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September 13, 2011Posted by on
The word characteristic is defined as “a distinguishing feature or quality.”
The word productivity is defined as “the quality…of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services.”
I have a problem with the above definitions because they imply that productivity is indeed a quality, or characteristic, of an individual. I disagree with that. Rather, I believe that it is a result of a combination of four factors: motivation, focus, organization, and knowledge.
- Motivation: Motivation is the first part of the equation because without motivation, you will not be able to achieve anything. There isn’t an action you perform that doesn’t have some motivation behind it. From big things (starting a new company) to trivial matters (eating breakfast) you are motivated to achieve some sort of goal (to provide a new product/service or to ease hunger). Motivation is what gets you out of bed in the morning and, after a cup of coffee (If you’re a coffee drinker. I’m not.), gets you going for whatever you have to accomplish that day. But being motivated is tough. I’ve learned that to be motivated you have to be happy with what you’re doing, enjoy the people you work with, and be willing to learn and make mistakes. Once you’re motivated, even the roadblocks that you will inevitably run into won’t be a problem because you’ll push through them In other words, act as if YOU are a startup company. Motivation is the spark that gets the engine running for the next three parts.
- Focus: I wrote a post on focus being a key to success and believe that it may be the most important step on the way to productivity. In keeping with the definition theme, focus is defined as “a central point, as of attraction, attention, or activity.” When you need to be productive you must focus. The biggest problem I’ve faced in my professional life has been focusing. Having multiple projects with approaching deadlines is my biggest hurdle in being the worker I want, and need, to be. If you have too much and try to get them all done simultaneously you will get none of them done on time, and they will be of inferior quality than if you focused on them one at a time. Schedule time in the day to work on a specific project, and stick to that schedule. It is okay to say no to people who ask you for help. Tell them that you can get to it later, and if that isn’t an option, refer them to a person who may be able to help. Put all of your focus into one project and it will be done quickly and done well. Try to please everyone by completing all projects at the same time and you will be overwhelmed. Which brings us to our next step…
- Organization: If you are not organized you will miss things. Emails that should have been sent will be forever lost in your “drafts” folder. That one update you meant to make will go unmade. To be organized you have to be disciplined. Writing out a to-do list, or using programs like Wunderlist or Workflowy, is a great start. Personally my first step when an assignment or task comes through is to schedule it into my calendar. If it’s something that will take no more than a couple of minutes I will do it immediately to get it out of the way, unless it can wait until later. If it will take five minutes or more I schedule it. My calendar has become my to-do list. I check it every morning to see what meetings, projects, and miscellaneous things I will have to do that day. Do something that fits your style and works best for you. But make sure you DO it, and stay on top of it. If you can stay organized, you will be able to rip through things you have to do amazingly quickly. Getting things done ahead of time and getting a surprised look from those waiting for it is one of the best feelings you’ll get in the work place.
- Knowledge: Knowledge is the glue that holds everything together after the first three parts build your foundation. You can be motivated, focused, and organized more than any of your peers, but if you lack the knowledge your responsibilities require then then those qualities matter very little. Knowing the answers to questions you haven’t been asked, and knowing the best ways to optimize your work pulls everything together. You also have to realize that as much as you think you know, there is always more to learn. Never stop exploring. Never stop learning.
These four “pillars” are the basis for productivity. You lose one, and the whole thing falls apart. I’ll be honest, I am inherently an unproductive person in many ways. I am very relaxed, don’t like to feel stress (who does though?), and like to play things by ear and think on my feet. Now that I am part of the real world in a full time job with actual responsibility and other people depending on me, I’ve had to change things. A lot. I’ve had to start going to bed earlier, make to-do lists, and plan out my days and weeks. In a way, I’ve hated it because it’s not who I like to be. But at the same time I love it because it’s taught me a lot about responsibility and pulling my own weight. This isn’t to say I’ve been a terrible person to work with, or a terrible student, but I have definitely learned that I needed to improve in these areas drastically to make it in the real world. Productivity isn’t something that some people have and some don’t. It is a result of a combination of things that you must have.
What makes you productive? Do you have a process or are you looking for one?