Let’s get frank. COVID-19 has overstayed its welcome and with the long fizzle of disruption, one of the biggest impacts has been to productivity. We talk about productivity all the time, but sometimes we mix up the true definition. Many of us think of productivity as getting more things done each day but productivity is the measure of the efficiency of a person completing a task. It’s not about getting more things done, but getting more things done consistently. When the days start to drag and bleed into nights, it’s easy to lose control of your productivity. It’s a slippery slope and a doom-ridden feeling.
One historical figure who was an engine of productivity is Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States. He had a steady output and among his accomplishments were the launch of programs that led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the internet, the exploration of space, and the Atomic Energy Act. His productivity wasn’t restricted to his presidency, however. Eisenhower had a military career as a five-star general in the United States Army, and he was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War 11. He kept his productivity up for decades, but how did he do it?
It all comes down to a Matrix called the Eisenhower Box, an instructional guide on how to be more productive.
Eisenhower organized his tasks into four categories:
Let’s try organizing our tasks for today:
Urgent and Important: Walk the dog, write a press release-Do.
Not urgent but important: Exercise, socialize, long-term strategy and research—Decide.
Urgent but not important: Approve comments, answer emails, make edits—Delegate.
Not urgent, not important: Grocery shop, check social media—Delete.
This planning can help you stay on track. It empowers you to complete what is essential and to prioritize other tasks in order of importance. As Eisenhower said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Brett McKay identifies that urgent tasks are things you feel compelled to respond to like text messages, mail, and phone calls, while important tasks contribute to your long-term values and goals.
Warren Buffet helped to clarify the difference between these two categories. With more than 50 billion dollars to his name, Buffet is considered the most successful investor of the 20th century. Buffet was on a flight with his airplane pilot, Mike Flint when he put Mike through a three-step task.
That’s where Buffet stopped him in his tracks. He directed Flint to consider anything outside of his top five, his “avoid-at-all-cost list.” He wasn’t to touch these items until his list of five was checked off. You can make habits more automatic when you get rid of the inessential. Ivy Lee had some final words about that.
He suggested that at the end of the day, you write down the six things you want to accomplish tomorrow and order them by importance. When the day starts, concentrate on only one task at a time, and if a task remains, move it to the front of the line for the following day. This simple approach works. It forces you to get at what’s important and to approach each task with a single-minded focus. It also removes the barrier of getting started.
What Eisenhower, Buffet, and Ivy had in common was a paired-down approach to accomplishing tasks. They knew how to identify what was important and how to apply focus to one thing at a time. When you become unproductive, it can be easy to be hard on yourself, to get into a negative thought cycle and to turn to drinking. Choose one of these approaches, or if you like a hybrid combination, and plan ahead. Design tomorrow and then take it step-by-step. You’ll be surprised how many of the cobwebs in your brain disappear in the face of one of these decision matrixes.
What can you do to structure your day today?
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