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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 April 25, 2019

      How Creativity Can Help You Get Ahead in Life

      How Creativity Can Help You Get Ahead in Life

      Have you ever felt limited in your abilities to do something you really wanted to pursue? Maybe it was an ambition you had, or an idea to start something. Perhaps it was an opportunity that came your way, but you weren’t able to take it because something held you back.

      Often, we’re unable to progress towards our goals because such obstacles stand in the way. We let our limitations stop or overshadow our abilities to see through to a goal.

      Yet, there’s one thing that we rarely think of to use when trying to overcome limitations.

      Creativity.

      What is Creativity?

      When I say creativity, I’m not talking about an innate talent. Creativity is a much needed, but often neglected, skill that everyone has! It’s a skill with huge leverage that allows you to generate enormous amounts of value from relatively little input.

      Creativity at its heart, is being able to see things in a way that others cannot. It’s a skill that helps you find new perspectives to create new possibilities and solutions to different problems.

      Everything, including brilliant inventions, cannot come from nothing; it all derives from some sort of inspiration. Creativity works by connecting things together in order to derive new meaning or value.

      From this perspective, you can find creativity at play in many areas.

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      For example, Mark Zuckerburg rapidly became successful by taking the previously existing concept of social media, and combining it with an incredibly simple interface that appealed to a much wider audience. Uber and Lyft combined the idea of a traditional taxi service with an incredibly efficient smartphone app.

      Both of these examples connect different ideas, find common ground amongst the differences, and create a completely new idea out of them.

      That’s creativity in a nutshell, and anyone can improve theirs.

      Limitations are Actually Opportunities

      The advantage of using creativity, is to help you see limitations as opportunities. Take any limitation that you may find yourself facing, is there a way to look at things differently?

      Let me illustrate with an example.

      On the day of my son’s 5th birthday, my wife and I arranged a party for him at a children’s adventure park. His friends and family were all invited, and the plan was to have a long, fun day out to celebrate.

      However, the day didn’t go exactly as planned…

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      At Lifehack, we pride ourselves on a healthy work-life balance, so I wasn’t concerned about taking the day off to celebrate. But, on the big day, a call came through to my phone.

      It was a manager from Lifehack. He excitedly told me that a group of investors were quite interested in our business proposition, and were wanting to meet later that day.

      This was great news! A potential investment could be coming our way. But, I was already miles away from home and the office. Plus, it was my son’s birthday…

      I asked if I could call him back once we got settled into the park.

      To be honest, I was pretty certain I was not going to be able to make it. Asking to reschedule would be a risky request, but there was no way that I was going to miss my son’s party.

      My son could sense something was off, and he asked me what was wrong. So I let him know that I just received a call about a meeting today, but also told him not to worry as today was about celebrating his birthday.

      But like all kids, he continued questioning me…

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      “But daddy, is it important?”

      “No, of course not,” I bluffed.

      Then, with childlike intuition and creativity, he asked: “Can’t you just meet with them at the park?”

      And, then it struck me! This was the idea that I was missing.

      Even though my son didn’t quite understand that it would not be possible for the investors to meet me at the park, it made sense for me to simply do a video call!

      I could miss 25 minutes of the party to do a quick call while the rest of the party walked through the aquarium. And, in the end, that was exactly what happened.

      I called back my teammate and asked him to briefly explain to the investors why I couldn’t be there in person to meet, but would be happy to join via video. I took the call, and was able to spend the rest of the day at the park with my son.

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      Not only did my son enjoy his birthday, his simple idea led to a successful investment meeting that allowed us to get funding for a new project.

      This is where I was able to turn a limitation into an opportunity that enabled me to reach my success.

      Creativity is One Key to Success

      When you use your creative ability to turn your limitations and setbacks into opportunities, you’ll find doors opening for you in areas you may have never imagined.

      Remember, your attitude is also important when it comes to achieving a goal, and tackling a setback or problem. That’s because a positive attitude transforms not just your mental state, but your physical and emotional well being. It is the key to lasting total transformation.

      Check out this article to learn more about how you can tune your attitude towards positivity.

      So, the next time you’re feeling limited by your abilities, setbacks or challenges, don’t give up. Really look at the situation, and see how you can leverage on your creativity to find an alternative solution.

      Featured photo credit: Photo by William Iven on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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