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What To Do When There's Too Much To Do

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Are you tired of productivity consultants—or worse, your boss—pushing you to do more with less? You’re in luck. Laura Stack knows your to-do list is already packed to capacity, so she shows you how to accomplish more by doing less. Yes, you read that right. Stack’s innovative time-management system lets you work less and achieve more.

Following Stack’s step-by-step Productivity Workflow Formula, you’ll organize your life around the tasks that really matter and—this is crucial—let go of those that don’t. Dozens of practical strategies will help you reduce your commitments, distractions, interruptions, and inefficiencies. You’ll shrink your to-do list and save time—around ninety minutes a day—while skyrocketing your results and maintaining your sanity.

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8 Chapters

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1. Determine What To Do

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The first step in the Productivity Workflow Formula is to determine what you should be working on. When you implement this step correctly, instead of having 117 things on your to-do list, you may end up with just ten tasks, or five, or even three … but they’ll be the right ones. And don’t worry: Once you have the proper processes in place, you can revisit all the others systematically and get them done in their place.

In this chapter, I’ll show you how to reduce your commitments to an efficient core group of tasks. In the end, you’ll produce for your organization at a record level and work fewer hours than ever before.

Workplace productivity, in its most meaningful sense, is all about achieving high-value goals—preferably in the shortest time possible. And make no mistake about it: At the end of the day, all that truly matters is results. What did you actually accomplish? Did your accomplishments advance the organization’s goals in some measurable way? If not, why not? If you just kept busy while not appreciably moving forward, why did you bother?

 

2. Schedule Time To Do It

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In the first step of the Productivity Workflow Formula, we worked on reducing your to-do lists. After you’ve eliminated time-wasting behaviors and determined exactly what you should do each day, the second step is finding the time to do it—literally—on your calendar. This will require you to structure your schedule very carefully to ensure maximum productivity. Among other things, schedule your tasks effectively, say no when appropriate, and control your meetings—whatever’s necessary to efficiently use your time.

After all, time isn’t like money, office supplies, or Brussels sprouts. We’ve each got a very limited amount of it, and we’re not going to get any more. In fact, what we call time management isn’t “time” management at all. Since everyone has precisely the same amount of time (lacking that spiffy little device Hermione Granger used in the Harry Potter books to take more than one class at once), time management is better regarded as self-management. Your management of time is based largely on your willingness to stop misusing time—thereby eliminating those things hindering your productivity and protecting your time from those who want a piece of it.

 

3. Focus Your Attention

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Once you’ve determined what to do and have scheduled time to complete it, you must concentrate on its completion. The most effective time management system in the world won’t do a thing to improve your productivity if you don’t focus on the critical tasks at hand. For many of us, the problem isn’t a lack of willpower—it’s having the restraint to refuse distractions.

More than ever, we modern workers are bedeviled by interruptions that pull us away, willingly or otherwise, from the key activities of our jobs. If it’s not our noisy office-mates, it’s the siren song of the Internet or an over-fascination with e-mail.

You must learn to concentrate on the truly important tasks. Wield your focus like a blade, stripping away anything that might keep you from getting your work done on time and under budget. This is where the rubber hits the road. You actually have to see each task through to completion, as hard as it may be.

In this chapter, I’ll discuss the modern curse of workplace distractions, both external and internal, and show you how to face down and deal with these dangerous focus-stealers.

 

4. Process New Information

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When you’re focused on completing a critical task within a specific amount of time, you want to access exactly what you need to support your work, exactly when you want it. You especially need to be able to retrieve all the information you require. But with multiple pieces of important data spread across twenty different documents and platforms covering the same general topic, how do you stay organized?

In this chapter, I’ll show you. I’ll begin by providing guidelines for reducing information, researching effectively, and reading efficiently. Then we’ll discuss setting up a basic filing schema. I’ll then explain how to refine your personal time management system for maximal efficiency. Once we cover the systems for organizing incoming information, I’ll show you how to process each piece as it arrives with my original 6-D System for processing workflow inputs, whether by e-mail, paper, or voicemail. This methodology will help you make quick decisions and get information into the right place, so you can access it immediately.

 

5. Close The Loop

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The fifth step in the Productivity Workflow Formula involves consolidating everything you’ve established in the previous steps, ensuring that the various components work together smoothly, feeding back the results, and making the entire process flow more efficiently. You’ve been building a foundation for a more efficient lifestyle by reducing your to-do list, calendar commitments, distractions, and incoming information.

Closing the loop means you’re constantly paying attention to and communicating about hitting goals, meeting deadlines, fulfilling promises, and committing to teamwork. Status changes can occur by the minute, so as you get new information, constantly weed out the unnecessary.

As part of the process, you will re-connect with your leadership and your teams, reaffirm your important tasks, and verify your strategic direction. There’s also a continuous improvement component: When a process seems unusually long and inefficient, do what you can to make it easier for everyone. Just because something’s been done a certain way for a long time doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it now. If you find a problem, fix it if you can, or offer a solution if you can’t.

 

6. Manage Your Capacity

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This sixth and final step appears at the center of the PWF for a simple but powerful reason: It’s the hub holding everything together. If you can’t manage your capacity, your workflow will eventually stall or fall apart. Step Six is the most critical aspect of the entire process, because it underlies, supports, and influences all the other steps. Without it, nothing else is possible.

Many things can affect your ability to manage your capacity, but the most important factor is you: your health, your determination, and your energy level. So in this chapter, I’ll focus on the physical and mental factors directly affecting your capacity to remain productive throughout the day.

This final stage in the PWF makes everything else worth the effort. Throughout this book, you’ve learned to scale back and reduce, reduce, reduce. You’ve found ways to reduce your to-do list, your calendar commitments, distractions, information overload, and inefficiencies. Each reduction will increase your results and save you time. Learning to do less but to accomplish more will bring many benefits to you, your family, and your organization. And isn’t that what all that energy and activity is about?

 

The Productivity Workflow Formula (PWF) Self-Assessment

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