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Workday Productivity:   The Rule of 10

businesswoman asleep at computer

Productivity is hard. Sometimes there truly are not enough hours in the day. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of to-dos in life. It’s easy to become paralyzed by indecision into even more inaction. It’s called procrastination or some other fancy word but it boils down to an inability to decide “what” to do and then doing it.

A colleague was fired from his well-paying job at a New York advertising agency. He worked on one of their largest and most important client accounts. As he was clearing out his office desk, he keep repeating tearfully “I just couldn’t get it all done.”

Productivity as a Way of Life

That terrible moment stuck with me. It came to frame the way that I approach productivity as a way of life.  Often I am confronted with a household or garden task that seems formidable.  Something as low effort as loading the dishwasher can glue me to the couch like a stamp.

Yes, it’s near 12 midnight and I’m dead-tired from the day but more often than not it’s the ‘always tomorrow’ syndrome.

“I make a grand bargain with myself.”

I call it the Rule of 10.   The goal is to do 10 tasks. I choose whether those tasks are big or small. I never ask myself to DO IT ALL. Just make a good faith effort which will put a “dent” in the project.  Just a dent.  I don’t judge if I don’t get to ten.  I count as I go along and strongly encourage multitasking when possible.

So at midnight, I put the salt and pepper shakers back onto the spice rack in a kitchen cabinet. Because they’re small, I can pick up both seasonings simultaneously (multitasking). Number 1. And so it goes.

If so inclined, 10 tasks might morph into a spotlessly clean kitchen at 1:30 am. Or, there might be 10 less items of clutter on the kitchen counter at 12:10 am.  Whatever I do, I take pride that something got accomplished. No matter how small.

Productivity in Business:  Rule of 5

The Rule of 10 is a motivator for productivity in my daily life. In business, The Rule gets modified. However it is still used. Applying The Rule is even more valuable.  Business tasks are much more time consuming and difficult often requiring both brain and oftentimes muscle energy too. Hence, there is the Rule of 5. Five things to tackle daily in business.

Tackle, not accomplish. Just put a dent in it. That long list of to-dos that can consume you if you don’t approach it with the right frame of mind.  Five business related tasks that I commit to paper as I languish for 5 whole minutes over a 2nd cup of morning coffee. So my productive day begins.

Sometimes of my list of 5 business tasks, I am only able to tackle one.  Not accomplish it. Not complete it. Just put in that dent.

Do something. Be productive. The most important task might be the last thing that gets added to my list. A last minute project or a forgotten due date. That task may well take up all my day keeping me hunkered down through lunch and breaks and fully top of mind on a late-night commute home.

Within that one important task like writing a huge RFP response, I resort to Rule of 10.  Try to accomplish10 things under that one named task under Rule 5.

Due date often determines what task gets tackled with urgency. Like professional procrastinators, I really do seem to do some of my best work under duress. But developing my daily 5 usually has me working to the casual observer even as I ruminate on a large project consciously or unconsciously for days. I call these mental musings  “productive procrastination”.

Once it took me 5 months to formulate just the right introduction to a book I’d written that was almost 400 pages.  That introduction was less than 200 words.  The introduction came to me at the oddest of times. Washing dishes after a Thanksgiving meal and starting out the window at fallen autumn eaves. So, some things take time to come to fruition.

Those brain-drain projects for business ultimately percolate to the top of my to-do heap. They’re the ones that have me ordering takeout at 9:45pm and half-heartedly eating it, while still at my work desk. Just me and the janitor Henry. Both getting paid to be there late.

Wisdom of Productiveness

One’s productivity like  a factory’s must be actively managed.  In business, the Rule of 5 (with 10 as the target objective) proves to be a trusted formula for getting things done with a minimum amount of stress.

Wish I’d been able to share that wisdom with that work colleague long ago who just couldn’t find the right formula to get things done.
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Image: Orlando Florin Rosu