There are a lot of productivity tips out there. We all read them to keep us motivated and moving forward. I hate complacency. I always find a way to keep myself moving by doing something. I also like to solve problems. My real skill is the ability to get into the bottom of “what the hell is going on here? situations”. I have a history of both successes and failures in what I do. I want to share with you today the very principles that are the foundation of my professional beliefs.   

Productive people embrace these three things

If you work in the corporate world, you would report to someone. And that someone also reports to another someone. It’s very common that you would receive requests or instructions from your higher-ups daily. In many cases, those requests come in at the last minute with very short deadlines. How can you be productive in this situation? 

There might be something that you could do. Below are the suggestions that I use to survive in the corporate world. 

  1. Focus on your strengths. Peter Drucker said, “You can’t build on weakness.” You should focus on your strengths. If you are very good at data analysis using super complex excel formula, you might struggle with presenting your work. Instead of spending time to improve your PowerPoint skill, you should focus on build up your analytical skill and ask someone with great PowerPoint skill to help you. I think this is manageable. It also means you need to have good relationships with your colleagues. 
  2. Be strategic about urgent requests. The thirty-fourth president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, said: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” So, the recommendation is to say ‘yes’ to the important tasks that advance your goals. And, you should say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ to everything else. Is this realistic to say no to your boss? Not really. The solution is you must be very strategic in the way you prioritise tasks. My advice is to take emotion out and scan all tasks objectively. 
  3. Understand your work style. Not everyone gets to the end results the same way. Some people like to involve lots of others in meetings to make decisions. Some, myself included, like to process information quietly before reaching out a broader group of people. Both approaches are fine. Don’t feel bad about who you are. And, don’t compare. The worst thing in the world that kill your productivity is comparing yourself with others. Just stop it. 

The final word is self-knowledge (and a little diplomacy) are important traits for entrepreneurs and executives. We have to be diplomatic and political in the way we deliver the ‘no’ message. 

Chop things into pieces

One small habit that I learnt many years ago and I think it plays a vital role in my life is to chop what you have to do into small pieces. What do I mean by that?

In your life, there are so many things to do, or so many things you want to do. For example, you want to read lots of books in a year. Or, you may want to finish some projects at work. However, the sizes of those things might put you off. They look daunting, so you can only think about doing them. You don’t actually do them. Why don’t you chop those things into small pieces and do them one small piece at a time? 

I always do that. I want to read x number of books but cannot concentrate on this mission every day. So, I might read a book for 5 minutes in the morning, then 10 minutes in the afternoon. I might spend 30 minutes on Saturday and another hour on Sunday. Before I know it, I finish the whole book. 

When you chop things into small pieces, their sizes will not intimidate you. You will see things differently as it’s not too hard to finish one small thing at a time. 

Try it and let me know how you go. 

The benefits of asking questions

I usually read articles on a daily basis and always have a lot of questions popping up in my head. I then realised it has been my habit that I really like asking questions. Most of the time, I ask questions about things to myself. And, many times, I ask questions to my team, my colleagues and my superiors. It could frustrate or annoy them. 

And, 90% of the time, I only ask the ‘why’ questions. 

It reminds me of a story I came across a long time ago about one great leader in Asia who was very successful in his business. I cannot remember his name and his business. He managed a large company with lots of factories. His management style is that it was his routine to visit his factories every week. When his team encountered problems and brought them to his attention, he’d never offered solutions. He only asked a series of why questions. It turned out that his questions had helped his team to think about the problems deeper, which in turn help them to find solutions themselves. 

It’s a simple practice. You can start today by asking yourself “why do this thing have to happen this way?”. “Why can’t we do this?”. It will change how you see things and how you operate. 

Sorry, this could be a stupid question

You would have heard this phrase all the time. Truth is there is no such thing as a stupid question. I once came across a definition of stupid questions from Randy Pausch (the professor who wrote the famous “The Last Lecture). He said stupid questions are 1) the questions that you (the person who ask) already know the answers and 2) the questions that you don’t want to hear the answers. Every other question is legitimate. 

What if someone asks you a really stupid question? You can use this quote as a guideline on how to answer: “Silence is the best answer of all stupid questions. And, smile is the best reaction of all critical situation.”

When better is better than best

I read a book by Simon Sinek a few months ago. The book was about finite and infinite games and mindsets. And it occurs to me that having a goal of being the best is not necessarily a good mindset to have. It is finite thinking. Why? To be the best, you set up a restrictive framework for yourself. You have to compare with something to know your progress to be ‘the best’. Once you achieve it, you will either have to look for a new target, a new comparison or risk being complacent. 

To be better, on the contrary, is an infinite mindset. The goal of being better is to keep playing in an infinite game. You don’t have a finished line, and you have to keep improving. 

No one can be the best forever. You don’t even know that you are actually the best. If you have to compare with someone, the best person you should compare with is your yesterday’s self. And you will be better every day. 

Final Thoughts

One of the most challenging things to do for all of us is not to compare ourselves with others. I would say it is the most destructive thing that a person could do. Everyone is different. We all have different background and are presented with different opportunities in life. Once we stop comparing ourselves with others, we can be true to ourselves. It’s the only way to achieve true happiness. 

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