/ productivity

The art of finding the most important tasks in your life

When it comes to productivity we often think of empty inbox, clean to-do list, and organized life. I won't say those things are not important at all, but let's ask ourselves: can we define productivity as sending 100 emails per hour, answering them instantly and finishing 40 different tasks from our to-do list every day? Doubtful... I think that those activities would be good examples of efficiency, but being productive means something more than only being efficient.

First and most important subject related to productivity is making yourself convinced that our time here, in this very moment called life is extremely limited. Regardless how sad it can look at first glance it's true, and you're not going to live forever, so you should consider time as the only resource that cannot be restored and focus on using it wisely and effectively. This technique is called the 1440 minute rule and has been covered in my last blog post.

When you start feeling more comfortable with the concept of passing time you may get to a point where you're going to review all the activities taken each day and notice that often it happens that instead of complex, long-term and important tasks you tend to chose those, which are less time consuming just to boost your to-do list cleanup performance and close as much tasks each day as you can. This is one of the procrastination traps that you may fall into on your way to productivity. In order to avoid it, you have to define your priorities properly. To achieve that I split my tasks into two categories:

  • ordinary goals that I have to keep track of, like answering that long e-mail I've received in the morning and added it to my to-do list for later review or checking the key indicators of my team performance to check if we are all on track in reaching annual goals, and
  • most important tasks or as I call them MIT's (if something relates to MIT it can't be wrong, right?). Those are the annual goals that I'd like to focus on in the longer term that will literally change my life. Some of the examples in this category can be raising a child, building a house, starting your own business or sending the man to Mars.

Ordinary goals appear each day, sometimes without any action from your side, but MIT's are hard to define, because who knows what is going to happen in one year from now? Well, the point is that this person is you. It's only up to you what you want to do with your life, where you want to go, where and with who are you going to spend your life and if you're going to send that man to Mars. I believe that if we focus on the goal really hard, working that hard at the same time, we will finally reach it. The only thing that is left to say is how to define those MIT's. Personally, I have found it really helpful to use the method presented on TEDx by Laura Vanderkam in her talk on "How to gain control over your free time". She suggests to prepare your annual appraisal or a Christmas card to your beloved ones 12 months ahead of actual appraisal or Christmas, so you write about the things that you would like to achieve, but in the form that you actually already accomplished them. With this approach, you familiarize yourself more with the feeling when all of those most important tasks are closed and by reading that letter later you will be able to identify what are the priorities you should focus on. Split the things you write about into three major categories: career, relationships and myself, and try to find 3-5 items that fit into these categories.

Just take the notebook, sit down and start writing: what I've done properly, what were my most significant results this year, what could I do better and what problems was I facing? You will soon notice that the items that popped up in your mind are now being written down and you know what to focus on. Place them on your to-do list every day and start working on reaching your goals.