How to be more effective

Written by Paul on March 23rd, 2008

One of the most common questions I get asked is this: “How do you get so much done?”

Friends are looking for my secret formula or the key to my efficiency, but I’m always sorry to tell them I don’t have any secrets. I do the same things that other effective people have done and that this blog will hopefully teach you to do.

Try these tips on for size:

  1. Ask yourself, “What needs to be done?” Notice that you’re not asking yourself, “what do I want to do?” This is a crucial difference and one that can’t be overlooked. If asked properly, this question will likely have more than one task. Effective people don’t try to tackle multiple things at once, they concentrate on only one task. If you’re one of those people that really likes to multi-task, you’ll pick no more than two tasks. After you’ve finished your task, go back and ask yourself the question once more – never re-use the original list.
  2. Ask yourself, “What is right in the context of the bigger picture?”As with the first question, this isn’t asking if this is right for you, your investors, your parents, your friends or for anyone else. Of course these stakeholders are important but an effective person knows that if a decision doesn’t work in the bigger picture, it’s not going to work for any of the stakeholders either. Although asking this question doesn’t always guarantee a correct decision, the failure to ask this question will virtually guarantee the wrong decision.
  3. Develop an action plan. You know that knowledge is useless until it’s been converted into actions. Before you jump into action, make sure you plan the course. Your action plan is a “living document” that will evolve with your successes – it is not to be seen as a straitjacket. Without an action plan, you become the prisoner of events. Remember, ideas don’t count – effective people are doers.
  4. Take responsibility for your decisions. A decision hasn’t been made until people know about it. It’s your job to set the deadlines, spread the word and be accountable. It’s also important to review decisions periodically – build these into your action plan. This way, a bad decision can be caught before it can cause too much damage.
  5. Take responsibility for communicating. Effective people make sure that their action plans and needs are understood by those around them. Specifically, this means that you need to share your plans and ask for feedback from your friends, family and peers.
  6. Focus on opportunities rather than problems. Let’s face it, problem solving has never produced results – it only prevents further damage. Taking advantage of opportunities is the single most effective way to produce results. My advice to you: next time you run across a problem (or even a complaint), quickly brainstorm three potential opportunities and stop there. Now pick one and get started.
  7. Run effective meetings. The key to running effective meetings is is to decide in advance what kind of meeting it will be. Different kinds of meetings require different methods of preparation and different results. Making sure meetings stay productive requires a good amount of self-discipline. When the meeting’s specific purpose has been accomplished, sum up and adjourn. Remember that any given meeting is either productive or a total waste of time.

Being highly effective is simply a matter of getting the right things done. Effectiveness is a discipline and, like every discipline, can be learned.

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