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Increase Your Motivation by Framing Tasks

Increase Your Motivation by Framing Tasks

    In Getting Things Done methodology and most other personal productivity systems, dividing projects and large tasks into the smallest tasks divisible is considered a basic, fundamental concept. These systems tell us to divide a task into individual actions until we get close to a point where we can’t break things down into any further actions.

    The point is to focus the brain on something small enough to tackle right away. When we write up our task lists and throw in a fairly large task or project, we’re all prone to procrastinating on the task because they haven’t been defined closely enough and we’re unsure of where to start. This concept takes care of that problem and allows us to rapidly focus and begin working right away, as opposed to beginnning after lengthy, obtuse and inefficient thought processes in an attempt to digest the topic.

    However, it does have an ill side effect. Focusing in on individual actions can increase the mental distance between what we’re doing right now and what the end result is meant to be. When the end result, the goal, is obscured, motivation quickly falls because—subconsciously or not—there doesn’t seem to be a point to acting anymore.

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    Of course, the benefits to breaking tasks down into actions outweigh the disadvantages. Firstly, the motivation drain caused by focusing on small actions is far less detrimental than the motivation drain caused by trying to focus on too large or “impossible” of a task. Don’t get me wrong and assume that it’s best to focus entirely on large tasks, because it’s not—if anything, focusing too small is best. But more importantly, it’s impossible to fix the problems with focusing on too large of an area without breaking it all down—once we’ve broken our projects down, the fixes for the resulting issues are actually pretty easy.

    After all, we started breaking things down to solve the problem with tasks that are too big.

    Where Does the Problem Begin?

    The problem doesn’t begin in the project planning phase. Most often, we’ll format them something like this:

    Important Project Name

    1. Important action one

    2. Important action two

    3. Important action three

    So, as you’re preparing the project itself you’re reminded of the end goal at all times because the name of the project’s right there at the top of the list, and obviously, because the project itself is what you’re thinking of—and specifically, which actions are required to move towards that end goal.

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    The problem begins when you feed projects into your system and take actions from several projects to form a daily task list. The context of the list changes from individual projects and over to the general scope of things that need to be achieved in a day. The end result context is thus lost and here is where we can lose sight of the goal. We lose sight of the motivating factor, which is not just a factor in our own procrastination, but the quality of the end product as well.

    Most task management software with a Next viewpane works pretty well. In Things, the Next tasks for each project are grouped and listed under the project names themselves. You can see this in action here (I am not really organizing a shindig and nor am I writing a book on dung beetles):

      But when you go to create your daily task list, everything changes. You lose the specific framing of each task and they form one amalgamated list.

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      Now, you could use a similar format to the Things Next pane, but then you’d be restricting the order of the tasks and also using up more vertical space on the paper. In past articles on the topic, I’ve mentioned that while I don’t mind filling up horizontal space on my daily task lists, I like keeping a bit of vertical space so the page doesn’t fill up too much and become too confusing to work with. You don’t want to think about your task list much once it has been created; you just want it to guide your day. Having to read it closely line-by-line just because you’ve packed too much in there is thinking about it too much.

      The Solution I’m Trialling

      My solution, which I’ve been trialling for the past week, has been to add another vertical column and indicate the project an action belongs to just next to the task description itself. I try to abbreviate it and ensure that most of the focus of attention on each line remains with the task itself, but it’s important to make those abbreviations meaningful. You don’t want to find yourself going, “What did this code refer to again?” That defeats the whole point.

      It has been a week and I’ve found that I’m looking at each task more as a part of a whole leading to a goal rather than individual tasks that were preset during my weekly review. It feels a lot less like going through the daily motions of getting things done and more like working towards meaningful ends. I’m not actually working on anything more or less meaningful—it’s all in the way you think about these things—but it does seem to be helping with motivation. One can’t quantify this sort of thing, but it’s working for me.

      However, while I’ve found a method of framing tasks within projects that works, I’m not sure I’ve found the best, most efficient way to do this. It has only been through a week’s trial, after all! Do you do anything similar to keep yourself motivated about the end goal when projects start getting a little too action-oriented? I’d love to hear about your techniques and thoughts in the comments.

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      Joel Falconer

      Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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      Last Updated on January 6, 2021

      14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

      14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

      Everyone has heard the term productivity, and people talk about it in terms of how high it is and how to improve it. But fewer know how to measure productivity, or even what exactly we are talking about when using the term “productivity.”

      In its simplest form, the productivity formula looks like this: Output ÷ Input = Productivity.

      For example, you have two salespeople each making 10 calls to customers per week. The first one averages 2 sales per week and the second one averages 3 sales per week. By plugging in the numbers we get the following productivity levels for each sales person.

      For salesperson one, the output is 2 sales and the input is 10 sales: 2 ÷ 10 = .2 or 20% productivity. For salesperson two, the output is 3 sales and the input is 10 sales: 3 ÷ 10 = .3 or 30% productivity.

      Knowing how to measure and interpret productivity is an invaluable asset for any manager or business owner in today’s world. As an example, in the above scenario, salesperson #1 is clearly not doing as well as salesperson #2.

      Knowing this information we can now better determine what course of action to take with salesperson #1.

      Some possible outcomes might be to require more in-house training for that salesperson, or to have them accompany the more productive salesperson to learn a better technique. It might be that salesperson #1 just isn’t suited for sales and would do a better job in a different position.

      How to Measure Productivity With Management Techniques

      Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to fine tune your business by minimizing costs and maximizing profits:

      1. Identify Long and Short-Term Goals

      Having a good understanding of what you (or your company’s) goals are is key to measuring productivity.

      For example, if your company’s goal is to maximize market share, you’ll want to measure your team’s productivity by their ability to acquire new customers, not necessarily on actual sales made.

      2. Break Down Goals Into Smaller Weekly Objectives

      Your long-term goal might be to get 1,000 new customers in a year. That’s going to be 20 new customers per week. If you have 5 people on your team, then each one needs to bring in 4 new customers per week.

      Now that you’ve broken it down, you can track each person’s productivity week-by-week just by plugging in the numbers:

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      Productivity = number of new customers ÷ number of sales calls made

      3. Create a System

      Have you ever noticed that whenever you walk into a McDonald’s, the French fry machine is always to your left? 

      This is because McDonald’s created a system. They have determined that the most efficient way to set up a kitchen is to always have the French fry machine on the left when you walk in.

      You can do the same thing and just adapt it to your business.

      Let’s say that you know that your most productive salespeople are making the most sales between the hours of 3 and 7 pm. If the other salespeople are working from 9 am to 4 pm, you can potentially increase productivity through something as simple as adjusting the workday.

      Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to set up, monitor, and fine tune systems to maximize output.

      4. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate!

      We’ve already touched on using these productivity numbers to evaluate and monitor your employees, but don’t forget to evaluate yourself using these same measurements.

      If you have set up a system to track and measure employees’ performance, but you’re still not meeting goals, it may be time to look at your management style. After all, your management is a big part of the input side of our equation.

      Are you more of a carrot or a stick type of manager? Maybe you can try being more of the opposite type to see if that changes productivity. Are you managing your employees as a group? Perhaps taking a more one-on-one approach would be a better way to utilize each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

      Just remember that you and your management style contribute directly to your employees’ productivity.

      5. Use a Ratings Scale

      Having clear and concise objectives for individual employees is a crucial part of any attempt to increase workplace productivity. Once you have set the goals or objectives, it’s important that your employees are given regular feedback regarding their progress.

      Using a ratings scale is a good way to provide a standardized visual representation of progress. Using a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 is a good way to give clear and concise feedback on an individual basis.

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      It’s also a good way to track long-term progress and growth in areas that need improvement.

      6. Hire “Mystery Shoppers”

      This is especially helpful in retail operations where customer service is critical. A mystery shopper can give feedback based on what a typical customer is likely to experience.

      You can hire your own shopper, or there are firms that will provide them for you. No matter which route you choose, it’s important that the mystery shoppers have a standardized checklist for their evaluation.

      You can request evaluations for your employees friendliness, how long it took to greet the shopper, employees’ knowledge of the products or services, and just about anything else that’s important to a retail operation.

      7. Offer Feedback Forms

      Using a feedback form is a great way to get direct input from existing customers. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when using feedback forms.

      First, keep the form short, 2-3 questions max with a space for any additional comments. Asking people to fill out a long form with lots of questions will significantly reduce the amount of information you receive.

      Secondly, be aware that customers are much more likely to submit feedback forms when they are unhappy or have a complaint than when they are satisfied.

      You can offset this tendency by asking everyone to take the survey at the end of their interaction. This will increase compliance and give you a broader range of customer experiences, which will help as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

      8. Track Cost Effectiveness

      This is a great metric to have, especially if your employees have some discretion over their budgets. You can track how much each person spends and how they spend it against their productivity.

      Again, this one is easy to plug into the equation: Productivity = amount of money brought in ÷ amount of money spent.

      Having this information is very useful in forecasting expenses and estimating budgets.

      9. Use Self-Evaluations

      Asking your staff to do self evaluations can be a win-win for everyone. Studies have shown that when employees feel that they are involved and their input is taken seriously, morale improves. And as we all know, high employee morale translates into higher productivity.

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      Using self-evaluations is also a good way to make sure that the employees and employers goals are in alignment.

      10. Monitor Time Management

      This is the number one killer of productivity in the workplace. Time spent browsing the internet, playing games, checking email, and making personal calls all contribute to lower productivity[1].

      Time Management Tips to Improve Productivity

        The trick is to limit these activities without becoming overbearing and affecting morale. Studies have shown that most people will adhere to rules that they feel are fair and applied to everyone equally.

        While ideally, we may think that none of these activities should be done on company time, employees will almost certainly have a different opinion. From a productivity standpoint, it is best to have policies and rules that are seen as fair to both sides as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

        11. Analyze New Customer Acquisition

        We’ve all heard the phrase that “It’s more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one.” And while that is very true, in order for your business to keep growing, you will need to continually add new customers.

        Knowing how to measure productivity via new customer acquisition will make sure that your marketing dollars are being spent in the most efficient way possible. This is another metric that’s easy to plug into the formula: Productivity = number of new customers ÷ amount of money spent to acquire those customers.

        For example, if you run any kind of advertising campaign, you can compare results and base your future spending accordingly.

        Let’s say that your total advertising budget is $3,000. You put $2,000 into television ads, $700 into radio ads, and $300 into print ads. When you track the results, you find that your television ad produced 50 new customers, your radio ad produced 15 new customers, and your print ad produced 9 new customers.

        Let’s plug those numbers into our equation. Television produced 50 new customers at a cost of $2,000 (50 ÷ 2000 = .025, or a productivity rate of 2.5%). The radio ads produced 15 new customers and cost $700 (15 ÷ 700 = .022, or a 2.2% productivity rate). Print ads brought in 9 new customers and cost $300 (9 ÷ 300 = .03, or a 3% return on productivity).

        From this analysis, it is clear that you would be getting the biggest bang for your advertising dollar using print ads.

        12. Utilize Peer Feedback

        This is especially useful when people who work in teams or groups. While self-assessments can be very useful, the average person is notoriously bad at assessing their own abilities.

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        Just ask a room full of people how many consider themselves to be an above average driver and you’ll see 70% of the hands go up[2]! Now we clearly know that in reality about 25% of drivers are below average, 25% are above average, and 50% are average.

        Are all these people lying? No, they just don’t have an accurate assessment of their own abilities.

        It’s the same in the workplace. Using peer feedback will often provide a more accurate assessment of a person’s ability than a self-assessment would.

        13. Encourage Innovation and Don’t Penalize Failure

        When it comes to productivity, encouraging employee input and adopting their ideas can be a great way to boost productivity. Just make sure that any changes you adopt translate into higher productivity.

        Let’s say that someone comes to you requesting an entertainment budget so that they can take potential customers golfing or out to dinner. By utilizing simple productivity metrics, you can easily produce a cost benefit analysis and either expand the program to the rest of the sales team, or terminate it completely.

        Either way, you have gained valuable knowledge and boosted morale by including employees in the decision-making process.

        14. Use an External Evaluator

        Using an external evaluator is the pinnacle of objective evaluations. Firms that provide professional evaluations use highly trained personnel that even specialize in specific industries.

        They will design a complete analysis of your business’ productivity level. In their final report, they will offer suggestions and recommendations on how to improve productivity.

        While the benefits of a professional evaluation are many, their costs make them prohibitive for most businesses.

        Final Thoughts

        These are just a few of the things you can do when learning how to measure productivity. Some may work for your particular situation, and some may not.

        The most important thing to remember when deciding how to track productivity is to choose a method consistent with your goals. Once you’ve decided on that, it’s just a matter of continuously monitoring your progress, making minor adjustments, and analyzing the results of those adjustments.

        The business world is changing fast, and having the right tools to track and monitor your productivity can give you the edge over your competition.

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        Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

        Reference

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