How to get important stuff done – a productivity tip for everybody
I have recently written about keeping (business building) projects on track and making room for them. There is, of course, a personal angle to this too.
Business building projects are different to every day work because they tend to really tax the mind. They also fall into the "important but not urgent" basket. Add these two dimensions together and it's not surprising that we struggle to find the right time to attack this sort of work.
I, and some of my clients, have been experimenting with a new (that is new to me, not new to the world) way of getting "important not urgent" projects done. We've all found it so useful that I thought I would share it with you.
The technique comes by way of an article I read by Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project called the 90-minute plan.
Like all great tools it's achingly simple, but if you commit to it and follow it to the letter it really works.
Here's my interpretation of what to do:
- On Friday decide what "important not urgent" work you want to get done by the end of the next week.
- The night before each day decide what of the important work on your list you want to get done tomorrow (thereby leaving it late enough in the day to be fairly confident how tomorrow is going to pan out without eating into the best part of the next day – the morning).
- Decide at what time the next day you will start working on the project.
- At the appointed time turn off all email, phone, etc devices and hide yourself away if you can – as though you were in a meeting. Set your stopwatch for 90 minutes and get started.
- Don't stop during the 90 minutes – no checking the phone, bathroom breaks or cups of coffee
- At the end of the 90 minutes stop. Even if you are in flow, don't go over the 90 minutes because, apparently, 90 minutes is the optimal human limit for focusing.
I decided to "find" 10 90 minute sessions a week. That sounds easy but it's really not! In fact, having done this for a few weeks, I've discovered that, in terms of concentrated focused time, it's way more than I was doing.
One of my clients has had their staff of 12 do this for four weeks and have seen an amazing increase in productivity on their projects. And guess what, none of the "urgent" stuff has fallen by the wayside, it's just been done more efficiently.
Another company got their management team of eight to find just one 90 minute block each per week to work on a particular project. In one month the project has moved forward enormously. Probably down to the 48 hours of focused brain time.
Are you going to try it?
Julia Bickerstaff's expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses: Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses. Julia is the author of "How to Bake a Business" and was previously a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has a degree in economics from The London School of Economics (London University).