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One Great Productivity Idea for 2010

Take control of your time by prioritizing high-value tasks.

Allyson Lewis, 01/21/2010

What if you could dramatically improve your personal time management skills in 2010 with just one great idea? Over and over again, people in all businesses tell us they want to radically improve how they use the hours in their days--they want to become more organized, more productive, and more efficient.

My company recently surveyed 345 people and we found that constant interruption and distraction was the biggest factor keeping people from being productive at work. The executives we surveyed said that they would come into the office each morning with a fairly clear picture of what they knew they wanted to accomplish, but unexpected meetings, impromptu conversations, and unanticipated problems would keep them from focusing on what they knew to be important. This would result in them leaving the office without accomplishing any of the tasks that they had wanted to get done.

One Great Productivity Idea for 2010: 5 Before 11
A 5 before 11 list is a written, prioritized list of the five highest-value activities that you commit to starting and completely finishing before 11:00 a.m. the next day. This plan works best if you write your list before you leave work, so you are prepared to get started when you arrive at work the next day. That way, you know exactly where to start to get the most-important things done first. The power of having a daily written plan of action cannot be overstated. Businesspeople live in a constant state of reaction.

Time management is not a matter of not having enough time. It is a function of deciding how you choose to spend your time. Interruption and distraction happen to all of us, how you choose to let them into your daily work schedule will determine your success. Having a WRITTEN daily plan of action is much different than having a MENTAL plan of action. It is far too easy to say you will do something and let that thought cross your mind as you are driving to work. It is something entirely different to make it a point to create a written plan of action.

Four Steps to Implementing Your 5 Before 11 List
Step One: Clarify Your Goals and Priorities
Before you create a list, it's important to step back and clarify your longer-term goals and priorities. Ask yourself questions like:
"Over the next 90 days, what do I really want to accomplish?"
"Over the next 90 days, what do I really need to accomplish?"
"In the near term, what is my number-one goal?"
"What daily activities have made us most successful in the past?"
"What are the high-value activities in my daily life? Am I focusing on them?"
"What activities (if they became priorities in my daily work) could help me have the best year of my career?"
"What activities do the most-successful people in our industry focus on every day?"
Spend some time writing down the answers to these questions and figuring out where you need to focus your attention.

Step Two: Translate Your Goals into High-Value Daily Activities
Step two will require you to translate your longer-term goals and priorities into daily activities. In the financial-services world, these high-value daily activities often reach back to the most fundamental aspects of success:
* Daily telephone contact with current clients
* Face-to-face appointments
* Calling prospective customers with ideas
* Hosting educational workshops
* Attending community events
* Asking people to do business with you

Sometimes it is helpful to contrast these high value activities with the following low-value distractions:
* Reading e-mail
* Staring at the computer
* Constantly preparing for activity, without executing activity

Step Three: Create Your Daily List
Creating your 5 before 11 list is something you will do on a daily basis. Just before you leave the office for the afternoon, take out a sheet of paper and make a prioritized list of the five highest-value activities that you commit to completing before 11 a.m. the next day.

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