Who wouldn’t like to get more done in less time, have excess hours and energy to devote to family, hobbies, and rest? If you looked at the actions and habits of the average worker, you would wonder. We seem to be increasing productivity to levels formerly seen as impossible, lengthening our commutes and expanding our hours in the office at a price of 25-40% less sleep than our grandparents. Are we healthier or happy because of it, studies says “no.”

In the past few months, I’ve researched, listened to, and observed the actions of people I see as very productive. Their perspectives and approaches are different but what they share is a discipline to adhere to the strategy that works for them.

Here are a few:

According to Tony Schwartz, CEO of the Energy Project, it’s not time management but energy management that is important. Understanding that most of us need a recovery period after 90 minutes is a basic tenet of his program. Anyone who has been to an all-day training knows one’s ability to concentrate dwindles with time regardless of the quality of content. I swear most “bathroom breaks” are really excuses to give the brain a rest. Mr. Schwartz is also brazen enough to suggest that mid-shift naps increase productivity.

Schwartz advocates a well-known adage “do the hardest thing first.” I had trouble complying with this because I can be avoidant. Finally, forcing myself to make that uncomfortable phone call, deny the unreasonable request, or simply trudging through the mundane task I despise, got me good results and subsequently, I am now more likely to attack and do the painful task first. If I succeed, it’s the triumph of the day. Should I fail, or it not come to the conclusion I hoped for, well, it’s over. Also, the distraction of having the burdensome task linger in my head is gone.

I stress with my clients who manage a staff that they’re responsible for the energy preservation of their people. As supervisors, we have to help prevent burnout, exhaustion, and discouragement — not be the source of it. How can we do that? Pick and announce your priorities. Despite what you have been told, some things are very important, some nice to have, and the rest should go away. I often ask people, “Is this a 911, 411, or 311?” Generally it’s the last and if they can’t decide, it definitely is. Less experienced employees may not know how to prioritize their time and believe you when you reply, “It’s all top priority.” That said, how often do we send the correct message to others and not listen ourselves?

When I find myself with piles on the desk, full mailbox(es) and/or spinning thoughts, I find applying the 3Ds useful.

  • D#1 – Delete: Yes, ask yourself, does anyone really have to do this? If no one read the article, looked in your garage, or asked one more “advisor,” would the outcome be any better? As the comic writer Erma Bombeck would say, “When in doubt throw it out."
  • D#2 – Delegate: How often do we arrogantly think we’re the only person who can do something? I have forced myself to consider my “Team Jane” first before tackling a task. Can my virtual assistant or in-person assistant do it? Can my husband make the call? Why don’t I ask my housekeeper to do a task that’s really her job? Granted I have amassed a group of “helpers” greater than most people dream of, but more than being able to afford a team, I had to be willing to really utilize them. What did that mean? It meant giving up control to get in control. I rarely do anything without thinking “who on my Team could handle this?” The truth is they often do it better.
  • D#3 – Do: Only after I have exhausted the possibilities of D#1 and D#2 will I allow myself to think of
    D#3 — do it yourself. There are a few exceptions. I never let anyone manage my finances. That’s not to say my assistant can’t set up auto deducts or pay a bill, but when it comes to the big picture, I create the strategy and I dictate the execution. The same is true with the direction, tone, and approach of my business. I’ll have someone design and host my website but its purpose is mine. When it comes to “do,” decide what areas of your life are absolutes, meaning you always have the final say and action, and what requires only steady supervision and monitoring, or a great first mate at the helm.

Are you saying to yourself, “Sounds great BUT I can’t afford what you are telling me.” Barter, sell some stuff, or trade your lattes, for an hour of help. BUT, “My situation is different.” How different can it really be? Look for common ground. BUT, “I don’t have the time to pull together a team.” And you can’t afford not to. BUT (oh the buts can really kick your butt), “I like being in control.” Now you’re probably getting closer to your truth. However, trying to control everything generally gets you out of control, not in.

In conclusion: The secret is to manage brainpower, energy, and priorities. Do that and the time will manage itself and productivity will soar.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.