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Are You a Productive Person? Look at the Number of People Who Are Waiting On You to Get Back to Them

Are You a Productive Person?  Look at the Number of People Who Are Waiting On You to Get Back to Them

    During the course of the average working day, we make a number of promises to get back to people. We make some of them verbally or in writing directly. At other times, we quietly make a personal promise to ourselves.

    Many of us are resigned to what we believe is God’s cruel trick – not giving us enough hours in the day to respond to everyone. Others complain that they can never find the time.

    The problem is that almost no-one tells the truth – their time management system isn’t doing the job that they need it to do.

    What does time management have to do with getting back to people? Isn’t that a matter of simple courtesy?

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    Well, it used to be, but it no longer is.

    In the good old days, we simply didn’t interact with as many people as we do now. In the past year or two, consider how quickly your Facebook network has grown. I had no idea that I knew 1,000 people, yet my list will top that number this year.

    With the click of a few keys, I can send each of them a message, pulling them into my life in numbers and with a frequency that was unthinkable twenty years ago. As a result, on any given day, a bunch of them expect me to get back to them about one thing or another.

    Many of us fail to respond to this increased expectation.

    We are convinced that our memories are just not good enough. We believe that the older we get, the harder it is to remember, and there is a measure of truth in this assertion, according to the scientists. Above a certain age, we are losing brain cells each day, and with them goes our ability to respond.

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    We also live in the age of distractions – I just read an article in the New York Times that noted that the number of people who are reporting themselves as “injured while walking and texting” has risen dramatically. It’s tough to get back to people when we are pulled in other directions by 200 channels, sexy apps on our phones, IM’s, tweets and the like.

    The flood of information coming our way has also been selectively blamed for blocking our attempts to get back in touch. There’s too much information coming at us to process and we can’t possibly find the time to reply to that snail-mail from Aunt Martha, who doesn’t even have a computer.

    Fortunately, a real solution doesn’t have anything to do with better memory, less distractions or an escape from information. Instead, it has to do with how we manage our time.

    Consider the habit that many have developed when an email arrives in their inbox.

    If it requires a few minutes of either reading or thinking, most professionals will leave it for later once they have completed a quick glance. This particular habit isn’t a problem when applied to a single email. However, when it’s done a few hundred or thousand times, it creates a mountain of half-promises that we have made to ourselves, each saying “I’ll return to it when I have time.”

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    In other words, we are promising ourselves to get back in touch with the sender of the email when we get over our memory challenges, distraction and information overload!

    It’s like smoking. Done once in a while, it’s not a problem to our health. Done to excess and it kills.

    In the case of unreturned email, it kills not just our confidence in our abilities to stay on top of our game, but it seeps into our relationships, until we become one of those people who “never stays in touch.” All this because of a simple habit that almost all of us practice.

    What we don’t see clearly is that we do damage to our reputations and to our time management systems when we don’t manage individual habits. A bad habit that becomes a ritual can drag down our productivity, without our knowing it.

    The key is to make the connection: weak time management systems are made up by people who don’t manage their habits. For that reason, it’s a good idea to engage in what the consultants call “kaizen” – a Japanese word for continuous improvement. In other words, in order to prevent a time management system from becoming stale, it’s better to keep looking for habits to make it better.

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    After all, we are always upgrading our computers — why not something that’s even more critical to our effectiveness?

    At the highest levels of performance, the most productive people have upgraded their time management systems to the point where getting back to people is not a problem.

    In fact, if you ask them to tell you who is on their list of people to get back to, they give you a quizzical look. It’s not something they try to remember.

    Instead, they rely on their time management systems to tell them when they need to get in touch with someone, and they just don’t need to remember who they are.

    For them, the problem of getting back to people has disappeared.

    For most of us, and especially those of us who have long lists of people who expect us to be back in touch with them, we need “kaizen” programs of our own.

    More by this author

    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

    How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

    More About Prioritization & Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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