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6 Most Important Things to Improve Personal Productivity

Escape Checklist Hell!

If you are “organized” like me you create checklists. I love the sense of accomplishment when I check the box or cross an item off my list. Improving personal productivity is a lifelong challenge and never ending struggle. I have been using Microsoft To Do for a while and love its integration well with Office 365. However, it provides little to no assistance in prioritization. I also hate that I have so many tasks to do that the list will never end!

At a recent leadership retreat for my wife’s business Amy Kemp introduced us to the Ivy Lee – Six Most Important Things method for productivity improvement. I have further studied the concepts and incorporated it into my daily routine with great initial success!

6 most important things for personal productivity.

The Ivy Lee Method

The simple creation of a daily list of top priority activities is attributed to Ivy Lee. This industrialist and productivity consultant was hired by Charles Schwab, the then president of Bethlehem Steel, to improve the company’s efficiency. The story is that Ivy Lee consulted with the top executives for only 15 minutes each, for nothing up-front, but a promise of being paid based upon value. At each meeting he explained the following process.

  1. At the end the workday, write down up to six most important things you need to accomplish the next business day.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. Start the day by concentrating only on the first, most important task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
  4. Continue on your priorities in order of importance.
  5. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  6. Repeat this process every working day.

Why It Works!

It seems so simple, which it the secret to the success! It is really based upon basic human nature:

  • Eliminates Complexity – If you give a shipper a choice of 12 items, they are less likely to choose one than if there is a simpler choice of 3 items. Same is true of having 24 priorities or tasks to complete. Complexity can be confusing and crippling.
  • Forces Focus– There is likely no magic to the number 6. You can complete more, or stop at 5 and add the remaining task to the next day. However, limiting the number creates selective focus and an expectation of success. This is very similar to the Warren Buffett 5/25 Rule which instructs you to avoid the 20 of 25 things which are not the most important!
  • Enforces Prioritization – Prioritization not only forces focus, but enforces working on the important things first. Since you took the time to determine what comes first, now you know where to start! Don’t look at e-mail, check social media or look for something else to do until the first, absolutely most important task, is crossed off your list.
  • Debunks Multi-Tasking – People often think that they are really productive because they are busy and working on multiple tasks simultaneously. I am all for multi-purposed work, like building a training guide and having it used for marketing later. However, if you try to write copy for both marketing and training, you will likely end up with a jumble of confusing words. Unless you are Bo Jackson or Deon Sanders, it is almost impossible to be world class at more than one thing. You simply can’t be great at one task if you’re constantly dividing your time 10 different ways. Multi-tasking is inherently inefficient!

From Concept to Productivity

Even the simplest personal productivity concept is hard to implement well. How do you choose 6 out of the gazillion things to do? What if you get a brain fart on your first task? The simple answer is to chill out and give yourself some grace. You can’t go from good to great overnight! Here are some tips from my journey:

  • Make your tasks bite sized an achievable. Writing a book is not a task, completing a chapter or a conceptual section is.
  • Know how you work and make your list accordingly. I find myself to be creative in the morning. I have sleep, shower and running thoughts which are creative. I do these things first thing in the morning, so I put my creative tasks at the top of my list. After lunch I do more administrative or checklist type activities which require less creativity. Paying bills, compiling lists, and other activities which must be done and require focus are great after lunch #4 items.
  • Add unstructured time to your priority list. I could add going through my list of lists as a priority item, but instead I block off some time Friday mornings to focus on… whatever strikes me.

History tells me my personal productivity tools rarely last more than a few years at most, but this one, combined with Microsoft To Do or whatever technology comes next, has the potential to last!

If you want to learn more about personal productivity, organizational productivity or leadership, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or complete a Contact Us form. Just remember to provide some insight on why you should be prioritized onto the list!

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