Surprisingly small shifts that can improve your productivity

Do you take time to identify tasks you have to complete for the following day or week? A lot of us do. Is it working for you, though? I want to present some alternative approaches.

Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO.

How do you start your week? What method or approach do you take to ensure you meet your daily, weekly, or monthly objectives? Many of us sit down and try to articulate what activities we have to focus on or complete for the week, and that’s pretty normal. The challenge is that this gives us a false sense of productivity. For example, if we have 15 tasks and complete 10, we think, “Wow, I’m two-thirds of the way through, or 66 percent complete, with those initiatives.” But the reality is, we didn’t weigh those to-do list tasks based on either priority or the time it takes to achieve them. As a result, while 10 of 15 activities may be completed, 70% of the time required to complete all the tasks falls on the remaining five uncompleted tasks. This is why we feel a false sense of productivity.

There’s a new approach I’d like to present. This idea begins with a premise built around procrastination. When we think of procrastination, a lot of images fill our minds. We think of somebody lounging on a couch and eating a bag of chips or vegging out watching Netflix. The individual could even actively walk around the house while snacking but not accomplishing their target goals. These are common images that come to mind when thinking about the concept of procrastination.

There’s another side of procrastination, however, and it’s called productive procrastination. The idea behind productive procrastination is that you’re doing something, but it isn’t adding to what you’re trying to accomplish. Some examples might be attending meetings. In theory, you’re busy because you have back-to-back meetings all day. However, when you look at what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day, you haven’t made any real progress on your goals or objectives.

Another example is performing busywork. The work is independent and doesn’t require you to collaborate or work with a team. You might be updating a spreadsheet or drafting an executive brief. These are activities you need to complete. The catch here is that you end up spending extra time on these activities because they’re easy and can be performed without others’ involvement. Time spent on these activities can be slightly helpful, but they ultimately don’t get you closer to your primary objective for the day. It’s important to note here that while you feel you’re being productive, you aren’t.

Brian Tracy, a productivity and self-development author, came up with a new concept to address this exact problem. It’s called the A-B-C-D-E method. Using this method, Brian prioritizes activities on a spectrum of the most critical to the least important and then identifies actions he can eliminate. He performs the A-B-C-D-E method every day.

  • A activities: activities that must be completed and have a hard deadline.
  • B activities: essential, but they don’t necessarily have a hard date for achieving them.
  • C activities: typically what we spend most of our time on. These activities don’t have a target date, and they might be necessary or might not. But, ultimately, they’re straightforward to complete. As a result, we spend a lot of time feeling great when completing C-level activities.
  • D activities: activities that don’t belong anywhere. They don’t have a priority. They don’t have a hard deadline. These are generally considered nice-to-have-completed activities.
  • E activities: tasks or to-do items we want to eliminate. Often, when we spend time on E activities, we aren’t completing tasks. Instead, we’re working to identify how to free up our time. Maybe we can delegate the job to a team leader or subordinate. E activities can also be tasks we choose to automate, such as daily reporting, status reports, or health checks.

Think about using the A-B-C-D-E method to prioritize your activities for the week. You might even gain some productivity!

Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO. Have a great week!

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Peter is a technology executive with over 20 years of experience, dedicated to driving innovation, digital transformation, leadership, and data in business. He helps organizations connect strategy to execution to maximize company performance. He has been recognized for Digital Innovation by CIO 100, MIT Sloan, Computerworld, and the Project Management Institute. As Managing Director at OROCA Innovations, Peter leads the CXO advisory services practice, driving digital strategies. Peter was honored as an MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award Finalist in 2015 and is a regular contributor to on innovation. Peter has led businesses through complex changes, including the adoption of data-first approaches for portfolio management, lean six sigma for operational excellence, departmental transformations, process improvements, maximizing team performance, designing new IT operating models, digitizing platforms, leading large-scale mission-critical technology deployments, product management, agile methodologies, and building high-performance teams. As Chief Information Officer, Peter was responsible for Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange’s (HIX) industry-leading digital platform transforming consumerism and retail-oriented services for the health insurance industry. Peter championed the Connecticut marketplace digital implementation with a transformational cloud-based SaaS platform and mobile application recognized as a 2014 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, CIO 100, and awards for best digital services, API, and platform. He also received a lifetime achievement award for leadership and digital transformation, honored as a 2016 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader. Peter is the author of Learning Intelligence: Expand Thinking. Absorb Alternative. Unlock Possibilities (2017), which Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Triggers, calls "a must-read for any leader wanting to compete in the innovation-powered landscape of today." Peter also authored The Power of Blockchain for Healthcare: How Blockchain Will Ignite The Future of Healthcare (2017), the first book to explore the vast opportunities for blockchain to transform the patient experience. Peter has a B.S. in C.I.S from Bentley University and an MBA from Quinnipiac University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He earned his PMP® in 2001 and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Masters in Business Relationship Management (MBRM) and Certified Scrum Master. As a Commercial Rated Aviation Pilot and Master Scuba Diver, Peter understands first hand, how to anticipate change and lead boldly.