As a young professional, how do you get more done in less time? Unless you’re like Hermione Granger who was lucky enough to have a Harry Potter Time Turner at her fingertips, there are only 24 hours in each day and only seven days a week.
One thing we’re not taught in school is how to be more productive. We’re taught content about our chosen field, but no one, yet, has written a rulebook that instructs you on how to squeeze more time in the day without sacrificing quality and, of course, a personal life.
Improving your output can be accomplished in a number of ways, but most of the tried and true solutions begin with giving the matter some kind of thought process, or simply figuring out what to do. If you can learn how to change how you think about what you have to do, then you are well on the road to getting more done.
In This Corner…
Recently, the Harvard Business Review featured an interview with Tony Schwartz and David Allen, two experts who make their life’s work teaching others how to get more done in a shorter timeframe. What’s interesting about both Schwartz and Allen is that they approach the solution from two totally different schools of thought. Which one do you fall in?
In this corner, we have Allen, author of Getting Things Done, who believes in “the strategic value of clear space.”
“You want the freedom to make a creative mess,” he says. “I teach people to achieve that freedom by taking very immediate, concrete steps: downloading all commitments and projects into lists, focusing on next actions, and thinking about the context – work that needs to be done in your office, or on the phone, or on the computer. You don’t need to change who you are. You just need some simple but very powerful techniques.”
To Allen, you can be more productive if you make a list of what you need to do, write it down, and then achieve your goals by crossing off the tasks or areas you’ve achieved.
In the opposite corner with a completely different mindset is Tony Schwartz, author of Be Excellent at Everything, a regular Harvard Business Review blogger, and CEO of The Energy Project, which helps people and organizations fuel engagement and productivity by drawing on the science of high performance.
We encourage people to work intensely for 90 minutes and then take a break to recover. We teach them to eat small energy-rich meals every few hours rather than three big meals a day. We believe napping drives productivity, although that remains a tough sell in most companies. Still, the reality is that if a person works continuously all through the day, she’ll produce less than a person of equal talent who works very intensely for short periods and then recovers before working intensely again.”
Of course, there is no right or wrong way to look at improving your productivity and, certainly, there are many more ways to look at the topic other than the ways outlined above. For example, do you process information or do you react? People who process information have to think about a solution to a problem for a given period of time, while “reactors” are able to respond with a solution right away.
Four Steps to Improving Productivity
- The List Maker: Don’t set yourself up for failure by making your list too long or unachievable. Be realistic. If your list consists of three items, that’s alright as long as you can get all three done in a specific amount of time. If your list is too long and isn’t realistic, you’ll begin to doubt your endeavors and ability to achieve them and will never be more productive.
- Work Hard With Breaks: This one should align with your personality; if you are the kind of person who is more aggressively driven to compete to achieve results, then working intensively for a few hours – followed by some kind of break, rest, or diversion – is quite likely to improve your output. However, gauge yourself and your limitations; if you find that time gets away and you’ve now worked half a day without a break, find ways to remind yourself to take that break. Set an alarm, for example.
- The Processor: If you’re a processor, the best way to achieve productivity is to let others in on your psyche. Explain to them that it takes you a certain amount of time to assess the information and that you will respond in a timely manner. Be authentic; some reactors may think you’re just trying to buy time.
- The Reactor: What reactors want to avoid more than anything else is speaking before they think. However, reactors aren’t going to change the way they handle a situation; they are used to giving direct, immediate feedback no matter what the problem is. If you are reactor, try to take a step back to think about the solution. Your outcome and productivity will definitely improve.
The workplace is a diverse workplace, full of different kinds of people who like to use hundreds of ways to get things done. This article presented just four of the ways we think and react, but hopefully you have a better handle not only on what you can expect for yourself, but what you can expect from others. Think about it!