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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

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    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on July 18, 2019

    How to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills For a Swift Career Switch

    How to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills For a Swift Career Switch

    Most people grow up with dreams to go to college and graduate with high-paying job offers waiting for them the week after graduation. Others may favor non-traditional career paths. But the desire is the same: to find a job we love where compensation is commensurate with experience.

    However, plans change. For instance, what started out as a dream to be a surgeon is cut short by a nasty injury and you’re debating how to transition into a new role. Or you might be facing being let go from your current employer and are anxious about “options out there.”

    Whatever the case may be, switching careers can be intentional or unintentional. What matters is that you’re well-prepared, and the only way to do so is to learn new skills — hone in on your transferable skills.

    Why Hone in on Your Transferable Skills?

    There are several reasons you need to develop these skills if you want to go far in life and your career. In a nutshell, honing in your your transferable skills can lead to:

    Better Job Offers

    Continuous assessment and improvement of your skills widens the pool of job offers for you to make selections from. You’re no longer tethered to one industry as you’re able to lead your career by design, not by default.

    People with transferable skills on a resume also open up opportunities for more potential employers.

    Increase in Pay and More Responsibilities

    You’ve heard the saying “with great power come great responsibility.” In your case, transferable skills make you more marketable to employers which could lead to pay raises.

    Although this isn’t an automatic process– you have to be proactive about what you want in the marketplace, there is a chance that these pay raises will come with change in titles and roles.

    A Shot at Entrepreneurship

    Yes, changing career paths also includes the possibility of working for yourself. With these skills and work experience, you could live anywhere in the world and design a life and career you want.

    We’ve talked about why you need to strengthen your transferable skills but what are some these skills, and how can you work on them?

    13 Tips to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills

    1. Update Your Resume

    You might be surprised to know this but yes, updating your resume is a skill. The very first thing you should do while thinking about switching careers is to highlight attributes that make you very desirable candidate to employers.

    Think about your volunteer experiences, freelance projects, and school projects. Although they might seem insignificant, they demonstrate your ability to deliver results that several companies are looking for.

    While you might have held several positions since college, switching careers will require you to have a different type of resume.

    There are three different types of resumes: functional, chronological, and a combination resume. However, if you are looking to switch careers you’ll want to have a functional resume. A functional resume is strengths-based that emphasizes skills that are transferable rather than a collection of dates and job titles.

    2. Brush up on Your Communication Skills

    Every attempt to get ahead in business and in life starts with the need to communicate effectively. Whether it is interpersonal, intercultural, or multi-generational, the ability to be seen and heard while respecting the boundaries of work relationship matters.

    That’s why it’s one of the top skills you need to master. Strong communication skills allows you to effectively tailor your messages to specific audiences, which will make you a stronger asset to any organization.

    To hone this skill:

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    Pay attention to your listening skills. To communicate effectively, you need to first learn how to understand others.

    Your ability to decode overt and implied messages, no matter how nuanced they are, is key to knowing how to foster deep relationships with others.

    This article can also give you effective ways to enhance your communication skills:

    How to Master Effective Communication Skills at Work and Home

    3. Learn Technical (or Business) Writing

    Another form of communication, writing, is a skill that can take you anywhere.

    Companies communicate a lot through written memos, emails, newsletters, and other audio-visual means. But at the crux of this all is someone or some people who are tasked with translating the organization’s vision into statements anyone can understand.

    To hone this skill:

    Consider taking some free or paid classes online. You can accomplish this through several community colleges or online platforms like Lynda, Udemy or edX .

    4. Practice Public Speaking and Presentation Skills

    No matter how intelligent you are, no one will take you seriously if you’re unable to pull off a decent level of persuasion through presentation skills.

    Most presentation can be done through either electronic devices or require your physical presence. Your chosen career may require you to be in front of several hundreds of people or you could be charged with developing materials for presentation.

    To hone this skill:

    Volunteer to lead projects that give you some responsibility for putting together presentations.

    Also, try taking courses that will improve your public speaking skills if you feel lacking.

    These tips on public speaking would be helpful too:

    The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

    5. Get Comfortable with Identifying Problems and Solutions

    Every organization has got its problems no matter how greener the grass is on the other side.

    How to hone this skill:

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    Practice being resourceful.

    Do you know where to find every company policy on the intranet in less than five minutes?

    Think about a time you noticed some inefficiency at work and proposed a solution. Think about instances where you lent your voice to a cause which resulted in improved processes for your department.

    No matter how small or inadequate you might feel, you’ve got some problem-solving skills that some organizations want.

    If you look for more ways to improve your problem solving skills, take a look at this article:

    6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills

    6. Recognize Your Team-Building Ability

    Your ability to smoothly switch careers also depends on how well you can energize your team, especially if you’re aiming for a leadership role. Unfortunately, team-building usually isn’t something you learn on the job in most careers unless you hold a managerial position.

    The good thing is that you possibly know one or two things about team-building. Think back to moments in college when you had group projects with colleagues and had to work with 3 to 4 other strangers for months. Were you able to get past your differences and disagreements to focus on the uniqueness of everyone at the table?

    Making a career switch might require that you work with multidisciplinary teams whether you have a deep knowledge of what the other team does or not. I can easily think of doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and social workers working closely to achieve the goals in a patient’s care plan.

    How to hone this skill:

    Look for collaborative projects and team building activities that excite you and challenge yourself with new possibilities.

    Try some of these tactics to keep your team motivated as well:

    17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team

    7. Lean into Your Leadership Skills

    Although similar to the previous point, leadership skills extend far beyond building teams, managing time sheets and correcting behavior.

    What I’m referring to here is your ability to develop a vision, believe in it, and inspire buy-in from everyone involved. This isn’t about knowing how to run a particular machine; it’s about how to lead a team of people with various backgrounds, experiences, and ideas of how things should be done.

    How to hone this skill:

    Although more complex than the rest, it all starts with an introspective look into your strengths and weaknesses. Then get a mentor or a coach who can bring out your leadership qualities so you can operate from a place of strength.

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    Learn more about the effective leadership types here:

    5 Types of Leadership that Help You Build a High Performance Team

    8. Improve Your Analytical Skills

    Are you good at taking large amount of data and interpreting them? Your skills could come in handy.

    Organizations are looking for people to make sense of the data around them, explain how it affects profitability, and make projections based on it. Best of all? You don’t need to be an accountant to be analytical.

    How to hone this skill:

    Try taking data interpretation classes online or at a community college. Learning Microsoft Excel or Access is also a plus. If you’re ambitious enough, you could consider getting additional certifications to up the ante.

    Take a look at these ways to help sharpen your analytical skills:

    What Are Analytical Skills and How to Strengthen Them For Success

    9. Don’t Discount Your Time Management and Prioritization Skills

    How good are you when it comes to deciding how important tasks are, organizing schedules, and coordinating plans?

    Should you be willing, there is a market waiting for you out there. Organizations and busy executives are always looking for talented individuals to outsource these tasks to.

    How to hone this skill:

    Although not everyone possesses secretarial superpowers, you can improve this skill by focusing on taking huge tasks and breaking them into smaller goals or steps in order to achieve a bigger goal.

    Here, you can learn to prioritize to achieve more:

    The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

    10. Embrace Your Creative and Critical Thinking Side

    Although it’s often believed that creativity is for the arts and right-brained people, I believe everyone is capable of being creative. In fact, most organizations recognize creativity as a vehicle that will drive successful inventions in the future.

    How to hone this skill:

    Try doing something fun. As simple as this sounds, you’d be surprised to learn how much. In fact, behavioral and learning scientist, Marily Oppezzo, says taking a walk might be all you need to get your creative juices flowing.[1]

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    Anyone can be creative, you just need the right way to train your brain:

    What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

    11. Don’t Stop Learning Tech Knowledge and Skills

    Being tech-savvy is a huge plus. If you have an affinity with computers, software applications and are abreast of technological improvements, it is a transferable skill that is worth highlighting.

    You don’t have to be a young college graduate with silicon valley dreams to work

    How to hone this skill:

    All you need is the determination and the readiness to learn. This article will give you some ideas on the types of skills to learn:

    How to Improve Your Computer Skills to Get Ahead in Your Career

    12. Build Networks and Relationships

    You aren’t free from networking. Not at the moment. With your goal to switch to a different career, your networking skills will come in handy.

    Fortunately for you, networking doesn’t have to be so hard.

    How to hone this skill:

    Attend conferences and job fairs. Chances are you already have people in your network you can move you closer to your dream career.

    To enhance your networking skills, take these steps:

    How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life

    Final Thoughts

    Although there are several people with the same qualification and degree(s) you possess, what ultimately determines hireability comes down to a myriad of things such as culture fit, how teachable you are, cultural sensitivity, inter-generational awareness, and your ability to navigate uncertainty.

    You have a chance to stand out by letting your dream companies know how these soft skills make you an invaluable asset, and how saying ‘YES’ to you is a win-win for both parties.

    Happy career switching!

    More Resources About Career Advancement

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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