Daniel can’t concentrate on what his daughter is saying. He’s frantically trying to recall the commitment he made to a now-angry customer. “Is this a right angle?” his daughter asks as she works on her geometry homework. But she doesn’t expect a reply. She’s used to a dad who’s not really there. She puts away her unfinished homework while Daniel stares into space, his heart racing, palms sweaty, head spinning. What else has slipped his mind?
Our research shows most people can relate with Daniel: a third of which feel overwhelmed; nearly half are unable to focus, and one in five struggle to be present at home.
These are all signs of a failing personal productivity system. Daniel’s system of capturing to-dos on sticky notes, constantly reviewing his email and checking his calendar may have gotten him through college, his first job, and his first promotion, but it isn’t robust enough for his new situation: marriage, children, community commitments, and managerial roles.
The most telling symptom of a failing productivity system is not age, organizational status, or income. The most salient sign your system is not serving you is the quality of your life. If stress and distraction are frequent companions, then your productivity habits have not kept pace with your life’s complexity.
If Daniel could transform his sputtering system into the Ferrari model, how would his life change? Would he be more or less of a workaholic? Would his stress increase or decrease? Would his capacity to experience enjoyment grow or shrink?
We wanted to find out, but we didn’t start with the Daniels. Instead, we began with top performers — people who were rated ten out of ten by their managers.
Are You a Ten?
First, we wanted to know what it means to be a ten, to be rated a top performer by your boss. We predicted top performers would be more valuable than average performers but we wanted to know how much more and what they do that makes them so valuable.
So we surveyed 1,594 managers and peers, and asked them about employees they rate as “tens on a ten-point performance scale”.
It turns out, both managers and peers say tens are three times more valuable than an average employee and do 61 percent of the total work in their departments. What’s more, managers and peers agreed tens work smarter, not harder, and are less stressed than the average employee.
So, how do these top performers do it?
To answer this question, we tested the methodology described by David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done to see whether the GTD practices could make someone a ten. We had 2,072 respondents assess the impact of their production practices on two key areas: performance and stress.
Statistical tests confirmed that participants with high productivity scores had performance levels 68 percent higher and yet half the stress of participants with low scores. As it turns out, GTD practices dramatically improve performance while reducing stress. Specifically, people with high scores are:
- 55 times less likely to start projects that never get finished
- 21 times less likely to experience tasks and responsibilities falling through the cracks
- Never likely to miss deadlines or assignments
- 18 times less likely to feel overwhelmed
Actions You Can Take
Our research shows that learning the productivity skills demonstrated by top performers is key to both personal and organizational success. The message in this research is that a very small number of self-management practices literally change a person’s life and are also beneficial to the organization — they dramatically improve performance while also reducing stress.
Below are five productivity practices of top performing employees. practices aligned with the skills in Getting Things Done. that anyone can implement into their own productivity system today:
- Collect everything that owns your attention. Capture all commitments, tasks, ideas, and projects rather than keeping them in your head. Use just a few “capture tools” you keep with you all the time such as lists, apps, email, etc.
- Decide what your stuff means to you. Clarify if the items you’ve captured have an action or not. If they do, be very clear about what the VERY next action is and who should take it.
- Use the two-minute rule. If an action can be completed in two minutes or less, do it immediately. Don’t defer. The time you’ll waste letting these simple actions occupy your attention and the to-do list is not worth it—two minutes becomes your efficiency cutoff.
- Do more of the right things by reflecting on the right moments. Rather than diving into your messy inbox first thing, take two minutes to review your calendar and your action lists. This reflection ensures you make the best decisions about how to use your time.
- Review weekly. Keep a sacred, non-negotiable meeting with yourself every week to re-sync, get current, and align your daily work and projects with your higher-level priorities.
About the author: Justin Hale is a Master Trainer, keynote speaker and training designer at VitalSmarts. He is a leader of the team responsible for engineering the latest product innovations including the new edition of Getting Things Done® Training.