On the back of an interesting read en route to a client’s site – I thought I’d share some thoughts on working smarter.  I know – much over-worked phrase – but potentially useful given how hard everyone is working on their sites in this contractionary environment.  Unless I’ve missed something – with recent retrenchments and re-structures there have been a lot of people faced with either taking on more roles in their organization – or joining the march to under-employment. The texts reviewed and used as source material for this blog are:

The Snapshot View

To spot people who are likely to succeed in achieving amazing things (such as filling the jobs that three or four people worked on for 40 hours a week not more than a year ago) then look for the following traits:

  • Focus – they only work on One Thing at a time;
  • Saying No – NO is the answer you’ll get from them if you ask them to do something that isn’t their One Thing;
  • Surrounded by Chaos / Clutter – Not in a dangerous way – but just that they don’t worry about other things piling up while they’re working on their One Thing;
  • Moving with a Purpose – applying models and systems to achieve breakthroughs, and;
  • Accepting Accountability – no blame on the “it’s tough here” (and other whinges) – but owning their current reality and finding and applying solutions to make it better.

So – when you’re faced with the reality that we will have to accomplish more with less for the foreseeable future – then this summary of The One Thing (and other like texts) and habits you can adopt yourself should be helpful. In this series of posts – you will find information on Limits on Performance, Overcoming Blockages to Success, How to Generate Good Habits, Applying Willpower, Achieving Balance and Setting Targets (One Thing goals).

Limits on Performance

Thought - Depositphotos_10886978_xs Most limits on performance are self imposed.  There are any number of researchers out there making comment – but the short version is that if we think it – we do it.  Every move, spoken or written word starts from a thought. Some of the key limits on our thinking come from concepts that have been popularized over the years – that are just plain wrong!  These are the most significant:

  • Everything matters equally – you can’t neglect things in your life at any point in time.  WRONG!  A small percentage of what we can do makes a big difference to what we receive.  This is backed by science. Wilfredo Pareto proved that in the early 20th century when he identified that wealth in a community is unevenly distributed.  It also extends to natural systems – where his examination of fields of peas showed that the 80:20 rule applies – with 20% of the pea plants producing 80% of the harvest;
  • Multi-tasking makes you more efficient. IT DOESN’T.  Psychological and medical examination of our brains shows that trying to focus on more than one thing just means you shift your attention between many things – and waste time resetting your thinking after each change.  (There is a caveat here though – where skills that are learnt to the point of being a mastered habit – they can be applied at the same time as you focus on other things – without detriment to either (think of brushing your teeth and thinking about your plan for the day – you don’t need to apply any thought to your teeth – they are getting clean using habits you formed as a child);
  • You need to be disciplined and follow a strict program. YOU DON’T. We don’t need more discipline than we have – we just need to direct and manage it better;
  • Will power is always available. It isn’t. Your willpower uses the front (newest) part of your brain – which is hugely demanding of the body’s resources.  To have willpower you need to be fresh, well rested and well fed.  If you persist in tasks or behaviors that require will power it will let you down.  Willpower is strongest first thing in the morning – or after taking a break (and refueling) – and it is used up as it is applied;
  • You need to live a balanced life – always giving equal amount to work, family and yourself.  NOT SO.  You achieve the maximum maximum results when you apply effort to just one area – just make sure that the swing is not for too long – as without the support of family and the re-charge you get from other pursuits (sport, faith and community) your well being will suffer in the longer term;
  • Big is bad – don’t try to do too much or set unrealistic goals.  BIG IS GOOD. To set small goals becomes self limiting.  Many great thinkers have echoed the quote of “It is better to aim high and miss, than to aim low and succeed” – Jim Collins summed it up well when he flagged the value of BHAG’s – Big Hairy Audacious Goals!

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IMPORTANT - If you can sense any of these in your mindest / frames of reference as you approach your tasks - it is worth taking time to stop and reflect - are you imposing a limit on your performance or setting yourself up to fail?

Over-come the Blockages - Laser Like Focus on the One Thing

To be really clear on the goal is the key point here - and it is well worth taking a fair bit of time to really clearly write out what that goal is.  Garry Keller (the author of The One Thing) sums up this process up well when he suggests using the phrase - "What is the one thing that would make everything else easier or unnecessary" around each time frame we're planning for - shift, day, week, month, quarter, year, five year and someday. If you had a goal of achieving just One Thing - the right One Thing - at each point where you're making a decision about what to put effort into next you will find you achieve significantly more than if you try to do everything.  You can do more than One Thing in a day - but identifying the most important thing and achieving it first is a great strategy.   An outcome of this strategy is that you maximize what you achieve and minimize your problems. Some guidance on obtaining focus comes out in the texts.  The key points are:

  • Be specific - aim to have a very precise description of your One Thing to do right now which will make everything else easier or unnecessary;
  • Go extreme - don't stop selecting less to do until you're aimed at just One Thing;
  • Say NO to everything else - don't do anything else until your most important work is done.  Some elements you can aim for are to:
    • Time block your One Thing work - and protect it - so nothing and no-one can interrupt the process of completing the most important activity first;
    • Communicate your changed approach to work - people will bounce off your door and not receive replies to emails or phone calls - while you are working on your One Thing;
    • Make your Environment suit the approach - don't have distractions running while you're working on your One Thing;
    • Do your One Thing first thing in the morning - make a bee line for where you need to be - and avoid being social until your One Thing is done;
  • Avoid check box success - don't take pride in ticking off a whole bunch of things off a list - if the most important One Thing wasn't at the top of that list!

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Key Signs of a Strong Focus on Your One Thing

You will know you've got the right level of focus happening when you find the following:

  1. Key things are always done first and the amount of "fire fighting" required drops away;
  2. People stop trying to attract your attention during your blocked out One Thing time;
  3. Chaos surrounds you - which is Ok - the most important One Thing is getting done - so all the other "time sucks" pile up for lack of attention, and;
  4. You regain a level of confidence in how well things are being managed and your stress levels go down.
The other posts in this series are Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. If you want to find out more about Peter and Operational Risk Mentoring's capabilities - you can check out our About Us page.


    1 Response to "Working Smarter – Part 1"

    • Shawn Lee

      Another great article Peter. Definitely going to put some of these tools to use immediately. Thanks.

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