Priorities Trump Productivity

There is never enough time to do everything you have to do. While you should always seek to be more productive, the reality is that you have to focus for effect: priorities trump productivity.

Priorities Trump Productivity: Focus for Effect

Excerpts from the preface to Brian Tracy‘s “Eat that Frog!” (hat tip to Brad Pierce’s “You Are Never Going to Get Caught Up!

There is never enough time to do everything you have to do.

But the fact is that you are never going to get caught up.

Forget about solving your time management problems by becoming more productive. No matter how many personal productivity techniques you master, there will always be more to do than you can ever accomplish in the time you have available to you, no matter how much it is.

You can get control of your time and your life only by changing the way you think, work, and deal with the never-ending river of responsibilities that flows over you each day. You can get control of your tasks and activities only to the degree that you stop doing some things and start spending more time on the few activities that can really make a difference in your life.

This has been a tough one for me to internalize but very true. I have seen it presented as “project driven” where you are working to a list of priorities and ‘interrupt driven” where you are driven by the tyranny of the urgent. I find that about one week in three I “lose the list” and have to consciously re-focus on priorities. Here are some circuit breakers I use to help me manage my priorities:

  • If I am not working to a list at least for the week I know I am going to start to lose effectiveness. If I haven’t crossed something off by the end of the day I make a “list for tomorrow” of two to three key items.
  • Parkinson warned that “Work expands to fill the time available.” I have to crowd out “busy work” by having non-work activities I am looking forward to.
  • I try and read a few good books a month. At least for me a good novel lifts me out of my daily grind long enough to give me a better sense of perspective when I return. Three good books I read in the last month:
    • “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (re-read it so I could discuss it with my son for his summer reading assignment).
    • “Better” by Atul Gawande
    • “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union” by Michael Chabon
  • Take a vacation from television (or at least television commercials). Best decision I made in 2008 was to not replace my television when it broke. Weeks turned to months and it has given me a lot more time.
  • Schedule meetings or events to move strategic initiatives forward. We have an internal off-site scheduled for mid-September to review a new product offering that we have been talking about for three years. At least for me,  the need to prepare and take part in a structured review of a project will often create a plan that enables forward progress.

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