Simple productivity formula to increase productivity at work

Posted by Rob Kendal on 05-Jan-2016 14:17:17

Here we are at the start of 2016. If, like the Red Guerrilla team, you've had a break over the festive period then returning to work can seem like a challenge. It takes time to spin up those business wheels and get into the zone: mountains of emails; todo lists as long as your arm; and let's not forget the seemingly ceaseless phone calls...

How can you manage your time more effectively and get more done with the time you have?

Well fear not! We're on hand to get you back on track and as productive as ever with our simple way to increase productivity at work using a handy productivity formula.


Intro image on our productivity formula article on how to increase productivity at work

Being productive means good time management 

The key to being more productive - i.e. getting more done with your time - is to learn how to mange your time wisely. Time is a precious commodity and no matter the person, we each get the same 24 hours in the day.

There are a few common reasons people run into problems managing their time:

  • Procrastination, certainly from important tasks;
  • Trying to take on and do too much;
  • Doing work that either doesn't need doing or that someone else is better equipped to deal with from a skills or responsibility point of view;
  • Carrying out tasks now that could be scheduled for later, making way for more important ones.

I'm sure you may have found yourself nodding along to that list and have been guilty of falling into one of those traps - everyone's been there at some stage or another!

However, taking care of everything yourself all of the time is just not sustainable and ultimately leads to poor performance, workplace stress, and a poor work-life balance.

In the same way that if you market to everyone, you effectively market to no one, you can't help everyone with everything; doing too much will see more people disappointed in the long run. 

Productivity with Presidential credentials

There are tons of ways to increase productivity: using systems such as the Pomodoro Technique; finding some productivity boosting apps; and you can of course start with looking at your emails as a source of time-drain, making some changes to get more done without them.

One of the best ways to get more done in less time, however, is to follow a really simple decision matrix that was devised following a unverified quote from the 34th president of the USA, Dwight D. Eisenhower and the way he liked to work. 

The basic premise is to decide if a particular task is urgent or not, and if it is important or not. From there you can take a different action depending on which category it falls into, be it delegating, personally handling, or dropping altogether. 

Introducing the decision matrix

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is at heart a time management strategy based on a quote that is often ascribed to the former president:

"What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important"

This simple sentence inspired a system of dividing incoming tasks into different categories based on their importance and urgency. 

Here is the productivity decision matrix in all its time-saving glory:

Image showing the productivity formula decision matrix devised by President Eisenhower

Using the productivity matrix to supercharge your work day

The matrix looks quite simple and that's because it is. As productivity formulas go this is one of the most straightforward you will come across. 

The aim of the productivity decision matrix is to filter incoming tasks into one of four zones:

  • Zone 1 - Important/Urgent - these tasks should be done immediately and personally;
  • Zone 2 - Important/Non Urgent - these tasks should be assigned a due date and worked on by you personally until the due date;
  • Zone 3 - Non Important/Urgent - these tasks can be delegated to another person to complete;
  • Zone 4 - Non Important/Non Urgent - these tasks can be dropped altogether.

Whilst the productivity formula is ostensibly simple, the hardest part of using it is deciding on which 'pot' to put a task into; how should you differentiate between urgent and non urgent?

The best way to approach this is to think of 'urgent' and 'important' in the following terms:

Urgent tasks require immediate attention.
Important tasks contribute to long-term goals.

As a rule it's best to avoid or minimise the number of urgent tasks you take on. Urgent tasks, because of their immediacy, have a habit of putting us into a reactive state, which can lead to a more defensive and negative state of mind. 

Important tasks on the other hand are more aligned to long-term goals and strategies. They tend to put us into a more responsive state of mind where we are calmer, more focussed and rational. 

Putting the zones into practice

To clarify things even further, here are some example tasks that fall into different categories...

Example 1 - Important task that is urgent

There is a server outage in the communications department and both telecomms and Internet access has been lost across the company. 

This sort of crisis is a great example of an important and urgent situation. As a managing director, business owner, or senior level director it's important that you be on hand to manage this sort of situation from an internal team point of view and an external customer-facing perspective.

Example 2 - Important task that is not urgent

Company goal planning or product roadmap activities.

Planning goals for the coming year(s) for the business or defining the development roadmap for your products are both hugely important activities. They both set you on a firm course of action to grow as a business and shape the future product offerings you may have. 

However, although important, since they're longer term activities that require careful planning and lots of thought / discussion, they're not urgent tasks.

Example 3 - Urgent task that is not important

There is an email from a manager who has lost the company meeting minutes from last month and wants a copy if you have one.

Although you might have a copy kicking around your inbox somewhere, or on a shared drive, it's likely that the manager could find it themselves. Even if they genuinely need a copy this is a task that could be deferred to another colleague, or a PA who is likely to have a copy to hand as they took the minutes themselves.

These sorts of tasks tend to be urgent to the other party and usually take up smaller amounts of time which make them seem trivial to complete.

However, consider this: you only need 6 'quick', 10 minute tasks and you've lost an hour of your work day...

Example 4 - Task that is neither important nor urgent

You receive an unsolicited sales call from a company with a long-winded sales pitch and script process.

This is a good example of something that can be dropped straight away, a typical sales call that is prospecting to sell your company something.

Whilst all companies have to do some form of lead generation to win new clients and grow their business, it's likely that you will research issues in your own time and find solutions that you're happy with from there.

Talking a sales call and running through the lengthy script before you can politely decline can waste valuable time.

It is neither pressing (you don't need to do it now) nor does it contribute to your values or goals. 



Decide what's important to you and work on that

Life is full of noise. There is always going to be some task or some person who is demanding your attention. The unfortunate part is that importance and urgency are usually very subjective labels relative to the individual.

The good news though is that by simplifying your decision making process with something like the Eisenhower productivity formula can help you focus on what really matters to you, your business, and your goals.

By using the decision matrix you can filter out the extraneous, wasteful noise, increase productivity at work, get more done, and spend less time doing the things that aren't moving you forward, both as a person and as a business.



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Topics: Guides & Infographics

Written by Rob Kendal

Rob has enjoyed a rewarding career in technology, from IT infrastructure through to software development, working with clients such as Virgin Holidays and the NHS. He understands the needs, challenges and logistics involved in making technology work for business and how to market it effectively.
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