This article was based on episode 127 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get 20% off coaching with Siimon when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.
What if there was a way to achieve more in less time? This question is the driver for many productivity experts, but it’s also a question managers should ask themselves regularly.
Siimon Reyonolds, a leading expert on high performance, has studied high performing individuals and generated a list of the habits, approaches, strategies and tactics the most efficient and effective leaders employ. With more than fifty awards for excellence and thirty years experience running successful companies, Siimon now mentors entrepreneurs and CEOS from all over the world. He offers simple, powerful tools to focus our to-do lists on what matters most in order to get ahead and find satisfaction.
RUSH, FOCUS, DISREGARD
One of the fundamental tenets of productivity involves separating your activities into those that matter and those that don’t. Siimon suggests the following practices to help you prioritize critical tasks, do everything else ‘good enough’ and let go of what you can’t control.
Rush Your Unimportant Tasks
If you’re like me, the idea of rushing any task, regardless of its importance (or lack of) sounds insane. I generally strive for excellence in all aspects of my life and work. Can I really look at tasks and be okay with finishing them at a mediocre level? As Siimon explains it, being okay with average for most of our mundane tasks is the most impactful change we can make to boost our company and our goals. If instead of spending extra time to get things ‘just right’, we go for 80% of our abilities, we can then use the saved time to give the most important things our full capacity. In our fast-paced world with endless demands, someone who tries to do everything well loses the ability to invest in the things that matter most.
Extreme 80:20: Pinpoint One Thing On Your To-Do List
The famous Rule of Consequences teaches that twenty percent of what you do gives you eighty percent of your results. If you apply the 80:20 rule to itself, you end up with the 64:4 Rule; twenty percent of that twenty percent - or four percent of what you do - gives you sixty four percent of your results.
At the end of the year, when you look back on what you did that mattered, many people discover that only two or three things really made a dramatic impact. In order to determine the 4% - the most important of your most important work - or as Siimon calls it Extreme 80:20 - determine from your long to-do list one or two things per day that would really move the needle forward.
This is not easy! As Siimon explains, society values hard work and people who are busy. Those who appear to have a full plate and get a lot of stuff done are really admired, even if it’s not necessarily the way to succeed. We have to let go of our love of being efficient in order to be effective, and that means being okay with being mediocre at our tasks that don’t contribute deeply to our main goals.
Teach Your Team That 80% is Good Enough
Managers need to teach their team this 80:20 philosophy. While it may feel counterintuitive to tell your people to deliver lower quality, in many cases, eighty percent is good enough. For example, when preparing a presentation, the content needs to be accurate and the grammar correct. But does it really matter if the image is of a happy family in their living room or around the kitchen table? Unless you’re selling kitchen tables, probably not.
Many of us spend time on unnecessary tasks, the impact of which is negligible. Your job is to help reinforce that by rushing on these low importance tasks, your team members will perform better overall because they will have the time to focus on their meaningful goals. Everyone wins when we learn to drop perfectionism when it doesn’t serve us.
Talk to Your Team About Their Most Important Work
In order for your team to be able to focus on their most important work, they need to know what that work is. So often, employees spend time on work they think their manager cares about or they go above and beyond on tasks that dont deliver the ROI.
To ensure alignment on what matters and what can be rushed, sit down with each of your team members individually, and clearly communicate what you want them to focus on. Work through any discrepancies between your vision and what they see as their goals.
Siimon recommends reading your goals three times a day. He finds that one of the primary reasons people don't achieve their goals is because they aren’t in the forefront of their minds each day. To make it easier, try writing down your goals and placing it somewhere visible while you work. According to Siimon, by reminding ourselves of our primary objectives, we recalibrate our minds and have an easier time focusing on actions that help us achieve our goals.
Develop a Zen Sense Of Urgency
When Harvard professor John Kotter analyzed the most successful CEOs over a 10 year period, he found that the number one common trait was a sense of urgency. Unless a manager has a sense of urgency to push things forward, projects in most businesses tend to drag along due to red tape, bureaucracy, and too many competing priorities.
While some people find a quickly approaching deadline energizing, not everyone feels that way. I tend to get extra jittery and stressed when I feel pressure to finish something. Regardless of your tendency, aim for a Zen style of urgency, akin to how top sports players perform; even though they have a great sense of urgency while they are playing, their muscles and minds remain relaxed while they focus on their goal. Siimon recommends trying to balance a sense of urgency with a calm, warm detachment so that your stress level sparks rather than inhibits your success.
Remind Yourself About Your Circles of Control
If you find yourself overcome with worry or stalled from too much anxiety, Siimon suggests using this technique to remind yourself of what you can and can’t control. Take one large piece of paper and draw two circles on it. In one circle, write down all the things happening in your work or personal life that are out of your control that are causing stress. This could include how a coworker is behaving, the need to wait around for an employee to deliver a project, or the current COVID environment. In the second circle, write down everything that you can influence. This could include how many hours you spend working, your attitude, or how you interact with your family. Hang this paper where you can see it and use it as a reminder to let go of what’s outside your circle of control.
Siimon says we must train the mind to constantly refocus back to things in your life that are within your control. When we check in with our Circles of Control, we switch our approach from reactive and defensive to proactive and present, dealing only with our next best action.
Keep An In Between List
A final helpful tip from Siimon is to take advantage of small pockets of time that open up during the day. These in between times are the 5 minutes when you’re waiting for a meeting to start or the 7 minutes you’re sitting in your car waiting for the Starbucks drive through.
In addition to your normal to-do list, keep an “in between” list, for all those quick things you need to do that take five minutes or less. Then, when you find yourself with a few minutes to spare, glance at your “in between” list and quickly get something done. By separating out these quick and easy tasks from the rest of your to-do list, you’re able to more easily focus on the big tasks and knock those little things when time opens up. This gives us a boost of productivity and a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
Dropping the perfectionist mentality and boosting your productivity is especially important during these complicated COVID times. With so much going on, we could all benefit from a bit of additional time and mental energy. By having a clear set of goals, the ability to disregard or rush through tasks that aren’t so important, and a healthy sense of what we can and can’t control, you and your team members can achieve what matters in less time than you think.
KEEP UP WITH SIIMON
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This article was based on episode 127 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.