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Wednesday, 11 December 2019

The Productivity Triangle - A Simple Framework For Getting Productivity Right

The road to productivity is not always smooth even when we are equipped with an arsenal of a range of productivity tools. There will  always be instances when productivity tools will fail to do the job for us (boost our productivity) and leave us at crossroads. During this state of confusion, the most important thing we need to do is to curb our tendency to fall prey to self-doubt or engage in dismissing the capability of the tool(s). Rather, this is the moment to brood over whether we are implementing productivity in the right manner i.e. in a holistic way and not in isolation (under the influence of some assumption(s)). The most basic assumption that we fall prey to us is that a framework is not essential for becoming productive and all that we need to do is to fit in the missing pieces (productivity tools)  and "lo and behold", we will be enroute super productivity !

(Related Post : Beating The Productivity Paradox )

Well, life does not operate on assumptions and if becoming productivity was as simple as picking up
a tool and implementing it, then we wouldn't be discussing about productivity being a holistic concept. Randomly handpicking a tool/ a set of tools to address the productivity gaps is not enough and that would never give us adequate and appropriate results. The need for a basic structure/ framework productivity arises due to the fact that our choices (related to productivity) could have far reaching impact on an individual's life and personality. The presence of a basic framework will ensure that "right effort is put on the right thing(s) at the right time".  

Here's a simple and easy-to-use Productivity Framework, called the "Productivity Triangle", to ensure the following:
  • a proper understanding of the key impact elements of productivity 
  • building of a holistic perspective in us,  towards productivity 
  • taking the right approach to address productivity appropriately 

Let's look at the elements and application of the Productivity Triangle/ Framework
  • SELF - This refers to the individual and his/ her existing capability, more of a status-quo check.
  • TASK - This refers to the identified activities that need to be focused upon
  • TIME - This refers to the total time available for finishing the identified tasks 
For getting the Productivity right, it's important to understand how each of the above relates to the process of effective productivity. 

When we talk about SELF, it's essential to do a personal status-quo to understand one's strengths and weaknesses (SWOT Analysis helps in this case) so that effort that gets put in by the individual 
commensurates with his/ her available resources(s). At any point, every individual possess certain competencies, skills and knowledge which make up the existing "resource toolkit" for the individual. A "Know Our Self" activity gives an insight about these available resources and also sets the limit for us in terms of defining our scope of control. Attempting to execute a task that requires skill or knowledge beyond our existing set of capabilities would prove to be quite detrimental for our productivity as it will only lead to an unsuccesssful attempt. Please note, that the concept of "Self" extends to include teams, groups and organisations also, based on the context.

Talking about TASK, a wrongly attempted task would lead to expending our effort and resource but with no conducive result. At times, we may focus on a task that's easier to attempt but may not be the one that should be on priority. So, getting to know more about the TASK helps in picking the appropriate one that will impact our life positively and progressively, thereby improving our productivity. There are times, when we tend to pick up a task (from our to-do list) just because it  seems easier to complete or at other times, pick up a task randomly, without any consideration to its importance in the scheme of things at that point of time. Prioritising tasks leads to better productivitybecause we have a limited reserve of energy and focusing energy on the right tasks will yield better results.

Lastly, i talk about TIME, which is another important element but which happens to be a limited resource. If Productivity is Efficiency, then Time is the deciding factor because a general notion is that the more we accomplish in a defined time duration, the more efficient a.k.a productive we would be. The productivity challenge, in context of time, lies in either incorrectly calculating the required time duration for a task or the inability to give uninterrupted time to the task. Inability to manage time adversely affects productivity. 

Steps to effectively implement the productivity triangle

  • Whenever faced with a productivity challenges, identify the element to be addressed, whether it's Self, Task or Time
  • Once the element is identified, it's time to identify the challenge/ issue pertinent to that element. The challenge could even be related to multiple elements, which then needs to be addressed appropriately
  • If the challenge is related to SELF, take a stock of resources needed to accomplish the task and then about the existing ability of the individual. If it matches, then go ahead with executing the task and if a gap exists, then it makes sense to upgrade that identified competency, skill or knowledge. Doing a SWOT Analysis helps in identifying our strengths and weaknesses
  • If the challenge is related to TASK, then ensure to prioritise the tasks and then work on the top most priority item. Using the tools like Pareto Principle, Eisenhower Matrix, 5/25 Rule helps in setting the right priority.
  • If the challenge is related to TIME, then check whether a correct estimation of time needed for the task has been done or not. Once estimation is in place, then make use of tools like Pomodoro, Timeboxing to ensure giving undivided attention to the task that needs to be completed.   
Let right productivity approach take precedence over productivity tools !

N.B. : The images used in this post are sourced from internet

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

5 Habits of Success

Each one of us has immense potential lying dormant within us.

Why "realising our potential" is important ? - Because only then we can accomplish our dreams and achieve more

How can we "realise our potential" that lies dormant in us (most of the time) ?  - By building discipline and consistency in our actions. In other words, by building right kind of "Habits".

So, it's the right kind of habits that differentiates "mediocre" from "exceptional". Here, in this post, i mention about 5 habits that can help us create our BEST and catapult us to new levels of success and happiness. So, here i go sharing about those 5 key habits

Habit Number 1: Wake up Early 

This is perhaps the most talked about habit of recent times. There are plenty of books and articles available on the subject of getting up early to utilise the "golden hours" and these books and articles  explain in detail/depth about the numerous benefits of getting up early. I would reiterate the need by mentioning the following two quotes
"Wake up early every day so that while others are still dreaming, you can make your dreams come true" - Hal Elrod

"Lose an hour in the morning and you will be all day hunting for it" - Richard Whately

Talking about people who are productive and successful, they tend to always accomplish more than the rest. Ever wondered, how they are able to do that when each one of us have the same 24 hours at our disposal. The answer is simple - they realise the importance of the "golden hours" that exists in the morning, when the distractions are none/few, energy is at its peak, focus is high and then go about utilising those precious hours on doing something productive that can make a huge positive difference to our lives. So, imbibing the habit of waking up early gives us extra hour(s) that can turnaround our lives for better and help us accomplish more. 

Important Benefit From This Habit : A positive, progressive and optimistic start to the day   

Tips to get started :

  • Initially, we should avoid being overambitious in setting the "wake-up" time. Set reasonable and realistic goals, which could be like getting up half-an-hour earlier than the current time and then gradually increase it.
  • Don't hesitate to use a tool/ gadget / strategy to help you build this habit. It could be an alarm clock coupled with the 5-second rule (Read Related Article : Productivity in a matter of (5) seconds )
  • Build in a positive motivation to feel excited about getting up early
  • Work out an agenda for how you would utilise the "early hours". A simple strategy for this could be to utilise the early hours to work on the most important area(s) of your life. You may use the Wheel of Life for the purpose (Read Related Article:  Wheel of Life )      

Habit Number 2: Plan, Prepare and build Priority 

We may let go of the advantage of "golden hours" if we don't build a structure for our day/ life. When we work, there are two types of  FLOW we may engage in - one is where we could just spend our hours, days, months, years and ultimately our life in just going along with the "flow" of things around us, which, in the end, still leave us with feelings on incomplete and unaccomplished whereas the second type of FLOW is when we immerse ourselves in the task at hand because of the passion we have for the work/ task. This type of flow is all about harmony then and this creates balance in our life. Our quest in life is always about the second type of FLOW, where we get completely immersed in the task. So, once we have the right goal(s) identified for ourself, then it's only about the right structure/ framework to ensure that we are in right kind of "flow". This structure comprises of 3 Ps which are Plan, Prepare and Priority and these help us to identify (More and in-depth about the 3 Ps to be covered in a different post)
  • what needs to be worked on i.e. the tasks/ activities/ goals aligned with purpose of life (Plan)
  • resources required for the identified tasks and these resources could be skills, knowledge, expertise, and related (Prepare). A SWOT Analysis could be very helpful in this. (Read Related Article : SWOT Matrix - Know Yourself First )
  • sequence to approach the tasks which refer to identifying the ones which are most important and will have the maximum impact on our life in that period of time 
Few quotes that highlight the importance of 3 Ps  are mentioned below:

"Failing to plan is planning to Fail" - Alan Lakein

"It's not the will to win that matters - everyone has that. It's the will to prepare to win that matters" - Paul "Bear" Bryant

"Good things happen when you set your priorities straight" - Scott Caan
Important Benefit From This Habit : Better productivity by focusing on the "right" tasks 

Tips to get started
  • Identify the list of all tasks to be worked upon. You may use the Brain Dump rule (Read Related Article: Brain Dump - Declogging a Cluttered Mind)
  • Put the list in a visual form (written on paper or digital note pad)
  • Capture the status quo to understand the current capabilities or identify the available resources (Read Related Article: SWOT Matrix - Know Yourself First )
  • Identify tasks that need to be focused on earlier than the rest
Habit Number 3: Read/ Read More  

Again, there are plenty of books and articles on the benefits of reading (you may also refer to my post Why Read Books ? ). So, all that i would highlight here is the fact that reading opens up our mental faculties and renders us more creative and comprehensive in our approach towards life. There's a wholeness aspect that reading brings to our personality by way of building up connected knowledge and multiple perspectives about things, people, circumstances and situations. All this helps us deal with the uncertainties and unpredictability of life in a more wiser and rational way, which otherwise, we may never be able to learn experientially in real life, and if we somehow manage to learn, might take many years of our life. So, Reading is the way to go if we want flexibility, freedom and comprehensiveness to become integral to our way (attitude) of approaching life.
on the benefits of reading -

"To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life" - W. Somerset Maugham

"Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader" - Margaret Fuller

"The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read" - Mark Twain

Important Benefit From This Habit : A well-read person has a well-rounded personality and better equipped to deal with difficult situations.    

Tip to get started: 
  • Start with anything short and easy-to-read types from your favorite genre
  • After an easy start, move on to reading deeper books from the favourite genre
  • Explore different genres
  • Engage in reading multiple books (from different genre) simultaneously to build connected knowledge 

Habit Number 4 : Connect (More) 

We live in an interconnected or rather a hyperconnected world where individual success is an outcome of mutual success. Just like the internet, considered to be an information superhighway, where utilising the power of hyperlinking, we hop from one piece of information/ knowledge to another and ultimately manage to fulfill our quest, likewise is the case with us in real life too. The social media and the virtual world has indeed bridged the gap among people and anyone could connect with anybody else in just a matter of few clicks. A testimony to this is the reducing "degrees of separation (a measure of social distance between people)", which is now even far below the normal six degree needed for any person to establish connection with anyone else in the world (irrespective of the geographical boundaries). We really need to ask ourselves, whether we are harnessing the power of connections. Remember, the more we connect, the more we open opportunities and avenues to collaborate. In this world of super-specialisation, multiple brains are needed to accomplish things. Here, "quality rules quantity", which means more connections may not always result in more success. It's always about the "quality of connections". So, take time out not just to connect but also to communicate with whom you already are connected. It's time to take that leap from Connection to Collaboration. Here's a wonderful quote highlighting the importance of Connection   

"In a world of algorithms, hashtags and followers, know the true importance of human connection" - Unknown

Important Benefit From This Habit: Develops a "likeability" factor and a "doer" attitude because of the rapport with others    

Tips to get started:
  • Identify and establish your need for "Connecting" and "Collaborating" 
  • Be present and visible on relevant social media platforms
  • Start conversation with relevant "connections" to build synergy
  • Every now and then filter your list of connections (Remember - "Quality" matters over "Quantity")

Habit Number 5: Listen 

In a world that's hungry for attention, whether online or offline (real-life), falling prey to "always be visible" trap is very common and easy. There's a rat race on social media about the "likes" and "views" and this has given birth to the "Talk More, Listen Less" syndrome. Somehow, the virtual world/ social media has misled us in believing that the more we talk, the more we will gain and this has only made the matters worse because now everyone seems to be in a hurry to only talk and share on social media. This attitude has permeated in our real world too and resulted in us losing grip on communicating effectively. We need to remember that listening is the most effective form of communication because it helps in achieving the "win-win" situation far better than any other means. Today, Listening is the most desired skill because we live in a world that's getting devoid of emotions/ empathy. The more we are connecting (virtually), the less connected (real world) we are becoming. The power of Listening could be gauged from the fact that it helps us across a range of areas where "communication" holds the key success. Few examples are establishing better relationships whether in personal or professional life, conflict resolution among team members, business partners or between spouses, conducting agenda-driven and result-seeking meetings, building trust among people, displaying empathy when it matters most, facilitating a counselling, therapy or coaching session, or simply when you happen to be a panelist or a speaker during a forum. So, living in a world where communication and collaboration have by-passed boundaries (physical, cultural, generational, etc.) and made working together quite challenging, listening could lay the right foundation for us to build trust and intimacy, and make relationships flourish. A couple of wonderful quotes on listening are mentioned below:

"You learn when you listen. You earn when you listen - not just money, but respect" - Harvey Mackay

"The quieter you become, the more you can hear" - Anonymous

Important Benefit From This Habit: Develops ability to be a "people person" and easily earn trust of others. Helps become a better influencer and get things done fast.  

Tips to get started :
  • Treat every conversation as an opportunity to learn and an addition to your knowledge
  • Never operate from an "ego zone" during conversation as this will never let us listen to anyone
  • Listening is a good antidote to anxiety and stress. So, be patient and wait for your turn to speak
  • When listening, try and listen to the underlying emotions of the person in front of you (talking to you) and this will build deeper and stronger bond/ relationships.      
So, imbibe these 5 habits and keep climbing the ladder of success !

N.B. : The images used in this post are sourced from internet

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Carpe Diem - 6 Steps To Seize The Day !

I start by quoting Muhammad Ali, one of the all-time boxing greats, who said "Don't count the days, make the days count". Deciphering the quote in context of "each new day" that we wake up to every morning, it boils down to making the most of the opportunities that beckon us during the day. The distracting and disturbing nature of the world only compounds the problems for us and make the task of deriving the best from the day a bit difficult. But following the fundamental principle of keeping the things simple and positive paves the way for us to make every day a productive one for us. Here's sharing 6 steps that can help us "own" the day and make it ours

    • However unpredictable life may be, but it always pays to be prepared (to whatever extent possible) to meet the challenges. Though we may never be able to control every aspect of what happens and predict the outcome but being prepared to our best capacity dampens the negative impact, if and when it occurs. Being prepared (mentally, physically, emotionally) instills a sense of confidence in us to meet any challenge with courage.
      Starting our day with the following two simple activities could set the tone for having  a fruitful day
      • Visualisation - Imagining a successful day characterised by accomplishment puts us in a resourceful state and this opens our subconscious to grab the opportunities that may come our way during the day.
      • Affirmation - Repeating empowering statements to "oneself" builds the necessary self-belief to be ready for any challenge and be able to accept it with a positive intent    
  • PLAN 
    • Assembling or consolidating what all needs to be done ensures clarity about the way forward. This step (PLAN) is where we create a framework for execution, in terms of the essentials - tasks to be accomplished, steps to be taken for corresponding to each task, resources required and time estimate for completion. Capturing essential and necessary information about every task/ activity puts us in command of the situation and prepares us to take corrective action, whenever and wherever required.
    • Once the tasks and steps have been identified, we need to work on the most important item(s) and these are the ones having the most powerful impact on us. Putting the things in correct priority not only saves us from wasting our effort but also keeps the momentum intact and energy preserved till the completion. Prioritisation helps us avoid taking a random approach to work and ensures that we know what is to follow.
    • Every Planning and Prioritisation is useless unless we take real/ actual steps to put things in motion. Whether big or small, an "action" is what will take us closer to our goal/ agenda for the day. Remember, right action taken at the right time in the right manner gives us right results. Being unsure of the outcome is no excuse for being "inactive" because there will always be lot of things beyond our comprehension and interpretation and only by taking action, we will be able to recognise what will work and what won't . 
    • Many may confuse Closure with Completion. Let me clarify the difference - It's not always that we would be able to complete every task because some of them may run over multiple days and may only require us to execute only a part of it. On other instances, some task may get postponed during the course of the day. This means we may not be able to finish task in entirety and that's also what we refer to as an "incomplete" task. Closure, on the other hand, is always possible, whether in case of a completed task or an incompleted one. Closure is all about capturing the status-quo for a task/ activity so that next steps could be identified for it. Applying this step saves us energy.   
    • Every day presents to us lots of opportunities and it may not always be possible to avail all of them. We are bound to succeed in some and fail in others. The main thing in life is to learn from our mistakes in terms of  understanding
      • what went wrong ? 
      • why it went wrong ? and 
      • what could have set it right ?  
    • Reflecting on our actions and their results gives us insight into our behaviour and provides us with the wisdom to know what to embrace and what to leave. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The Personal Productivity Pyramid - When Daily Planning Holds The Key !

At times, so many of us struggle to achieve productivity, inspite of taking actions, which we assume to be appropriate. In hindsight, something appears missing and a closer scrutiny reveals that it's not the lack of effort that has undone us but instead, it's putting effort on the wrong priorities that has brought us at crossroads. Missing out on identifying the right set of priorities to work upon resulted in wasting our effort on attempting/ doing the "non-vital" tasks, and this effort of ours did not had any bearing on our productivity. 

When tasks define productivity, the biggest challenge turns out to be identifying the right tasks to focus on. The scenario becomes more complicated in the absence of a means by which to determine the right set of priorities that align with our whole personality, chiefly comprising of our belief system and values. A holistic approach to task prioritization is the key to productivity.

Sharing in this post about a simple yet comprehensive tool/ framework that eases our job of task prioritization, and puts us enroute super productivity. The tool is known as "The Personal Productivity Pyramid", and was introduced by the author Hyrum Smith, in his book "The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management". The tool (Personal Productivity Pyramid) provides a very comprehensive approach to address the dilemma of "Daily Planning", which is about creating the right "to-do" list for the day by identifying the tasks based on right priorities. Lets delve deep into the Pyramid.

The "Personal Productivity Pyramid" operates on the premise that "inner peace", exemplified by harmony and balance is the true determinant of productivity and an indication of right prioritization (more on this later in the post). The Pyramid comprises of 4 levels, namely "Governing Values",

"Long-Term Goals", "Short-Term Goals" and "Daily Tasks". Considering the fact that the tasks we undertake impact our productivity, the pyramid is used with the objective of identifying the tasks that match our governing values, i.e. the virtues/ principles of our life. Once identified, the tasks are then prioritized to be worked upon. Let's discuss about each level of the Pyramid

  • Governing Values -  Values are the foundation on which the entire pyramid is built and so becomes the most crucial. The "governing values" refer to the things that guide us in our lives. they could also be thought of as principles of our life based on which we tend to live. These may be different for everyone and is an outcome of our belief system (to an extent). Few examples of Governing Values could be Punctuality, Honesty, Family, Health, Self-Respect, Empowerment, etc.
  • Long-Term Goals - Corresponding to each of your identified governing values, what is it that we would like to achieve in our life. Broadly speaking it may refer to our Purpose in life. For example, if "Empowerment" is one of my governing values, i can safely identify becoming a globally renowned Life Coach as my Long-Term Goal.
  • Short-Term Goals - For each of the long-term goals, what projects/ assignments we could pursue or engage in. For example, continuing with the same example of becoming a Life Coach, my short-term goals could be getting certified through a credible institution and start practicing.
  • Daily Tasks - These refer to the actions that are taken/ need to be taken on the day. 

Let's now look at the Steps for using the Pyramid

With the objective of identifying the right set of daily tasks based on the identified values, following are the key steps for using the Personal Productivity Pyramid
  • Identifying the "governing values" - One way to do so is to think - "what are those things for which i am willing to sacrifice everything else ?" .We may also ask ourselves - "What do i value most in my life or assume to be important in my life?". There are other ways also. The model is greatly inspired by Ben Franklin, and this first step resembles very closely to Franklin 13 Virtues. Here's a link that gives insight into Ben Franklin's 13 Virtues and also about methods to identify our own set of "governing values". Check it out here . A PDF document to help us with identifying the governing values is also provided. 
  • Prioritize the identified set of values - We can identify a lot of priorities (values) but we need to ask ourselves "what are my highest priorities ?" or "what do i value most ?". Based on these, we need to prepare a prioritized list of "governing values".
  • Establish the long-term goal, corresponding to each of the governing values or at least for the top most priority items in the "governing values" list
  • Identify the short-term goals, for each of the long-term goals established by us
  • Identify the list of daily tasks corresponding to the goals established. The items may be categorised as Vital, Important and Trivial and then within each of the identified categories, we can further assign numeric values to set the right priority to work on. 
"Inner Peace" will be achieved only when we will work on the right priorities within our "daily tasks" list.  So, get going and fill your productivity pyramid !

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Action Priority Matrix (APM) - When Prioritisation defines Productivity (Part 4) !

One of the most common dilemma that we face daily in our life is to accomodate the ever growing number of activities within the limited amount of time that we possess. Our "wish list" never tends to cease and is always brimming with ideas, projects, goals, dreams, opportunities and possibilities. We reach a point when every "task" in our "wish list" starts to shout for our attention and our inability to build "priority" leaves us overwhelmed and exhausted !  

This is when we may get tempted at ask ourselves - Is there a way to deal with this and find out which item to focus on and which one to discard, because every item in the "wish list" may not be worth our attention/ time / effort ?

Playing with plentiful (of ideas/ tasks) is playful only when we know how to "prioritise" them. We may generate plenty of ideas through Brainstorming, Brain Dump, and other techniques but unless we are able to filter the wanted from the unwanted, we will always be struggling to be productive. In our daily life, it's not difficult to find instances when we struggle to focus and prioritise the tasks on our "to-do" list / "wish" list. To quote a real-life personal example, i find it really challenging when i have to decide which new ideas pertaining to writing, blogging, training or coaching do i work upon because you need to be creative and innovative all the time. During earlier times, i used to randomly pick up the idea and work on it but with not so satisfactory results. There wasn't any logic/ reasoning to my prioritisation of the tasks. But adding few "prioritisation based" productivity tools has really helped me be in better control of things i need to work on . During my previous posts, i have covered a few important "prioritisation focused" productivity tools - Eisenhower Matrix, Pareto Principle, Warrent Buffet 5/ 25 Rule. Here, in this post, i am sharing about another productivity tool from the same category (Prioritisation) that has helped me immensely in making optimum use of my time and other resources. The tool is known as Action Priority Matrix (APM).

Action Priority Matrix (APM)      

It's a very simple tool/ technique, more of a visual representation to help us define priority for the tasks at hand. As the name suggests, it's a matrix to help us decide which tasks to act upon and which ones to discard. The other two terms are also self-explanatory - Action stands for Execution and Priority refers to Preference. So, the APM tool/ matrix helps us in deciding the preference for acting on tasks at hand. The tool is also known as Impact-Effort Matrix. Let's study it in detail

APM (Action Priority Matrix) is a 2x2 Matrix with 2 scales - "Effort" on the horizontal axis and "Impact" on the vertical axis. The Matrix is divided into 4 quadrants and based on the scores obtained by each task/ activity on theses 2 scales of Effort and Impact, the activities are plotted in the Matrix and fall in one of the 4 quadrants. The objective is to identify the tasks that give the maximum return with the minimum effort. Let's look at what these 4 quadrants represent -

  • Quick Wins (High Impact, Low Effort) - These are the low hanging fruits and provide the best value for little effort. The tasks falling in these activities should be focused upon as much as possible and should always be the priority.   
  • Major Projects (High Impact, High Effort) -  These tasks provide good value/ return but consume lot of time/ effort/ resource. The tasks in these quadrant are second in priority. The strategy for these tasks should be to finish them as early and efficiently so that they do not consume all our energy, time and resources. The key idea is to not let one "Major Project" crowd out too many "Quick Wins" tasks. As soon we finish these tasks, we should release all the effort and resources associated to make them available for the "Quick Wins". 
  • Fill Ins (Low Impact, Low Effort) - Since these tasks do not create any big value or provide any major return, these could be taken only when some spare time is available else they should be delegated or dropped.
  • Thankless Tasks (Low Impact, High Effort) -  Because of the little value they provide and high resources they consume, these tasks should be completely dropped to make time available for something better (in terms of tasks).

Steps for using the Action Priority Matrix

  • Identify the tasks/ activities to be completed, which could be your "to-do" list, wish list or any other similar list comprising of your tasks/ activities
  • Score the identified tasks on scales of Impact and Effort. The scale could be 1-10 (1 standing for lowest and 10 standing for highest)
  • Based on the scores obtained, plot the activities in appropriate quadrant in the Matrix
  • Prioritize the activities with "Quick Wins" tasks getting the highest priority in terms of time/ effort, followed by "Major Projects". The "Fill Ins" fall in priority only when there's scope for more (after Quick Wins and Major Projects) and "Thankless Tasks" get eliminated.

Few Tips to Remember

  • Though "Impact-Effort" scale is used in the original format, a different variant of the scale could also be used, if need be. The "Impact" could be replaced with "Revenue", "Development of certain Skills or Knowledge" or any other measurable entity. Similarly, "Effort" could refer to Time, Money, Man-hours, etc. 
  • The scale of 1-10 used to score tasks/ activities could also be replaced with any other convenient scale of your choice, such as from A (Low )- E (High).
  • Key focus while "proritizing" should be on avoiding the "crowding out" effect, which means not letting the non-priority tasks eat out the resources of the priority tasks.
  • Action Priority Matrix may not be the perfect solution to complex problems/ solutions but is always a good starting point 
  • The Action Priority Matrix has a lot of resemblance with the Eisenhower Matrix, which is based on the Urgent - Important Scale

Application of Action Priority Matrix (APM)

The Matrix has application, not just in area of personal productivity (decision making, problem solving, time management), but also in domains of Healthcare, Product Development, Project Management and Team Building.,  Among the many benefits of APM, a consensus based approach to problem solving/ decision making is very helpful, where based on a mutually decided set of scales, the "priority" can be arrived at.

During one of the Blog writing campaigns, i used this Matrix and my Quadrants looked like this (as mentioned below)
  • Quick Wins - writing a blog post
  • Major Projects - writing a book
  • Fill Ins - reading blogs beyond the prescribed number
  • Thankless Tasks - Browsing the internet with no agenda

So, don't think too much about finding the right context for applying Action Priority Matrix (APM), just start from where you are and with whatever needs to be prioritized or worked upon in sequence 

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Beating the Productivity Paradox

It doesn't take much thought and effort to realise that we live in strange times of "Productivity Paradox", where the pull of everything that's considered to aid us in becoming more productive is actually pushing us away from productivity (in various ways). Think about all the apps, tools, softwares, and many similar tech-enabled gadgets, that promise to make our lives seamless in every possible way but ultimately leave us confused and exhausted.

Somehow, inspite of all our efforts, most of us still struggle to match the speed of this advancement that's permeating our life (both at a professional and personal level). Since desperate times call for desperate measures, a lot of us take recourse to the conventional short-cuts (the path of least resistance) of working hard or working more to make up for the lost productivity rather than take the road less travelled of addressing the other "work" based aspects.

It's easy for anyone to notice a drop in productivity and one of the simplest ways to determine the same is to be observant about any decrease in the quantity/volume/ amount of output for any specific  set of input. Simply put, the moment we feel that we are not getting the desired result for our effort is an indication of a drop in productivity. Of course, defining the "desired result"is crucial as we need to ensure that it commensurates with the effort. 

Identifying Unproductivity is easier than correcting it. The VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world that we are a part of is too demanding and eats up a great chunk of our resources, ranging from our attention to energy to time, and so on. Addressing the Unproductivity effectively is a matter of identifying what aspect of our "effort" we need to target. This "missing link" holds the key
to resolving the issue comprehensively and this missing link could be Focus, Efficiency, Clarity, Goal, Effectiveness, Prioritisation, Time Planning.  

When we deal with a high-pressure multi-dimensional world that's also complicated, complex and distracting, then a uni-directional approach to address productivity issues is bound to fail. What we need instead is a multi-pronged approach, using a multitude of tools, techniques and strategies, that covers every conceivable aspect of productivity. 

Getting better at handling technology is definitely an enabling factor to deal with Productivity/ Unproductivity but more important is to understand what that tool aims to address from among the various aspects that comprise our "work". Here's a compilation of various Personal Productivity Tools  (not necessarily digitally driven but definitely supplemented/ complemented by technology)  that address different aspects of Productivity and prepares us well to beat the Productivity Paradox effectively. 

"Focus on being productive instead of being busy - Tim Ferriss"

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

When "Enough Time" is not "Enough Productivity"

If you are told that "task completion" is a key factor in defining/ measuring your productivity, what would you focus more on
  • completing as many tasks as you could
  • completing as many tasks as you could within a stipulated time-frame 
If you are among the organised and disciplined ones, then, in all probability, you would select the second option, which is an indicator of our efficiency, an essential element of Productivity. Now, herein lies a caveat - this option is good as long as the right duration is identified for the selected tasks. 

Let's do a bit of real-life self-reflection. Try and recall  
  • that basic household chore that took forever to be completed
  • that travel trip with the last minute travel preparation/ packing
  • that report/ article / form that you somehow managed to submit minutes before the close of the submission deadline 
  • paying of the phone/ internet bill just in the nick of time, right when it was about to be disconnected  
Given more time, we all, can recall plenty of similar instances as above. All the above mentioned instances and similar ones, point to the simple fact that, so many of us, on many occasions, tend to meet deadlines, just in the nick of time i.e. during the last moment. Surprisingly, the point of deliberation here is not about our time management skills but about 
  • our attitude to task completion
  • our judgement in assigning time-lengths to various identified tasks.  
Time consciousness is not only about finishing/ completing tasks in time but also about how much time we assign to each of the identified task. 

To set the tone for introducing a productivity tool that helps us be time consciousness in the right sense, i propose the following question to you

Have you ever felt/ realized that you could have completed(finished) a particular task/ activity much before the deadline (allotted time)?

The question may sound simple and may elicit a much simpler answer by way of YES or NO, but a deeper analysis of the above would throw open many interesting and useful insights about our approach to task completion. I will take recourse to a law, known as PARKINSON'S LAW, to help understand our approach to task completion and how it could impact our productivity.  Let's gain a better understanding of Parkinson's Law

About Parkinson's Law 

Parkinson's Law states that the "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". This means that whatever duration of time we assign to a task, the "task" would get finished in that much time only. Assuming you assign a timeframe for finishing a project, come what may, the project would tend to consume that much time (as assigned) for its completion. Irrespective of the nature or size of work/ task, the Parkinson's Law will always hold true. Simply put, whatever amount of time is made available for a task(work), all of it (time) would be used to accomplish that task.

The Parkinson's Law was proposed by the British scholar, C. Northcote Parkinson. The first reference to the law was made him in his essay published in The Economist in 1955. This was followed by a republish of the mentioned essay alongwith other essays in the book titled "Parkinson's Law and other studies in Administration" in the year 1958. The first published essay on the subject (in 1955) had reference to public administration in context of existence/ application of Parkinson's Law. A very simple explanation of the law is provided through an example, right in the first paragraph of the essay. The example is

C. Northcote Parkinson spent a lot of time with the British Civil Service and that's where he started observing the functioning of the bureaucracy and came up with Parkinson's Law, a satirical take on the bureaucratic expansion. Regarding the ever increasing staff growth in the bureaucracy, he mentioned that "the number of the officials and the quantity of the work to be done are not related to each other at all. The rise in the total of those employed is governed by Parkinson's Law, and would be much the same whether the volume of the work were to increase, diminish or even disappear".

Application of Parkinson's Law

Ever since the first mention of the Law, the Parkinson's Law has permeated in every conceivable domain of human working and has found great application in time management and productivity. The Law has great application in bureaucratic/ governmental setup, organisational setup and at an individual also. Here, in this post, i am  going to touch upon how Parkinson's Law impact personal productivity. Lets revisit the earlier question

Have you ever felt/ realized that you could have completed(finished) a particular task/ activity much before the deadline (allotted time)?

Viewed in context of the Parkinson's Law, the realisation (when answered YES to the above question) could lead us to reflect upon the the following three aspects pertaining to the question
  • the type of task - simple or complex
  • time allocation aligned with the type of task (simple or complex)
  • identification of all the additional activities/ tasks apart from the main task
Elaborating on the above three aspects, Parkinson's Law states that many a times when we err in deciding a timeframe or time-length for a task,(most of the times, it's about overestimating the duration for a simple task), we still tend to finish in within that overestimated time only and not earlier. To reiterate, if we read through the first paragraph of the essay, we could get a clear sense about how even a simple and basic task could be stretched to the extent of making it fill the full duration allotted for it. 

Likewise, isn't that the case with us also, when all those small/ basis tasks take eternity to finish/ get completed, and the best part being that as we tend to work on these tasks, we also ensure to fit them tight in their respective time buckets. In all this fitting and filling, little do we realise that we have created a crevice in our work execution to let in complacency, time-wasters, stressors and like, which, in no way, aid our productivity. 

A case in point (applicable to so many of us), which is so apt for this VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world that we live in, is when we sit down to have our breakfast (or for that matter, any meal during the day). During the breakfast time, our constant companion is our smartphone. Ideally, 10-15 minutes is the effective "breakfast time" but that extended/ stretched 30 minutes allotted by us for the same (breakfast) is to accomodate our smartphone screen time. The repercussion of all this is that a delayed beginning to the start of our work day leads to building up of stress and anxiety in us and that adversely impacts our productivity.

Usually, when we sit down to plan, we tend to become generous in our time allocation (even for simple tasks which we know could be completed in a shorter time frame). Our calculation of total time allocation for an activity is the sum of effective "doing" time and the buffer that we build in. What is important in this context is not what comprises this buffer but whether we need this buffer at all because if we have a buffer then, according to Parkinson's Law, we are gonna consume it as well alongwith the effective "doing time" for a task !

When i am blogging then i ensure that i create very realistic timelines for the different stages of blog writing. Rather than straightaway arriving at a cumulative time frame for publishing my blog post, i adopt a modular approach of specifying individual time frames for each of the different stages of work related to publishing of the blog post. This strategy works for me as i don't tend to get carried away by mixing different stages.

So, no more brooding over missed deadlines and opportunities lost. Get "time-realistic" about all your task/ activities and be on the road to enhanced productivity ! 

N.B. - The images used in this post/ article have been sourced from the internet. 

The post also contains some affiliate links and i may earn some commission for my endorsement, testimonial, and/ or link to any product or service from this post