One of the overwhelming things we’ve learnt from working with thousands of people around the world is that your performance, fulfilment, balance and productivity are not a function of how much time you have. They’re a function of what you choose to pay attention to and, sometimes more importantly, what you choose NOT to pay attention to.
There are two ways that we can free up our time to so that we can either get more done, ordo more of what we enjoy. The first way is to be more EFFECTIVE, while the second way is to be more EFFICIENT.
Right now, we are going to focus on being effective.
The Magic Number Three
If you want to remove enormous amounts of mental stress from your day, then have only three things on that list at any given point in time.
Why three? Because three items are about the limit of our short-term memory. Or put in simple terms, we can remember about three things without really taking up too much cognitive 'load’.
One way to use this technique is to make those three things ‘categories’ rather than discrete tasks. A category might be ‘Business Development’ for instance, and you might have twelve things to do under this (on a separate list, so you don’t have to remember them). Other categories might be things like ‘Staff Issues,’ ‘Admin,’ or ‘Project Work.’
Or you might simply allocate the three most important things on that massive monthly list that you keep in your notebook. It’s all about finding how to make it work for you.
But whatever method you use, what you allocate at the top of your Focus Planner every day should be guided by the 80/20 rule…. That 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts: these are the highest impact things you can do, and if you haven’t thought about what they might be, then now’s the time.
What is Most Important Today?
The easiest way to be effective is to be clear about what makes you most effective. Pretty simple, huh? However, when we run workshops, we ask these two really important questions:
1) What makes you most effective in your job?
2) Do you spend enough time doing (1) above?
The resounding answer to question 2 is ‘NO’. This tells us that people spend the vast
majority of their time doing the things that don’t give them the best return on investment for
So what are they doing? They are doing things that seem urgent. Note that we say ‘seem’…. because these things aren’t always urgent in reality, they just seem that way. Answering emails seem urgent… but very few emails actually are urgent.
So when we allocate our three big impact work tasks, they must be things that really add value. Things that give us a big bang for buck, but also things that fulfill us and give us a sense of achievement.
Ask yourself this simple question:
IF I ONLY GOT THESE THREE THINGS DONE TODAY, WOULD I BE HAPPY?
Make Sure You Can Do Them
Next step is to allocate time to do these three big impact items. Take a look at your calendar, decide how long each of your three big items will take, and allocate time to make them happen. If you realise you don’t have enough time, then something has to give.
After you’ve done that, allocate some other blocks of time to do all your ‘busy’ work – those low impact things that need to get done nonetheless.
Work Life Balance Starts at Work
Most people don’t understand this, but our ability to attain work life balance is dependent on our ability to leave work every day, at a reasonable hour, with a sense of progress and fulfilment. When we get buried in day to day work that gets us nowhere and just keeps us busy, we never feel like we get anything done. So guess what? We feel like we need to work longer. But when we can leave the office having ticked off some of those high impact, high value, high return tasks or projects, then we can leave with a sense of satisfaction.
Working like this also sets and end point for your workday. Instead of having a never-ending stream of work that you could possibly do, you’ve defined what a great day looks like, today. When you tick that last thing off your list, then you can go home feeling good about what you've achieved.
If you manage your to-do lists properly, you should complete them more days than you don't. But that’s a topic for another time.
Effective Vs Efficient
If you’re not being effective, then it doesn’t matter how efficient you are. Just because you are efficient at something doesn’t make it important or even worthwhile doing. There’s no point in sending 100 emails really quickly if you only really needed to 18. It just doesn’t work that way.
So, in this way, effectiveness trumps efficiency most of the time. Show me someone who is doing high impact work more often than not, and I will show you a high performer. This is also true in the areas outside of work – Home & Relationships and Self. The high impact things we do in those areas should be our priority.