make us do uncomfortable things, they are the last ones we pursue.

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    Some of the examples would be:

    • Telling yourself that you are the only one who is responsible for your emotions and keeping that standard
    • Calling out passive-aggressive in people
    • Speaking your mind even though you know it will bring disagreement
    • Dealing with your own problems first before pointing fingers
    • Asking for feedback constantly, both positive and negative ones
    • Deciding to be vulnerable even though it means risking being hurt

    The things I wrote above are probably the most difficult things you can ask someone to do, but they are also the most rewarding things you can do in your life. If you want to achieve greatness, you need to be willing to dare greatly.

    And last, but not least, are the keystone habits of the spiritual domain.

    Spiritual Domain

    The keystone habits of the spiritual domain are our connection with things which in our lives that have a higher purpose than just ourselves. This is the place where feel the connection with our communities, with Higher Beings, with God or Emptiness or whatever you want to call it.

    The spiritual domain is the strongest as a guiding force in life and some of the keystone habits of this domain include:

    • Finding your life’s purpose
    • Living your vision of life
    • Sacrificing yourself for the achievement of something bigger than you
    • Nurturing your inner voice and connection with the Spirit

    To some readers, this might seem like woo-woo, but I can assure that it isn’t. This is about the spiritual dimension of every individual and if you disregard it, you will annulate a part of you which will become a problem.

    The Western world currently faces a major spiritual crisis where people feel disconnected with anything in their lives which has a higher purpose than themselves. That’s why people are miserable even though they lead an “objectively” rich life where they appear to have everything but still feel like happiness is not in their lives.

    If you read all the way up to here, you found at least one keystone habit which can help you right now in your life.

    All that is left now is to implement it. As the famous adage goes:

    “Knowing and not doing is the same as not knowing.”

    Now you know, it’s time to do.

    More About Habits

    Featured photo credit: Bram Naus via unsplash.com

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