Staying Productive

ARTICLE | Jul 27, 2017

By Jeff Davidson

High productivity workers might get promoted more quickly and more often, or at least that's how things are supposed to work. In Q&A format, here is a look at some of my favorite productivity techniques that anyone can put into play:

Q: Most professionals employ a "to-do" list of some sort to get things done. How do you manage your list?

A: Mine is actually several pages long, but only the top third of the first page represents my daily to-do list. If a long-term item, or a portion of one, is due, on whatever page it might lie, I move it to the top of the front page.

I continually rank the items on the front page in terms of importance; thus, on any given day, I need only look at the top of the front page to find out what I need to do.

The next day or next week, I can move things around. I always look for things to cross off. Surprisingly, this long list reduces my anxieties, because all my to-do's, long and short, are in one place. I routinely bring the items that are important for the day to the front and rank them; thus, I quickly see what I need to work on.

If something suddenly comes up, I'll make a note to myself and adjust the list for now or for the next day. Usually, though, there will only be a handful of modifications to the list in a day.

Q: What are other effective productivity tools?

A: One strategy is to plot what you're trying to accomplish on a time line, including stop dates, start dates, interim dates, and so on. You can plot by month, week, day, or even hour. Don't make the charts complex, however, by trying to cram 18 or 20 projects into a single chart.

These days, we tend to over-complicate everything. Yet at any point in time, there are only a few key things that you need to do to make the most profound impact on your career and organization. Focus on those and make headway, and everything will turn out fine. Also, taking care of one or two tasks at the top of your list often means that items lower on the list will naturally get taken care of as well.

The "calendar block-back" method, as I call it, is another effective tool. Suppose you have a particular project report to tackle. It's not enough to simply mark the date it's due. It's far more compelling to decide, for instance, when you want to have the full draft ready, when you want the rough draft ready, when you want to have your research complete, and so on.

If you "block back" or go in reverse from the date the project is due, you might find that it makes the most sense to start working sooner than you thought. This method allows you to recognize that the interim dates are just as important as the final due date.

Q: How do we make multiple priorities work for us?

A: Suppose you wish to return to school to earn your degree (priority A). At the same time, you happen to be single and want to meet someone new (priority B). If we create a grid or matrix, listing our priorities across the top and along the side, what intersection between priorities could we devise that could advance both priorities?

By taking evening courses at a particular university, you can further your quest for your education and you just might increase your chances of meeting Mr. or Ms. Right. One supporting goal supports two priorities.

In like manner, a college student who enjoys traveling but wants to graduate on time can further two priorities at once by attending a semester of classes at an exchange program in Paris.

Sometimes, it's also possible to support more than two priorities with a supporting goal. Suppose that upper management makes a decision that suddenly changes your priorities. You can still add the new priority to the lineup, and then continuously search for supporting goals that can honor both the new priority and something else that you've already held as a priority.

Q: Can you give us a personal example?

A: I decided when I was single, that I wanted to meet a woman who was concerned about her health; at the same time, I wanted to get a good workout. I ended up joining a health club within walking distance that had potential mates who were also in the immediate area, who valued some of the same things I did, and ultimately, I met my wife.

Certainly, things won't always work out this way, but finding a goal that supports two different priorities is possible.

Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC, is principal, Breathing Space® Institute, Raleigh, North Carolina ( or An author and presenter on work-life balance, he holds the world's only registered trademark from the United States Patent and Trademark Office as "The Work-Life Balance Expert."®


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