Henry Ford once commented, “Improved productivity means less human sweat, not more.” Wouldn’t we all benefit from Ford’s philosophy? Even more if you are a high achiever, where you are genuinely opportunity seekers and go-getters. When it comes to achieving goals, there’s no stopping a high achiever. However, because of your excessive focus on creating outputs consistently and fast, you end up solely focusing on being efficient and not necessarily productive.
Picture a person whom you know who is very productive. Aargh, that’s you, right? Stupid me! Take a moment to really picture yourself. You may immediately see yourself as a person who is busy all the time. The one who is often using planners, to-do lists, productivity apps, etc. You are constantly pushing tasks, meeting deadlines, taking on more and more work, getting promoted, saying yes to anything and everything, and getting recognized for all your accomplishments and success stories. You are always following the leads for better and bigger opportunities. You don’t like being slowed down. Am I right?
We often associate busyness and efficiency with being productive, but they aren’t the same thing. Efficiency simply means output relative to input. You put in your inputs, you get certain outputs. Author and leadership guru Robin Sharma quotes, “Productivity is less about what you do with your time. And more about how you run your mind.” That’s precisely where we miss out on being genuinely productive. What’s missing from the equation is the element of effectiveness. What I mean by this is that high achievers can be even more productive if they integrate the element of being effective not just in relation to their company’s visions and goals, but also envisioning themselves doing different things in life upholding a mighty vision.
Let’s see what you need to be even more productive in helping you attain everything you want, achieving all that, and more.
Stop Drifting, Set Your Own Sails
With all the success already under your belt, you just can’t think of what you are doing wrong. As a high achiever what you accomplish in a day is much more than what others probably achieve in a week. Projects don’t move until you show up, deals don’t close if you are not around. Your company wants you to be a part of every department, every idea, and every plan. And because you are a high achiever, you simply do it without asking too many questions and you ensure that things get done on time. This drive gives you a feeling of moving forward. You are so keen on availing different chances since you never know how they can benefit you. Paradoxically, that’s where the problem lies. You don’t know what’s going to really benefit you and so you invariably focus on being just efficient and trying harder. If you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there. But will that destination be the place you’d really want to go to? The key to being really productive is to stop drifting around and set your sails and direction. What got you to the level of success you’re at today is saying YES to almost every opportunity. Now it’s time to start considering the price of saying YES, tomorrow. What will get you to your next level of success is saying NO to almost everything else that’s not important to you. Start identifying what’s important and meaningful to you and start saying NO to everything else. Then see how your productivity and success soar to the next level.
Focus on Creating Impact, Not Just Getting Things Done
In his recent LinkedIn post, CEO Ryan Roslansky said, “The key to going from good to great is focus. There are always new features you can add or new markets you can enter, but it’s only by saying no that you succeed in the areas that matter.” As an entrepreneur, I admit I’m still working on saying NO. Often my focus drifts solely on doing and creating outcomes, checking things off my list without thinking about the impact it will create for myself, my family, my clients, and my community. There are times when I need to constantly pull myself back. It’s not just about getting things done, it’s about doing the things that matter the most, even if they just appear to be tiny actions at the moment. After studying human behavior for decades, Bill Gates deduced that most people overestimate what they can do in one year, and underestimate what they can do in ten years. As high achievers, we exactly do that — focus on the short-term results and outcomes, which invariably sets us up as hamsters on the wheel. The key to the lock lies in shifting your focus from merely creating results and outcomes, to creating impact and meaning in everything you do. If you solely focus on getting things done, they will drain your energy. These activities, projects, habits, and people can be hard to spot because you’ve grown so accustomed to tolerating them. In the book, The One Thing, authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan dive deep into revealing how to master what matters the most to you. They reveal that productivity and success are a result of narrowing your concentration to one thing. When everything feels urgent and important, everything seems equal. You become active and busy, yet you don’t seem to move closer to success, the real success that you want to taste. The tasks you end up doing and the outcomes you end up delivering are often unrelated to productivity. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, he cut Apple’s product lineup from 350 to 10. He shifted the company’s focus from outcomes to creating impact for his customers. And he did that by expiring 340 other Apple products that were existing back then. As long as you are working on your one thing, you’re making sure that when you’re working, you’re doing what’s most important. That’s when you know you are at your productive best.
Know What’s Taking Away Your Attention
As you move through your day, the number of items on your to-do list only keeps increasing. As high achievers, we often feel our obligation towards duties, schedules, and commitments. You juggle multiple balls in your hand.
When it comes to improving productivity, many people assume their attention span just isn’t robust enough. That’s quite true to an extent. Research suggests that human beings have an attention span of mere eight seconds — that’s even less than that of a goldfish! But who’s to blame all this? Our greed for instant results and instant gratification. In order to achieve that, we multitask. Our culture, our schooling, the way we conduct our professions, and our business all encourage multitasking.
When you check your email, read your messages, answer the phone, have a quick conversation, toggle back and forth between two or more tasks, your attention stays with that task even after you’ve moved onto the next. A typical workday often entails switching between several work activities, including projects, tasks, and meetings. Your logical thinking usually goes like “Let me make some progress on this activity, while I wait for some inputs from the previous activity.” And since you are waiting on some inputs from your colleague, your mind is constantly there. You refresh your emails, message her, or simply anticipate what you could expect and unconsciously keep dwelling on the previous task.
Associate Professor at the University of Washington, Dr. Sophie Leroy identified this as attention residue. Having spent over 17 years studying the brain and what allows us to have focused attention and productive behaviors, Dr. Leroy deduced that our brains simply weren’t designed to work on two mentally challenging tasks at once. In an interview, she said, “My research reveals that when we switch between tasks, say from Task A to Task B, you experience attention residue and keep thinking about Task A while working on Task B. It means you have fewer cognitive resources available to perform Task B. The impact? Your performance on Task B is likely to suffer, especially if Task B is cognitively demanding.”
Unaware of this principle, too many of us unconsciously limit our productive focus by weaving small acts of interruption throughout our day. Take on two things at a time, and your attention is divided. Take on the third, and something gets dropped. Be conscious about what’s detrimental to your productivity and substitute them for habits, actions, and environments in tune with your goals.
Take Something Complex and Explain It in a Simple Way
Can you take something complex and explain it in a simple way? Can you make things meaningful and relevant without making them unnecessarily complicated? When you can do that it means you actually understood it yourself. Albert Einstein says, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
Those that take simplicity and make it complex nearly always seem to struggle to progress. Simplifying complex tasks and ideas is a rare trait, a common characteristic among ultra-productive people. They have the ability to see complex relationships and simplify them.
We do live in a world where we are pulled in so many different directions. We think productivity is something that’s complex. We look for something striking and complicated. We look to creating these complex systems and tools around us to build our productivity. It doesn’t need to sound complex to be a brilliant idea. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Faced with too much information on a particular topic or task, we see it as more complex than it is. In his book, Living with Complexity, author Donald A. Norman suggests that some complexity is desirable otherwise we start to view things as dull and uneventful. But when faced with two competing hypotheses, we are likely to choose the most complex one. Why? We often find it easier to face a complex problem than a simple one. The more expert we become at any subject, the more complexity we prefer. As high achievers, we automatically start believing that we need to attach complexity to everything we do.
American Jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” American author Andy Benoit said “Most geniuses—especially those who lead others—prosper not by deconstructing intricate complexities but by exploiting unrecognized simplicities.”
Simplicity is not something negative. It’s not just simple. It requires some dedicated thought and a lot of insights and planning. And this simplicity comes on the other side of complexity. Any complex system is difficult to manage. As Charlie Munger once said, “Where you have complexity, by nature you can have fraud and mistakes.”
Simplicity leads to focus. Focus leads to clarity. Clarity leads to purpose. Purpose leads to productivity. If you want to take your productivity to the next level, be a simplifier.