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Academic Insight: Increasing Productivity

In this issue of Fargo, INC!, I will be sharing three tools and pieces of advice to help you improve your ability to prioritize tasks, to help you overcome procrastination and improve your ability to focus and to help you develop a mindset that can lead to more results over time.

#1: The Eisenhower Matrix

The purpose of the Eisenhower Matrix is to prioritize tasks based on their level of importance or urgency. The term “important” refers to something that contributes to the organization’s objectives or purpose. The term “urgent” refers to something that must be done immediately or needs attention. Here’s how to use the Eisenhower Matrix. First, whenever a task is presented, ask yourself two questions: 1) Is this task Important? and 2) Is this task Urgent? The response to each question should be either Yes or No. After evaluating each task on these two components, an individual can place the task into one of 4 categories. Then, based on its placement, the Eisenhower Matrix provides a recommendation on how tasks in that category should be handled. Below you will find a description of each category along with the recommendation:

  • Important and Urgent: Items such as crises, deadlines and emergencies. Tasks in this category should be done first.
  • Important but Not Urgent: Items such as planning, exercising and family time. Tasks in this category should be scheduled.
  • Not Important but Urgent: Items such as interruptions, unannounced visits, etc. Tasks in this category should be delegated to others.
  • Not important and Not Urgent: Items that are considered time wasters. Tasks in this category should be deleted and not done at all.

The benefit of using the Eisenhower Matrix is that it enables a person to be proactive and decisive when allocating their time. Having the ability to quickly categorize tasks based on their level of importance and urgency will enable you to reserve your time and energy for those tasks most relevant to accomplishing personal and professional goals.

#2: The Pomodoro Technique

The purpose of the Pomodoro Technique is to break up tasks into time intervals. The only physical tool you will need is some type of device in which you can set a timer (i.e., stopwatch, cellphone, etc.). Here’s how to use the Pomodoro Technique. First, determine what task you want to complete. Then, set your timer for 25 minutes and, during that time, concentrate all your attention on doing that task, ignoring any distractions. Once the timer goes off, take a 5-10 minute break. You can then decide to do something else or to do another round or Pomodoro on the same task or a variation of it. I know that 25 minutes doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but speaking from personal experience, I was surprised at how long 25 minutes was, especially when I was extremely focused. And it was a perfect way for me to jumpstart activity on a task that I was avoiding.

Here are two ways in which I use the Pomodoro Technique. The first is when managing my email inbox. At the beginning of my workday, I do a 25-minute Pomodoro focused on quickly reading the subject lines and first sentences of emails and deleting as many emails as possible. But as I am reading them, I take note of those emails which will require more of my attention later. Then, at the end of my workday, I do another 25-minute Pomodoro that is focused on responding to emails I identified earlier in the day. The second is with writing. One of my favorite quotes when it comes to writing is attributed to American writer C. J. Cherryh: “It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.” So, I will do a 25-minute Pomodoro to simply write and to get my thoughts down on paper. Then, after taking a break, I will do another 25-minute Pomodoro that is focused on editing what I previously wrote.

#3: Adopt a One-Task Approach Mindset

I’ve come to the realization that focusing on a single task is far better for overall progress than multitasking. For example, in the past, whenever I would go on business trips, I would bring lots of work with me. My mindset was that I could use any free time on my trip to get a bunch of things done while away. However, I often never got as much completed as I anticipated. On a recent business trip, I decided to do something that I had never done before—I only took one work project with me. And to my surprise, it got accomplished. Upon reflection, I learned that the likelihood of me completing one task while on a trip was more probable than me completing several tasks. If you search the internet, you will find a plethora of resources and articles that support adopting a one-task approach mindset.

Here’s how I have applied this mindset to my work.

During my weekly and daily planning sessions, I make a list of all the things that need to be completed. I then ask myself the following question: “What is the most important task for me to focus on?” Then, whatever I have determined is the most important, I will “pin” this item to the top of my list and give it my top priority. Over time, I realized that I was making consistent progress in completing tasks.

Summary

I hope you find these tools and advice useful in helping you to better manage personal and professional tasks thus leading to an increase in your overall productivity. Additional information on any of the tools discussed in this article can be found online by using your preferred internet search engine.

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