“We all only have 24 hours in every day, so what matters is choosing to do the right things.”
Charles Duhigg is the Pulitzer-prize winning reporter for The New York Times and author of Smarter Faster Better, about the science of productivity.
Sure. Sounds simple. But applying “The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” actually made a difference to our productivity.
How? Read on…
After studying more than 400 individuals, Duhigg found productive people have one thing in common:
Knowing that productivity relies on making certain choices.
“The way we frame our daily decisions; the big ambitions we embrace and the easy goals we ignore; the cultures we establish as leaders to drive innovation; the way we interact with data: These are the things that separate the merely busy from the genuinely productive.”
YOU’RE GOING ABOUT LISTS THE WRONG WAY
My desk, while orderly, is covered in to-dos: magazine articles and books to read, business cards, post-its, and lists.
According to a study involving 6,500 professionals in more than 15 countries, 63 percent said they tracked their progress using to-do lists. Unfortunately, only 11 percent completed all of the tasks on their lists.
It’s ok. This is a safe space. Say it with me: I didn’t finish my to-do list today.
The problem, according to Duhigg, is that we tend to put the big heavy items at the bottom of the list and some easy to-dos at the top.
“Psychologists and neurologists say it’s better to put the toughest things at the top of the list and then break them down into smaller tasks and make a plan to execute on them,” he says.
“When you can say specifically what you’re going to get done and how you’re going to measure it, that’s what’s going to make it easy to start and make sure you don’t lose track of the most important things.”
MAKE ‘EM SMART, MAKE ‘EM HARD
Most of us have heard of SMART goals: destinations that have to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and based on a Timeline.
But Duhigg says the secret is in marrying SMART goals to “stretch goals”, which use dreams to set business targets — with no real idea of how to get there.
“Numerous academic studies have examined the impact of stretch goals,” writes Duhigg, “and have consistently found that forcing people to commit to ambitious, seemingly out-of-reach objectives can spark outsized jumps in innovation and productivity.”
Working backward from your crazy dream goal and splitting it up into bite-sized SMART goals marries the best of both worlds: being inspired by a pie-in-the-sky vision and practically working towards it every day. (Take THAT, endless candidate call lists!)
Duhigg says it’s also a great way to stay connected to the “why” of your tasks. Searching for yet another tech candidate in the greater Seattle area might feel monotonous, but remembering you are contributing to a company that is making a difference in the world is motivational and inspiring.
By the way, if you’re looking for a great way to distil your goals and aspirations into a tangible presentation, check out our recently launched 1-Page Propose.
MAKE DATA YOUR FRIEND
We’ve all been there: trying to find those elusive purple squirrels. But as Duhigg points out, it’s all too easy to get bogged down in a sea of information and lose the squirrels amongst the trees.
“In theory, the ongoing explosion in information should make the right answers more obvious,” he writes. “In practice, though, being surrounded by data often makes it harder to decide.”
It’s both the beauty of technology and the frustration. Sure, we can write long and beautiful Boolean searches, but are you getting bogged down in the perfect wording?
Partner and Chief Sourcer at Brain Gain Recruiting, Irina Shamaeva says top recruiters will stay at the top of their game by being strategic, not exhaustive.
“If we think carefully about the information we are seeking to find, then our search results are likely to be more accurate,” she says.
Duhigg agrees: “In the age of automation, knowing how to manage your focus is more critical than ever before,” he writes. “People who know how to manage their attention and who habitually build robust mental models tend to earn more money.”
HIRING FOR SAFETY AND COMMUNICATION
“Putting all the smart people in one team – that won’t work, unless you have a smart culture, a smart process or people really feeling like they could say what they need to say,” Duhigg says.
Harvard Business School research in the 1990s showed that a work environment that encourages the airing of a diversity of opinion requires “team psychological safety.”
Google’s People Analytics group, led by the legendary Laszlo Bock, studied 180 teams from all over the company to see if they could correlate a team’s composition with its productivity. They found that no matter the composition of the group, what mattered most was “voice” and “social sensitivity.”
“For psychological safety to emerge among a group, teammates don’t have to be friends,” writes Duhigg. “They do, however, need to be socially sensitive and ensure everyone feels heard.”
Google created checklists to make sure team leaders modeled this right behavior: disagreement was encouraged, but leaders shouldn’t interrupt during a conversation. Under this model, meetings don’t end until all team members have spoken at least once. Wouldn’t that make a difference in your next intake meeting?
Duhigg puts it best by simply describing productivity as the name we give our attempts to figure out the best uses of our energy, intellect, and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least wasted effort.
“It’s a process of learning how to succeed with less stress and struggle,” he writes. “It’s about getting things done without sacrificing everything we care about along the way.”
What do you do to be more productive? What tools do you use? We’d love to hear how you get the most out of your week — comment below!