strategyDo you ever feel like you are struggling to accomplish your work goals? That your teams are taking too long to move things along? Whether working on your own or in a group, you need a solid strategy to move at a fast clip without sacrificing quality.

In my years as a military civilian, followed by 15 years in the private sector, I had a reputation for being surprisingly productive. As an Air Force Colonel once said of me, “Within the top 5% of all civilian action officers I’ve ever known in 25 years of service.” That sentiment was echoed by a manager in the private sector who wrote, “Sheila has done more in three-quarters of a year than many employees would accomplish in a year or more.”

As a result, I often heard the question, “How do you do it?” 

Comparing my work style to others, I discovered five ways people unknowingly complicate their work. If you have mistaken fallen into any of these sand traps, no worries! I’ll give you a solid strategy to take your productivity to the next level.

Productivity Sand Traps & How to Avoid Them

  1. Lacking clarity. You think you understand what needs to be done, but lo and behold there is a misunderstanding. Now you have to go back to the drawing board and start all over. Often people don’t want to ask questions because they fear that doing so will make them look incompetent. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Strategy: The more questions you ask about the work objective and expected outcome, the more clarity you have around what it will take to deliver. If there’s one thing I’ve always done, it’s asking LOTS of questions throughout the process.
  2. Missing collaborative opportunities. Similar to the fear that asking questions will lead others to perceive you as incompetent, some people fear asking others for support for the same reason. There’s a reason for the proverb “Two heads are better than one.” It’s true! Strategy: Something simple like asking a colleague to review a project plan can transform your output. Asking for assistance gives you a good reason to work with someone, perhaps even someone who can mentor you. Another great reason for asking people to assist you is that you can return the favor. Making yourself available to help others demonstrates you are reliable in times of need. It’s also an excellent way to gain experience in other areas of the business.
  3. Becoming distracted. Sometimes messages, email, phone calls, and folks just casually stopping by your office are all ways you can lose focus. Strategy: I encourage my colleagues to do what I do; keep a working list of your hot projects on the wall so you see it every day, all day. White boards or chalk walls are ideal for this. The goal is to keep the top priorities in front of your face so that when unexpected interruptions come up, you are quickly reminded of the task at hand. Another strategy I incorporate is to plan my day’s strategy the evening prior. That way I hit the ground running first thing in the morning.
  4. Procrastinating. Procrastination usually comes from lack of organization and not knowing where to start. It can also arise from putting off the hard stuff until last. Organization is the answer. Strategy: I’m most productive using the Ivy Lee Method. Every day I focus on six things only. The toughest tasks always go at the top of the list. I start with the first item on the list and do not waver until it’s complete. I then continue down the prioritized list. When items are left over (there are always leftovers), I put them at the top of the next day’s list. To learn more about why it’s so productive, read The Ivy Lee Method: The Daily Routine Experts Recommend for Peak Productivity by James Clear, an author who studies human psychology and writes about performance and effectiveness.
  5. Losing opportunities for process improvement. Once a project is complete, it’s time to evaluate what went well and what could have gone better. Anytime you reach the end of an assignment and you don’t ask for feedback, you’re losing a valuable opportunity to strengthen and streamline your processes. Strategy: While some may not like to hear what didn’t go well, I’ve always considered constructive feedback a gift. For starters, it’s one of the best ways to ensure I exceed expectations the next time around. And when you ask stakeholders for feedback, you’re saying, “I value your opinion.” When people feel valued, they’re more inclined to provide meaningful input.

Supersize Your Output With Strategy

Implementing any of these five strategies will make a difference in your work output. Executing all five will help you earn top performance awards as you awe everyone around you.

Looking for more career success tips?

Sheila Callaham is an author, motivational coach, and longtime communications and change management professional. Sheila leverages the power of words to influence stakeholders and shape perceptions.

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