Sunday, August 30, 2015

Transform Your Effectiveness: Just Do It (3/4)

If I had a dollar for everything I have ever intended to do, I’d be so rich I wouldn't have to work another day. I’d be able to spend my days free-falling from airplanes and touring the world while helping to heal it. Unfortunately for my lazy behind, life does not reward intentions. What counts is what we do, not what we were going to do.

I realized the best laid plans were not enough after I began practicing weekly planning. There were weeks where I struggled to achieve my objectives, despite detailed plans and a structured calendar. I realized it was not enough to determine the important things on Monday; I still had to put them first every day, implement a framework that increased my chances of success, and execute despite varying impulses and moods.

Ensuring my ladder leaned against the right wall was not enough, I still had to climb the ladder.


Today, I’ll share some of my favorite tips for getting things done. There is very little I can share in 900 words, so I recommend two books at the end. These tips work in tandem with ‘weekly planning’ and though simple, have the potential to transform your effectiveness.

Think through tasks before you start. I don’t think it gets simpler than this. Presentations, coding sessions, and even emails all benefit from strategic thinking. Ask yourself before you dive in: What do I need to do to complete this task? What are the various inputs I require and from who will I get them? What tools will I apply? Many projects are simply a collection of small tasks needing to be excellently executed. Thinking through before starting sometimes helps you realize what you’re trying to achieve is not as difficult as you thought.

Minimize interruptions. It often starts innocently. Someone walks over to ask which tool to run a report on. No big deal, right? WRONG! Two conversations, three emails, and four tweets later, you suddenly remember – what were you working on? While interruptions are a way of work in many offices today, and sometimes necessarily so, they are huge productivity killers. When you need to work on strategic stuff, I recommend going somewhere where you can be alone, or pairing noise-cancelling headphones with a scary “Do not Disturb” face.

Stop multitasking. Imagine talking to someone and writing an email at the same time. You may drift in and out of the conversation, type slower than usual, or make more mistakes. Multitasking often lowers the quality of our output. Focus is integral to effectiveness, but we constantly interrupt ourselves by rapidly switching between tasks. The more complex or technical the tasks we’re juggling, the bigger the drop in quality is likely to be. Dealing with multiple things at once also tends to elevate our stress levels. Try taking things one at a time and giving them your full attention.

Learn to say no. I remember the first time I told my boss a report wouldn't be ready when he wanted it. I explained what I was working on and how it linked into our aligned priorities, then offered to either deprioritize them temporarily to work on the report or complete it later. (He agreed to wait in that instance, but we've since had cases where I deprioritized my current tasks or simply worked extra hours to get things done). You have a finite number of hours in a week. Once you identify what is truly important and plan towards achieving these, you must have the courage to say “no” to other things or find alternative solutions.

Identify and leverage your peak work time. The goal here is to find broad parts of the day when you are most productive, not to set a strict work schedule. This for me is three hours early in the morning and about two hours later in the evening. Next, you need to leverage your peak work time. For example, I only do strategic work during my peak hours. I don’t spend those catching up with the boys, reading emails, or attending random meetings. Find your most productive hours, then wring them dry. Four to five hours of focused and productive work trumps eight to ten hours of mindless grinding!

Take breaks. I tend to schedule my work in ninety minute blocks, with breaks after each block. I eat a piece of fruit, leave my desk to get some water, or make a phone call while I take a walk. Breaks help refresh your mind and body, and can help unlock creative flows when you hit a mental block after extended periods of work. Work is demanding enough as it is. Do what you can to make it easier on your mind and body.

Execute. None of these will make a difference if you don’t actually do something. Make that call. Start writing that algorithm. Visit that customer. Just do it already. If you’re an effective manager of yourself, your discipline comes from within. “Successful people have the habit of doing things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose”. You have the power to do something when you don’t want to do it. You have the power to subordinate your feelings, impulses, and moods to your values. You have the power to put first things first.


Getting Things Done (The Art of Stress-Free Productivity).
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I was going to do this over five posts before, but managed to squeeze two posts into today's update – so I will wrap this up next week. I’ll tie up loose ends in the closing post and share a few more thoughts about effectiveness.

The first post about eating healthy is here, and the second post about beginning with the end in mind and weekly planning is here.

Cheers to the new week!


  1. Looking forward to the last post

  2. Great insight!

    Very important points raised on 'multitasking' and learning to say no, thanks for sharing!