5 Productivity Tips That'll Make You Rethink Your Day

February 23, 2017

These tips are from David Allen, author of "Getting Things Done."

Recently, I watched David Allen’s free LinkedIn Learning course, Getting Things Done. The course was exactly what the title described – it was on how to better get things done.

Like most productivity experts, Allen says it comes down to managing your focus and energy, not necessarily your time. But what was interesting and what makes Allen such an in-demand consultant is his incredibly practical, effective system for managing your focus, aptly named the Getting Things Done Methodology.

I’m not going to detail the entire methodology to you here (if you are so inclined, again you can watch Allen’s course for free). But in his course, Allen dropped a few pieces of priceless wisdom on how you should approach your day.

I couldn’t help but share those with you. They are:

1. You have to pay attention to what has your attention.

Allen’s thesis, which is supported by a plethora of research and brain science, is that you are most productive when you are focusing on just one thing. So the goal of his course is for you to organize your thoughts in a way where you are focusing on just one task at a time.

This is much easier said than done. In just the span of the past three minutes, I’ll bet your mind has wondered off to think about several other things. Hence, Allen says the first step to being more productive is paying attention to what has your attention, i.e. to be cognitive of what is distracting you from focusing in on one specific task.

Allen recommends writing all the things out that occupy your thoughts onto one big list to clear out your head. From there, you can begin prioritizing what needs to get done, and start moving toward focusing on just one task at a time.

2. If something is continuously bothering you, it’s because you haven’t given it the attention it deserves.

Along those lines, if something is continually bothering you, it’s because you haven’t given it the attention it deserves.

Often times these thoughts can be deeply personal or highlight some deep-seeded insecurity. And often, while they might always be in the back of your mind, the reality is you have not fully thought through them, or they would go away (at least for the time being).

By thinking through whatever that problem is, maybe you can come up with a solution. Or maybe you just concede it’s still a problem, but you can’t do anything about it at the moment and decide to put it to rest for now to focus on another task.

The worst approach toward these lingering thoughts is to continue to ignore them or to try to forget them. That will only allow the thought to persist, and prevent you from giving your full attention to something else. 

3. Your head is for having ideas, not for storing them.

Your mind is the worst calendar or to-do list you can have. Because your memory is often sporadic, if you try to keep all the things you are supposed to do in a day in your head, you’ll have flashes of anxiety throughout the day that you’ve forgotten something or that one task is of particular importance.

Take that pressure off your mind by creating a to-do list or a calendar or both. And when you have an idea that’s only half-done, write it down so you can refer to it later. Let your mind take on big tasks like being creative and focusing on strategy, instead of minimal stuff a piece of paper could handle.

4. If you have a task that’ll take you less than two minutes to do, just do it.

When I first heard this piece of advice, I looked at my to-do list. There were a surprising amount of items on it that would take less than two minutes to complete, and I systematically went through and knocked them out.

Afterwards, I felt so much lighter.

Allen said it takes energy to organize and prioritize (and fret over) tasks, even if you are using a to-do list or a calendar – more energy than it actually takes to complete a two-minute task. So, if you have a short task, don’t think about it, just do it.

Have an email you need to write? Just write it. Have a quick phone call to make? Just make it. Have a quick calendar invite to send? Just send it.

In other words, don’t let a 90-second task sit in the back of your mind for 90 minutes, sapping your energy along the way.

5. Build in reflection time.

Allen talked about this in his course, and this practice is also something fellow LinkedIn Learning instructor – and LinkedIn CEO – Jeff Weiner preaches. Allen stressed the importance of scheduling reflection time on your calendar.

Why?

Reflection time is where you can be the most strategic by asking questions like “are the actions we’re taking really going to move the needle the most?” It also allows you to be more creative, by asking questions like “we need to do this, but is there a better way to do it?”

If you don’t have these times of reflection built into your day, your life will eaten up by the many tasks competing for your attention. But, if you can take some time to really think through things, you can gain perspective and ensure you are making the absolute most of you and your team’s talents.

*Image from Ben Pollard, Wikipedia Commons

Want to learn more? Watch David Allen’s course, Getting Things Done, for free.

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