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Published on January 30, 2019

How to Work Efficiently: The 2 Critical Keys to Productive Work

How to Work Efficiently: The 2 Critical Keys to Productive Work

There’s a lot of research on the subject of productivity, but in my experience, most of it is bogus. 

So how to work efficiently?

Being productive really boils down to two key things:

  1. Prioritization
  2. Finding your flow

Each of these are distinct skills, yet they inevitably impact each other since honing your ability to prioritize improves your capacity for finding and staying in flow. So to maximize your efficiency, you have to work consciously to develop both.

Here’s what you need to do that.

1. Use the Eisenhower Matrix to Prioritize Better

The Eisenhower Matrix is a tool to help you prioritize tasks in terms of urgency and importance. As co-founder of Dairy Free Games, I found it immensely valuable; there always seemed to be a thousand fires burning, but using this tool helped me decide which ones to put out myself, and when.

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    Here’s how the matrix breaks down:

    • Urgent and Important: Tasks that you yourself have to do right now, or conversations and decisions that you must quarterback quickly.
    • Not Urgent and Important: Projects requiring of planning and strategy, but that can be delayed for a bit. You’ll still need to set a deadline for these and carve out time on your calendar to work specifically on them, but you might not need to tackle them today.
    • Urgent and Not Important: Tasks which must be completed, but which you should delegate to someone else. Think: files, documents, or processes that need updating—jobs that need to get done fast, but that don’t require you or your best engineer.
    • Not Important and Not Urgent: Ideas which are best eliminated from your to-do list altogether. Or, at the least, tasks that should be postponed until all other important items have been checked off. These might be “nice-to-haves”––they’re not urgent or mission critical.

    The most crucial piece here is deciding which action items must be completed by you, and which could be delegated. For many, you have the sense that everything that’s urgent is also important, and everything that’s important MUST be completed by you. But over time––through utilizing this matrix––you come to realize that urgent and important are in fact different qualifiers.

    The most effective leaders are those who can differentiate between the two and plan their days around the tasks which they really must complete themselves.

    2. Get into a State of Flow

    Flow, meanwhile is something you have to consciously, personally optimize for.

    Flow is a concept first defined by the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975. It is characterized, among other things, by complete psychological immersion in the activity or project at hand. It’s what most creatives––whether they be artists, engineers, writers, or designers––strive for when they sit down to get to work. Or, at least, it’s what they emerge out of after they’ve made something great.

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    If you’re a creator of some kind, you’ve likely experienced it, whether you were conscious of it or not. It feels, in a way, like a hyper-effective autopilot where words or algorithms seem to leap directly from your brain through your fingers and onto a page, and you’re only barely in control of the process.

    But here’s the thing:

    Forcing yourself into a mental state where it’s possible to get into flow is challenging––in fact, it’s something you need to actively and consciously optimize for.

    Luckily, there are steps you can take to increase the likelihood of getting into a state of flow.

      Here are some ways to do that:

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      Set aside time to “go deep.”

      Flow requires intense, uninterrupted focus. That itself requires an investment on your part to minimize distractions––especially from tasks that are not important but potentially urgent (category 3 of that Eisenhower Matrix).

      Set a clear objective.

      It’s impossible to get into flow without having one specific goal to focus intently on––otherwise, you’ll find yourself inherently distracted. You can’t get into flow by trying to work on three things at once.

      At best, your focus will remain at a kind of surface level for all three.

      Autonomy in how to handle the task.

      Integral to flow is freedom of choice. This is important when delegating important tasks to teammates, as well.

      If the project is something that the person will need to enter into flow to complete, you’ll need to make sure they themselves are invested in it and actively choosing how to complete it.

      The task should not be over-challenging or over-simplistic.

      As I mentioned, it’s difficult to get into flow when the project at hand bores you or, on the other hand, confuses you. It needs to be challenging enough to be interesting––there’s a sweet spot. This is particularly important to remember, again, when delegating.  

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      Access to feedback.

      The faster you can get feedback, whether that’s from your management, co-workers, or customers, the better. In fact, immediate feedback is the reasons that video games are so immersive and flow-inducing.

      In a game, almost every action you take has clear positive or negative feedback.

      The Bottom Line

      Prioritization and flow are inextricably intertwined.

      The easiest way to be pulled out of flow, after all, is being bombarded by tasks that aren’t important. That includes emails that seem to demand quick responses, Slack messages from teammates, creeping pressure from action items you didn’t correctly define as “Urgent,” “Not Urgent,” and so on.

      You must, in optimizing for flow, protect yourself from these kinds of risks.

      But, again, that skill comes from practice and from prioritizing effectively––setting aside time for focused, deep work, for example, or delegating potentially distracting yet important items to other team members.

      That’s why, ultimately, you need to develop and nurture both of these skills in tandem—both for the benefit of your team and for yourself.

      More Resources to Boost Productivity at Work

      Featured photo credit: Alvaro Reyes via unsplash.com

      More by this author

      Dennis Zdonov

      Entrepreneur, opportunist, applying game design to all walks of life

      How to Work Efficiently: The 2 Critical Keys to Productive Work

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      Published on June 19, 2019

      Your Beliefs About Success May Be Holding You Back

      Your Beliefs About Success May Be Holding You Back
      Pause for a moment and think about how you would describe success.

      If your description is dominated by money or status, then your image of success is faulty.

      For example, there are countless people who have these assets but don’t feel successful. Some of these people have enormous amounts of disposable income, but work so many hours during the day that they have no life beyond their work.

      Would you regard these people as successful?

      At first glance, I likely wouldn’t.

      And, then there are the endless celebrities who go from fame to failure (think bankruptcy, addictions and worse).

      Are they successful?

      Probably not.

      In truth, success is about happiness and fulfillment in life.

      But, there is more than one definition of success. Just look at the above example of the person who worked too hard to spend their money. If they’re happy with their life, then we shouldn’t criticize their version of success.

      So how about you? Do you have a clear definition of what success looks like for you?

      If you don’t, you’ll be constantly chasing someone else’s idea of success, and could find yourself totally unfulfilled and miserable.

      The good news is that over the next few minutes, I’m going to give you the tools you need to build a crystal clear picture of YOUR SUCCESS.

      Positive Thinking

      With the right attitude, anything can seem possible.

      For instance, if you’re fed up with your job, but do nothing to change it, then you’ll likely be stuck there for years to come. But, if you see the job as a stepping stone to something bigger and better, then not only will you enjoy your work more, but you’ll have something positive to aim towards (e.g., a promotion or new job).

      The example above demonstrates a little-known factor of success… suffering!

      Yes, suffering may be a negative thing that most people go out of their way to avoid; but successful people use suffering as a springboard to big achievements. Mindset really does separate the losers from the winners.

      Another thing you can do, is to gradually build up your positivity and confidence by tracking your progress towards your goals. And, each time you accomplish something – however small – be sure to celebrate it!

      This is a great way to propel you towards success.

      The Purpose of a Purpose

      What is your purpose in life?

      These are questions I suggest you spend some time thinking about. To help you find the answers, consider the following:

      If you just seek a career, all you will find is a career.

      But, if you seek a purpose, you’ll find something much more than a career – you’ll find your calling. And when you’ve found this, and you begin following it, you’ll be firmly in the middle of the happiness, satisfaction and success zone.

      This is backed by science, with research showing that people who have a purpose and meaning in life have an increase in:[1]
      • Overall well-being
      • Mental and physical health
      • Resiliency
      • Self-esteem

      But, don’t mistake seeking happiness and success as your purpose. These things are a natural result of following your purpose – but shouldn’t be your focal point.

      Austrian Neurologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said it well:

      “It is the very pursuit of happiness, that thwarts happiness.”

      What about YOUR purpose?

      If you’re struggling to identify it, look for the things in your life that you’re good at, enthuse you, and provide a benefit to the world.

      Becoming a Better You

      Are your beliefs holding you back?

      If yes, here are three things you can do RIGHT NOW to break out of your mind trap:

      1. Boost Your Confidence: you can do this by overcoming challenges that come your way. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, face this challenge head-on by agreeing to do regular presentations for your company, or by joining a public speaking organization like Toastmasters International. Speak in public often enough, and your fear of it will plunge like a river going over a waterfall.
      2. Develop Healthy Habits: I’m talking about positive habits that will serve you day in, day out. Habits such as lifelong learning, eating well, and waking up early. When these things are automatic for you, you’ll reap incredible benefits from them. Take eating well, for example. You’ll feel better. You’ll look better. And you’ll have way more energy to make things happen in your life.
      3. Invoke the Magic of Goal Setting: Without goals, you’ll drift through life like a plastic bottle in the sea. But with goals, you’ll be like a 100m sprinter running towards the finishing line. Goals really are powerful tools. They’ll direct your focus and energy, and will allow you to track your progress in life. I recommend the SMART goal-setting method (find out about this here).

      And, always remember… don’t compare yourself to others; only compare yourself to who you were yesterday.

      Each step you take forward is making you a better version of you.

      Success Is Self-Love

      I encourage you to take the tips I’ve shared in this article and put them into action in your life. Ideally, starting right now!

      Firstly, transform your mindset by facing up to challenges and overcoming them. Then spend time to discover your purpose. And, once you’ve found it – start following it.

      Becoming a better version of you will take some time, but will be worth the wait. Not only will you reach into untapped potential in your life, but you’ll also develop respect and love for yourself along the way.

      So don’t let your beliefs hold you back anymore. BREAK FREE from them and start enjoying a happy, healthy and successful life.

      Featured photo credit: Razvan Chisu via unsplash.com

      Reference

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