aliceMy eldest daughter Alice is enjoying the start of that wonderful run of years in education that seems to have exams at every turn, GCSEs this summer coming.  She came into my office the other evening in a bit of a flap.  “Daddy I seem to have so much to do, I have so many things I could do but I don’t know which one to start or what I should do in which order!!!!”  Clearly you can imagine the large sigh that accompanied this and the energy of extreme, unabridged anguish as she flopped down onto the sofa looking like the end of the world was nigh!!! Lol 🙂

So I asked her the following question – “What is the One Thing you could do, that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”  ‘Oh sage and wise father,’ I was waiting for her to respond ‘you are amazing’.  Maybe not…………. she just looked at me blankly.  But, I persevered and repeated the question, explaining how we are successful as a result of doing the right things in the right order but sometimes it is hard to know which things are right and what order is correct.  We then worked through her options and workload and established that the ‘one thing’ was to create a timetable. Happy with something she could understand and believe in, she pootled off to her bedroom and got on with it.  After she had gone I reflected on the number of similar conversations I have had at so many levels in so many organisations.  We are all operating in a busier and busier world with so much to do and so many opportunities to distract our focus and attention – being consistently productive has got to be one of the major ingredients in success by anyone’s standards.  So how do we become more productive?

I have to confess that the wisdom of One Thing comes directly from a great book that I had just recently read, The One Thing’ by Gary Keller with Jay Papastan.  I would commend you to read it and hope that after I pick out One Thingsome key highlights and share my concluding actions you may well feel motivated to do so.

One of the first things that Keller draws our attention to are a series of myths that he believes surround the challenge of being successful. I can relate to the first 4 of these and share them with you to reflect on.

  1. Everything Matters equally – certainly Alice was told this by her teachers. The reality however, is that priority matters and success is about doing what matters most, English and Maths are more important than any other subject!
  2. Multitasking is the way forward – how many times do we hear the phrase ‘you can multitask can’t you!?’ Yes – we can do more than one thing at a time (well some of us can :-)) but by doing more than one thing you divide focus, thereby effort and likely success.
  3. Being disciplined creates success – being disciplined and doing the wrong thing gets you nowhere, so it needs to be the right thing you are focussed on. The other point that Keller makes – if you are having to be disciplined then you have not achieved a habit; when the hard stuff is habit then the hard stuff becomes easy!
  4. Willpower is always turned on – to get focussed and effective does require willpower, but like any other power (unless you are Spiderman) it needs to be replenished and re-charged, it is not inexhaustible and this applies to your teams too.

With these myths busted and striving for a new reality you can begin to see where you might make a difference to your focus and effectiveness.  However, Keller goes on later in the book to identify things that steal your productivity and I think these are also well worth reflecting on too before you leap into action.

  • Our inability to say no – I have worked in many organisations and with many leadership / senior teams; common to so many is the desire to say yes to new ideas and very very rarely say no or stop things we are already doing. Everyone comes to work to do a good job and that drives us to want to be helpful, but not saying no means that we often overburden ourselves, over commit and therefore reduce our productivity.
  • Fear of chaos – by definition when you commit to focussing on the ‘one thing’ other stuff gets left behind – not being able to do everything, having loose ends and people making requests you have already said no to can steal away your focus.
  • Poor health habits – to be productive and effective requires energy and focus; not looking after your health, your vitality and your physicality will all steal away incremental reserves of productivity. Sleep, exercise, diet…. are all critical to ensuring you can be truly productive.
  • Your environment does not support your goals – where you are working and the people you interact with on a daily basis have a massive impact on your energy and attitudes. An environment that is conducive to being productive – space to work, comfortable, warm, access to resources you need – makes a huge difference.  You will know only too well how much time you waste when the printer is not working or you can’t find a file you need.  It is the same with people. Jim Rohn said “you are the sum of the 5 people you spend most time with”.  If you are surrounded by people who drain you of energy, effort and resolve then you will find yourself significantly less productive than if the opposite was true.

5 stepsThe book has significantly more than just those two short lists, it is really accessible, not particularly long and does have pictures! 🙂 It stimulated my thinking and enabled me to make some changes that I know have made a significant difference for me and I have tried to pass on and role model for my family. So what are my personal 5 Steps to Improving Productivity?

  1. I committed to the discipline of defining the ‘one thing’ – I do this every day and set myself a target of 3 critical / must win deliverables each week.
  2. I have focussed on being personally effective from a health and well-being perspective – I am meditating daily (or trying to – not quite a habit yet), eating well, concentrating on good sleep and ensuring that I have great weekends that truly rejuvenate me.
  3. I have built a cunning plan – I am clear about my life, 3 year goals and must win battles, these give me focus and enable me to easily establish what the ‘one thing’ is for that day, week or month!
  4. I ensure that I do the hardest or most creative work when my willpower is on full – for me it is about making the most of the morning as that is when I operate best.
  5. I manage my diary and my time far more ruthlessly than I did before – I turn my action lists into diary slots and commit to doing what I said I was going to and follow through. I do today what I said I was going to do which means tomorrow I can do my next ‘one thing’!

I hope that reading my blog and sharing it with anyone you think will benefit becomes your ‘one thing’ for today! 🙂