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8 Productivity Hacks to Get Out of To-Do List Purgatory

8 Productivity Hacks to Get Out of To-Do List Purgatory


    You feel like you can’t get anything worthwhile accomplished today, yet the tasks keep piling on.

    I call it “To-Do List Purgatory” because it’s a hellish rut where important tasks never seem to get done.

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    I’ve been there often enough to share with you my best methods to stop yourself from getting trapped. Use these following 8 productivity hacks and get out (and stay out!) of to-do list purgatory:

    1. Hit Restart

    Rewrite your task list and give yourself a realistic selection of things you can do today. It makes no sense to create a giant laundry list of things that you’ll never get done. Make tasks that fit into the time you have available. Spend 5 minutes each morning preparing a daily to-do list with a handful of priority tasks that you know you can accomplish today. Park the tasks you don’t see doing today on a holding list for another day.

    2. Use Laser-Focus

    Everyone should have a “Laser-Focus Mode” where they shut out the world and concentrate with intense focus. Set a timer for 15 minutes and commit to working with laser-point focus on one and only one task. Once you get going you’ll find it’s an addictive habit. Assist this process by creating an uber-productive atmosphere: close your door, turn off your phone, and unplug from the internet.

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    3. Toss ‘Em Out

    Sometimes you take for granted that something must be done just because it’s on your list. Retrain yourself to know it’s not always the case. When in doubt, the best way to see if something is truly a priority, delete it from your list. It’ll come back if it’s truly something important.

    4. Choose Your Big Three

    Each day, you need to declare three clear-cut priorities to which you should focus most of your energy. Choose the tasks that offer you the highest yield per hour of effort. Yes, I know you have much more to do, but it’s important you learn to take advantage of the 80/20 rule, where 80% of your success comes from the top 20% of your daily tasks.

    5. Eat that Freaking Frog

    Start your day doing the worst task possible and you’ll have a much easier time working through your to-do list. Too often, we avoid those “ugly frog” tasks we hate. That, in turn, creates a black hole affect where other tasks are sucked in and your list grows totally stagnant. There’s a good reason eating the frog is one of the top procrastination tips – it works! Don’t trick yourself into thinking you need to start your day slowly, you’ll never get started.

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    6. Improve Your Grammar

    Re-write each task so your list offers detailed instructions. Don’t just write the words “do budget” — it’s a daunting and unapproachable statement. Instead, create phrases that begin with a verb and offer clarity as to the outcome. “List monthly bills due.” If your task can’t be turned into a specific action, it needs to be broken down into smaller steps, as I did in this example.

    7. Set Deadlines

    Setting deadlines for your major daily tasks is an effective way to keep focused during your task time. You’ll be amazed how much more gratifying it feels to maintain start-stop points in your task times. The structure of time constraints offers you a tangible comfort zone for doing your work, and it offers a much greater sense of accomplishment than the alternative — working until someone or something else distracts you.

    8. Just Keep Moving

    The next time you find yourself getting stuck in your day feeling like you’re not getting anywhere and not knowing what to do next, there are two simple choices. Do the next thing you can think or, or quit the task and move on to the next one. Either way, don’t let yourself freeze up… it eventually leads to procrastination and futility. Keep yourself moving and maintain your momentum — it’s the lifeblood of having a productive day.

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    Remember, your best bet is to avoid to-do list purgatory altogether. It’s truly just a matter of making a well-defined, list of priority tasks and following through on your commitments to that list each day. Do this and you’ll be in productivity heaven.

    What’s your sticking point each day? Please share with me in the comments section and I’ll do my best to offer a tip that best fits you.

    (Photo credit: Frustrated Businesswoman via Shutterstock)

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    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

    Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

    “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

    In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

    New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

    There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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    So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

    What is the productivity paradox?

    There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

    In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

    He wrote in his conclusion:

    “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

    Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

    How do we measure productivity anyway?

    And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

    In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

    But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

    In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

    But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

    Possible causes of the productivity paradox

    Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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    • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
    • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
    • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
    • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

    There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

    According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

    Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

    The paradox and the recession

    The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

    “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

    This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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    According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

    Looking forward

    A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

    “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

    Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

    “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

    On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

    Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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