A Unique Approach To Personal Productivity: Three Strategies For Those With Short Attention Spans

Shannon Waller
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A Unique Approach To Personal Productivity

As originally published on Forbes.com

A number of years ago, I realized that my approach to being productive needed to be quite different from what seemed to work for others. I always struggled to feel productive, to focus, to handle the day-to-day tasks and to hit deadlines. After experimenting with every day planner and time-tracking system I could get my hands on and finding that nothing worked, I realized that I’d need to come up with my own personal productivity system that would work for me.

In my daily work life, I work exclusively with entrepreneurs, and most of them are just like me. They’re paying attention to a lot of things at once and have tons of ideas but short attention spans, especially for detailed activities that require following through.

If this sounds like you, the three strategies I finally hit upon that work for me could help you, too: what I call the pinball method of focusing, batching of administrative tasks and teamwork triads.

The Pinball Model Of Focusing

One day, I needed to pack for a business trip, I had some reading I wanted to do, and I also needed to tidy up my apartment before I left. Instead of finishing one task completely, as soon as I ran out of steam on one, I switched to the next one.

To my amazement, I was ready early — not a common occurrence in my life — and I realized I was onto something. By switching from one task to another as soon as I started to lose energy, I was able to accomplish all three things early.

I was sharing this discovery with a client who was distressed by how distractible he was and sketched a model of a pinball machine on a napkin to illustrate my point. If we think of our most important projects or the activities we need to be doing as the targets on a pinball machine, it doesn’t matter what order they get done in, as long as we keep the ball (our attention) in play. The goal, as in pinball, is to ring up as many points as possible. It may look chaotic, but because every activity is a crucial one, it works. For those of us with shorter attention spans, it makes it into a game — we just have to keep ourselves in play.

It’s a strategy I use regularly: I line up my critical activities and projects, and I ping between them as I like. I don’t get tired, bored, or distracted, and I get it all done.

It’s important to mention here that it helps enormously if these activities (or targets) are things you care about and enjoy doing. Remember, if you’re an entrepreneur, it’s your game and you get to make up the rules.

[bctt tweet=”“If you’re an entrepreneur, remember that it’s your game and you make up the rules!””]

“Batching” Of Administrative Tasks

If there’s one thing that eats away at my focus like death by a thousand paper cuts, it’s trying to respond to small but essential administrative tasks, such as replying to routine emails, scheduling, and making certain types of tactical decisions. It depletes my energy and makes it almost impossible to focus on the bigger, more challenging issues.

Computers batch their tasks for greater efficiency, and that’s what I’ve found works for me. I bundle these admin tasks together and deal with them all at once. That way, I can get into a “mode” and power through.

Also, I don’t try to do this alone. I work with my strategic support partner (and scheduling goddess) who knows what decisions have to be made and then talks them through with me. Together, we get an enormous amount done and decided upon quickly, which frees up my focus for the creative problem-solving that I’m good at and love to do.

Teamwork Triads

This breakthrough model comes from the book Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, Halee Fischer-Wright and John King. From their research, they found that most profitable and productive tribes speak in terms of “we,” not “I,” and operate in triads — groups of three that work collaboratively and collectively to get things done — instead of one-to-one in the traditional hub-and-spoke model.

What does this look like? When I’m starting a project, instead of assembling a team of people that I connect with individually and controlling the flow of information, I immediately look for the two people I complement best based on each of our skills, talents, and knowledge. Together, we strategize the project, get clear on our objectives and key actions, and get to work. I have different triads I’m a part of for different projects, and we bring in other team members for their expertise as needed.

You might think this process takes longer, but it doesn’t. It’s a simple but incredibly effective change, and as soon as I had put it into practice, my productivity went through the roof. Our projects now progress faster, we accomplish our results more easily, and I love not having to be the one controlling every aspect of the project. After all, I’m only an expert in one part. This allows us to take advantage of our collective intelligence, and it’s a game changer.

If you’re struggling with feeling unproductive, and maybe even unmotivated, try these approaches and see if they work for you. When you really pay attention to what works for you, experiment with alternative approaches, and don’t just accept the status quo, you’ll find your own unique formula for increasing your productivity — and confidence.

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