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Learn to Say No
We all get sucked into meetings we don’t want to attend or conversations that offer little upside. To be productive and energized over time, we need to be able to learn to question and say no to as many noncritical meetings as possible. This will obviously require tact. But you always need to keep a few key considerations in front of you:
- Your time is your most precious asset; it must be guarded carefully.
- If you allow yourself to be pulled into unimportant meetings, you will lose critical time needed to advance important tasks.
- People who think that you are available all the time will start to devalue you (if they haven’t already).
This ties in neatly with a time-management framework called “The Four Ds of Time Management.” In this framework, each D refers to a different reaction to a possible project depending on its importance, urgency and other considerations.
- Delete it. Something that is not important, such as certain emails, should be deleted and given no time or attention.
- Delegate it. This is for a task that can and should be handled by someone else. An example would be delegating the process of identifying, ordering and installing a new collaboration software. You are ultimately responsible to get this done, but you have chosen to delegate the primary research and legwork to an associate.
- Do it. This is what we referred to in step two, “Doing for Maximal Productivity,” about knocking out two-minute tasks. These are tasks that have not been delegated elsewhere and can be done quickly without railroading other work.
- Defer it. This applies when the task is important but not urgent. It needs to be done but can be deferred until a later time and perhaps date. A meeting with a sales associate, for example, may be able to wait until the upcoming team meeting that’s already been scheduled (with the one-on-one occurring beforehand).
Focus on Excellence, Not Perfection
For many perfectionists (this author included), it is hard to settle on doing good work. We want to do great work. Actually, we insist on perfect work. Every time. Mainly because it satisfies our egos and leads us to think that others will more readily accept our work.
But seeking to produce perfect work (even if that were possible) slows us down and decreases output. So, instead of perfection, pursue excellence. You will still get solid results and others will be more than satisfied.
The final three components of step No. 4 relate to self-care. The first of which is to break often but briefly. There are many reasons that we should be taking regular work breaks. They include reducing the negative health effects from too much sitting, cutting down on decision fatigue, restoring motivation (especially for long-term goals), increasing productivity and creativity, and more.
The second is to sharpen your saw. Like a dulled saw cutting through a thick log, we produce diminished results when we use a depleted self to “cut through” our daily grind and challenging projects. To succeed over the long haul, be willing to take care of yourself. Eat nutritious foods and snacks. Hydrate often and sufficiently. Exercise. (The American Psychological Association reports that we are 15 percent more productive on days that we exercise before work. The study also found that physically active employees were less likely to develop job burnout and depression.) Get adequate sleep. (A study from Harvard University found that American companies lose almost $65 billion annually because of employee sleep deprivation.) Meditate, pray, etc., and take regular vacations. These will help you clear your mind and prime your body for sustained success.
On a related note, be sure to keep the temperature of your workspace comfortable. A 2015 CareerBuilder survey found that productivity drops significantly when the office is either too cold or too warm. Experts suggest the work temperature sweet spot is between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
The third component is to use your commute wisely. Americans spend about an hour a day commuting to and from work. Listen to and/or read content that will motivate, inspire and offer you tools for success, or some combination thereof. I am personally a big fan of audiobooks and podcasts, which I listen to as I drive or ride on public transportation. Sure, I will listen to the radio and attend to work matters (like returning client calls and prospecting), but I try to carve out meaningful time each day for learning. I guess there are some benefits to driving in and around greater New York City, after all.
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For more tips on being productive, listen to Naphtali’s podcast and sign up for his blog to receive regular content delivered to your inbox.