Two things I use to stay productive

I was catching up with an old friend yesterday and we started talking about how busy our respective circle of friends had become over the last few years. “You probably wouldn’t understand,” he said, “but while you get to do the cool stuff, the rest of us seem to be stuck in the daily grind.”Huh? Where’d that come from? What do I even say to that?

That got me thinking for a while. Then I realized that he saw me as the guy that somehow sidesteps trivial work and spends time on the “really important” stuff.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to call your ass out when you’re wasting time my time with asinine requests. At the same time though, I attack everything I do with two simple things:

Prioritization. Back in college, I knew people that could study, watch TV, play video games, shower and do 24362456 other things at the same time. I hated those people because I was the guy that had to go sit in the corner facing the wall so I could actually focus on my work.

To really become effective, you should get into the habit of asking yourself “What needs to be done?” on an almost daily (if not hourly) basis. What I’ve learned is that I have to ask myself this question every time I finish something because priorities can (and usually will) change once you’ve finished working on your most important tasks.

Clarity. I’ve found that just about project I’ve ever gotten involved in is too complex. And complexity is the enemy. We become confused and overwhelmed with too many possibilities and choices. Clarity is what we need – it gives us the power to focus on what really matters and say no to what doesn’t.

Next time you add a to-do (or even a larger project) to your list, make sure you clearly list what needs to get done. For example, rather than “Email Jack” you should probably write “Email Jack about tomorrow’s schedule” – those 3 extra words clearly define what you’re going to accomplish and go a long way towards getting things done.

So, give this a shot – it’s worked for me but I’d love to hear what you use to stay productive. Let me know.