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01 Mar, 2011

7 Simple Steps To Productivity by Brian Cormack Carr

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Coaching Articles|In The Spotlight|Life Coaching Articles|Personal Success

7 Simple Steps To Productivity by Brian Cormack Carr

Who couldn’t use some simple tips for becoming more productive? Many books have been written on the subject, but in my experience, the basics always boil down to these seven points:

1. Learn To Distinguish The Important From The Urgent

We all know urgent when we see it – a ringing phone, a crying child, an angry boss. Urgent issues instantly take up our time and attention, which is fine when these issues are also important to us. Often, though, urgency is a cunning disguise for the unimportant; did you really need to take that call which tied you up for half an hour with no discernible result? The trick here is to learn to say a firm “no” to unimportant issues – needless and irrelevant interruptions and timewasting distractions, for example – and to focus your energy on what really matters. Your car being towed away is likely to be both urgent and important, so of course you’d better get on to it. Most powerful of all, though, is learning to focus on important issues before they become urgent. Planning ahead, investing in your own development, nurturing your personal and work relationships, building your health and fitness; these are all activities which are non-urgent, and which don’t necessarily pay immediate dividends, but which will have you reaping rich rewards in the future – not least in terms of a calmer and more ordered life, with fewer emergencies. For more on the battle between importance and urgency, it’s worth reading ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen. R. Covey.

2. Establish A Simple Filing System

Forget complicated filing systems involving sophisticated categories and sub-categories. Consider three basic filing groups:

1) a set of folders labelled A to Z, in which you file reference materials alphabetically by title (or by name of originator);

2) a “bring forward” file comprising enough dated files to cover at least six months (preferably a year) ahead – this is where you put things that you need to find again on a certain date; and finally

3) an “if you don’t do the things in here, you’ll go to jail or lose your house” file, in which you put things that you know you either need to action urgently, or get your hands on quickly – for example, documents for your tax returns.

That way, there’s a limited number of places where anything can be. Easy! For more on simple filing, read ‘Live The Life You Love’ by Barbara Sher

3. Eat That Frog!

In his book ‘Eat That Frog’, Brian Tracy outlines a strange (and possibly apochryphal) saying which goes something like this: if the first thing you do in the morning is eat a live frog, you’ll have the pleasure of knowing that it’s the worst thing you’ll have to do all day. If you have to eat two live frogs, it’s best to eat the ugliest one first, to get it over with. In any event, it never pays to spend much time sitting looking at the frogs. It’s preferable to just gulp them down in one go (I told you it was strange). All of which is to say: if you have a big, important, and slightly scary issue to deal with, try to make sure you give it your attention first.

Prepare things so that you can dispense with this task before all others. Why? Because the important things generate the most significant results. It’s said that 80% of results stem from 20% of activities; so if you have a list of ten things to do, two of the things on your list will be more important than all the others put together. Dabbling around with minor issues while your frogs are still sitting there, uneaten, simply won’t do; you’ll diminish your results, and those frogs will still be there…waiting…

4. Forget Single-Handling; But Do Create A Single-Entry Inbox

You’ve heard the advice: “only handle each piece of paper once – if you pick it up, you have to deal with it!”. For me, that’s a fast ticket to a padded cell. I want to be able to pick things up and put them down again, without feeling that I have no choice but to deal with them then and there. After all, what if I’m only moving a pile of notes to find a pen? A more realistic practice is to create a single-entry inbox. That means an inbox into which you deposit all your “input”: documents that have to be actioned; letters that need to be read and replied to; that old watch you need to find a battery for; scraps of paper on which you’ve been scribbling your brilliant ideas, etc. The “single-entry” part is that each item can only go into the inbox once – no taking it out, mulling it over, then putting it back in again. Choose specific times (at least two or three a week) when you’ll plough through your inbox, and action the items in it. The rest of the time, you can shuffle papers to your heart’s content, as long as you deposit new things which require action into your inbox.

For more on inbox etiquette, read ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen

5. Make Action A “FAD”

When you’re deciding what to do with something (from your physical or email inbox, for example), there are basically three choices: File it, Act on it, or Delete it.

If it’s something that is important but which can’t be actioned there and then, you need to file it: either for reference, or for future action (in your “bring forward” file, for example). If it can be actioned there and then (in less than five minutes), act on it (this could include delegating it to someone else to do). Finally, if it’s not worth holding on to, get rid of it. If you’re not yet in a paperless office environment, the “D” can stand for Dump!

6. If In Doubt…Ask!

If you’re overwhelmed with tasks, and not sure where to start, take a little trip ahead into the future. Consider the outcome you’re trying to achieve. Then ask yourself – “can I get to that outcome right now, with a single action?” If so – do it. If not, ask youself a very powerful question: “what would need to happen first?”. Then you can consider the first question again: “Can I do that thing now?” Yes? Do it. No? What would need to happen first? Carry on this way, until you can do something…you’ve tracked your outcome back to the present moment, and you’ll have a clear action in front of you – one that’s going to move you in the right direction towards your desired outcome.

7. Leave Yourself Some Space

Finally – always remember, “life happens”.

Don’t clog your diary with commitments – even important ones. Try to leave around 65% of your diary free of appointments. Some of that time will be used for doing the things you need to do – like processing your inbox – and the rest is going to be “buffer” time, for when those important and urgent moments come knocking on your door. Watch out for that tow-truck…

by Brian Cormack Carr

2 Responses to "7 Simple Steps To Productivity by Brian Cormack Carr"

1 | Carol

July 1st, 2011 at 3:36 am


Very useful steps, Brian. I use step number 4 not only at work, but at home as well. It really helps me to move forward through my day with a clear mind. Great article as always. Thanks!

2 | Brian Cormack Carr

July 1st, 2011 at 11:03 pm


Thanks, Carol. Glad you found it useful. Number 4 is a favourite of mine, too. I just have to discipline myself to work through that inbox before it gets too full!

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