While there are many strategies to increase work productivity, there are three essential actions that define success and failure in your work performance.
With these three steps, even without other strategies, you are still well on the way to being highly productive.
Without them, it doesn’t really matter what other tips or techniques you use – you aren’t going to do well.
These actions are “simple” in many ways, and you may think I’m stating the obvious, but many people struggle with implementing these three (3).
What are they?
In this article, we will cover the Essential 3 Ways to Improve Work Performance:
Table of Contents
(As I said, they are simple – but how often do people not know what is truly important in their job? How often have you spent hours being busy but feeling like you didn’t accomplish anything important?
Simple as they are, they can be hard to do, and there is much to learn. Read on.)
1. Know What’s Important
Too often people spend their lives at work not really knowing what the most important tasks and duties of their jobs are.
They think they know what is important. They work hard at those tasks. But at some point, they find out what they think is important and what their boss or supervisor thinks is important is not the same.
This happens for a variety of reasons:
- Often, their job description is vague. It doesn’t tell them what is important (and what isn’t).
- Their boss doesn’t define what is important. Their boss may assume the employee knows, or the boss hasn’t taken the time themselves to define it.
- They never ask!
And, if their job is like a lot of jobs, they don’t really get feedback till the annual performance review (which is sad – and another topic for another day – feedback should be frequent and consistent).
And what happens? Suddenly the employee finds out what they’ve been working on the entire time isn’t that important.
We all were hired to do something and to accomplish something. It’s hard to do it if we don’t know what that something is.
This applies to your career and life as a whole
You can apply this to your career, as well as your family and daily life.
Many people go through life without knowing their priorities – what is important. They haven’t defined what they want for their career, for their family, or for other parts of their lives.
They don’t “balance” the different areas of their life well or focus their time on areas that don’t move them forward because they haven’t prioritized what is important.
Steps to take to know what is important
Don’t waste another day of your life at work not knowing if what you are doing is what you were really hired to do and accomplish.
Here are some simple steps that you can take to help you make sure you know what is important:
1. Check your job description.
Sometimes we just look at the description when we apply and never look at it again. Check to see if it lays out specifically what you were hired to do and accomplish.
2. Talk to your supervisor about your MITs (most important tasks) and what you were hired to accomplish.
Sometimes job descriptions are vague. They don’t give specifics. If that is the case, set up a meeting with your supervisor/boss.
Before you go, outline the tasks you do. Write out what tasks you think you were hired to do and what you think you were hired to accomplish.
Then, ask the boss. See if your lists agree. Ask him/her what success looks like for you 1 year down the road.
If your supervisor doesn’t know, ask if you both can come to an agreement.
Make sure when you finish that conversation (or series of conversations), you are clear about what is important for you and what is not.
3. Look at your company goals and priorities.
One step that can help you see if what you are doing is important or not is to look at your company’s mission, goals, and priorities.
(This, of course, depends on how serious the company is about these. If they are just words on paper no one cares about, this may not apply to you as much.)
What tasks do you do that help drive the company toward its goals and its purpose? Those are likely to be some of the most important tasks you do.
If you are doing a lot of tasks that in no way move the company forward, then you may need to double-check what you are doing to make sure it is important.
- Are you 100% sure you know what you are hired to accomplish/do?
- Brian Tracy said in his book Eat That Frog, we all have 3 core tasks that are most important. Do you know what your key tasks are (even if it’s not exactly 3)?
- Are you and your boss in agreement with what your most important tasks are (and what you were hired to accomplish)? Talk with your boss (if you haven’t already) to make sure.
- Do you know how your job helps the company accomplish its purpose, mission, and goals?
- Personally, have you set down and set clear priorities about what is important in your life?
- Have you set clear goals of where you want to be in regard to your family, career, and other areas of your life?
2. Do What is Most Important
First, it’s extremely hard to be doing what’s important if you don’t know what is important (see the section above).
However, even when you do know what is important, it is so easy to get sidetracked and focus on tasks and projects that aren’t important.
Have you ever had a day where you were so busy, but you felt like you didn’t accomplish anything? That’s likely because you spent your time on tasks that weren’t part of your “important” tasks.
Here are some reasons why you get sidetracked:
The tasks are hard/odious, so you put them off, procrastinate, and avoid them.
- When it is a task you dread, you may work on less important tasks to avoid dealing with that one big, hard task you must do. You piddle, check emails, have a chat with a coworker – all because you don’t want to do that one (or those) tasks.
You get distracted by other people’s problems.
- Sometimes people may come to you with problems they need you to solve – and they need it done now. It’s urgent. They need a solution. They need you to take care of it. So you end up spending your time-solving other people’s problems instead of doing your work.
You don’t plan and prioritize.
- When you don’t plan the tasks you need to work on, when you don’t prioritize things, it’s easy to get trapped doing less important tasks. When you are deciding at the moment what to do, it’s harder to see the bigger picture and what tasks will bring greater results.
You get trapped in the urgent.
- This can come from the above reasons as well as everyday life. Things happen. You get an email. Someone stops by your desk. Urgent things happen, and because it is urgent, it seems important even when it may not be.
You get distracted by distractions.
- This entails the distractions above plus the other distractions that happen to you. It’s hard to get important work done when you are constantly distracted by unimportant things not related to what you need to do.
Here are some steps you can take to focus on what is most important:
Outline what you do
Outline the tasks you do throughout the day and week. Compare that to what your most important tasks are.
Which ones are you focusing on the most?
Planning is important because (a) it helps you see the big picture and (b) it keeps you from wasting time “figuring out” what to do next.
When you are deciding tasks “at the moment”, it’s harder to see the big picture and how important those tasks are in the big picture.
It becomes easy to focus on easy tasks which may not help move you forward.
When you plan ahead, you can focus on the big picture and prioritize the tasks that are most important. When the next day comes, you start off with those most important tasks.
It can be wise to even plan a week or a month ahead (to a degree) as it really helps you prioritize according to your goals and the big picture.
Situations do change and other needs may pop up that disrupt your plan. That’s okay. When you have a plan, you can compare the situations that pop up with your plan, see which is the most important, then act on it.
Your plan is not set in stone.
But, without it, it’s easy to end up chasing the urgent, no matter how important it is.
Do your most important tasks first
In the morning, focus on the most important tasks first.
Before you check email or do anything else (if possible) start working on and finish those tasks.
Sometimes those tasks seem hard or onerous, and we try to push them off till later.
The problem is, your day may get busy and you may never get to those tasks.
When you start off with your most important tasks, you get them done, you don’t have to dread it the rest of the day, and no matter how crazy your day goes, you can end it knowing you accomplished what was important for that day.
Learn to say no
One reason you may not get your most important tasks done is that you have a hard time saying “no”. Because you don’t so “no”, you end up spending your time doing other people’s work or dealing with other people’s urgent matters instead of your own work.
You may end up working extra hours or just not finish all the work you need to get done because you are doing other people’s work.
There’s nothing wrong with helping other people out. The problem comes when it keeps you from your most important tasks or when you allow others to take advantage of you because of your kindness.
Be selective in your yeses. Focus first on the importance of what they are asking you to do. Does it align with what is important in your job?
Also, look at what you need to do and where you are at with those. Remember, you were hired to accomplish something specific. If you keep doing other people’s work, you aren’t getting what you were hired to get done, done.
Look, too, to see if it’s something someone truly needs help with or if they are just taking advantage of you or just trying to get your to solve their problems for them instead of doing it themselves or taking responsibility.
Learn to say “no”.
Follow the 80/20 Rule
Pareto’s Rule, or the 80/20 Rule, states that 80% of our results come from 20% of our work.
Examine what the 20% of work you do is that produces the 80% of results. Look at the tasks that suck up your time but don’t produce much.
As much as possible, focus on the 20% that produces.
Follow the 4 D’s (Delay, Diminish, Delegate, Delete)
When planning what is important, make sure to implement the 4 D’s. Some tasks aren’t important right now, so they can be delayed.
Some aren’t a priority and can be diminished. They don’t have to be done to the same level as other tasks.
Some tasks you can delegate. If it’s not in your 20% or some of your core tasks, and they must be done, try to delegate as much as possible.
Some tasks have no value – delete them.
Ask your boss to help you focus on your MITs
If you talked with your boss and discussed what your MITs and core tasks are (and what you were hired to accomplish), talk with your boss about helping you focus on those tasks.
Create a sheet with all you do with your MITs on one side (and the tasks that move you forward toward what you were hired to accomplish), and move all the others to the other side.
Look how to reduce and diminish that list yourself first, then talk with your boss about how to diminish, delegate, or delete the tasks on the other side.
Focus on your strengths, not weaknesses (as much as possible)
As much as you can, focus on what you are good at and delegate or trade tasks in the areas you are weak.
The more you can focus on what you are good at, the more productive you will be.
(Of course, if you are weak in an area that is core to what you do, you may need to spend some time working in that area.)
Your personal life
This applies to your personal life.
Write out how you spend your time during the day and week. Are your daily activities matching what you said is important?
If you said time with family is a priority, are you spending all your time at work or cleaning or taking care of other needs instead of spending time with your family?
Plan your personal time. This will help you focus on what is most important in your personal life as well.
With your career, are you spending time learning areas and working in areas that will help you move forward in it?
- First, make sure you did step one (above) to make sure you know what tasks are important.
- Plan for the week and for the following day. This helps you see the bigger picture of what is important.
- Set aside time each day or night before and write out what tasks you need to do and which ones are most important.
- Prioritize the top 3+ tasks. On Fridays or Sunday nights, write out a basic plan of what you need to get done that next week.
- Do the most important tasks first.
- First thing in the morning, before checking email or anything else, start working on those tasks.
- Focus on the 20% of tasks that produce 80% of results.
- Follow the 4 D’s.
3. Constantly Be Learning (Especially in Your Most Important Areas)
This one simple suggestion can have one of the largest impacts among the 3 ways to improve your work performance.
If you really want to be better, to produce more, to grow in your career – never stop learning. Keep reading, watching videos on topics related to your career, going to seminars, conferences, etc.
Don’t stop. If you make learning a habit, you won’t regret it.
Technology changes. Times changes. If you aren’t learning, you are falling behind.
And if you aren’t learning, someone else is, and they will be the one more productive, more impactful, and they will be the ones to move forward, faster – not you.
What areas should you grow in?
1. Grow in your core areas
Focus on growing in the areas that are most important to your job. Even if you are “good” at a task, keep getting better.
The more you grow in the areas that you were hired to do, and that accomplish the most in your job, the more productive you will be, and the greater impact you will have.
2. Grow in the areas of your bottlenecks
A bottleneck is an area that reduces the productivity of all/most other areas because they depend on the output of that one area.
For example, if you have to type a lot of reports, but you still fingerpick and don’t know how to type, that itself will limit your report writing ability. You are bottlenecking your productivity.
If you learn to type, then you will greatly improve your work performance and impact.
Take some time to examine your work. What is slowing you down? What one task or skill, if improved, would increase the impact of your other areas?
Find that area and grow in it.
3. Grow your strengths, not your weaknesses (in general)
Generally, you won’t have to focus on your area of strengths and keep growing those while delegating your weaknesses (or trading tasks with someone else who is good at what you are not – and vice versa).
Too often people try to “round” themselves out when if they focused on what they are really good at, they could really increase their impact.
It’s not that you should never grow weak areas. There are times to do so (for example, if it’s a bottleneck). But in general, if you can focus on your strengths and delegate your weaknesses, your productivity will increase dramatically.
4. Grow in the areas that will grow your career (and impact your organization)
If certain skills will help you advance your career, grow in them. If there are certain skills that will have a greater impact on your organization and the results you bring it, do it!
The more you learn and grow, the faster you can move forward in your career and the greater impact you will have on your organization.
What are ways to grow?
- Make learning part of your daily routine
- Find what works best for you – reading, watching videos, audiobooks, podcasts, conferences, etc.
- Act on it – Start today if you aren’t already.
- Learn and grow yourself in the areas that are most important for your job.
- Find what the weakest point is in your core areas, your bottleneck, and work to overcome that bottleneck.
- Rinse and repeat (keep finding your weakest area in the core areas and fixing it).
- Think about what areas you need to grow your career – then grow in those areas.
- Think about what areas will have the most impact on your organization – grow in those areas (look to see how your career and organization goals can tie together).
Final Thoughts on the Essential 3 Ways to Improve Work Performance
The essential 3 ways to improve work performance and productivity are to:
- make sure you truly know what is important for you to do (your most important tasks, what you were hired to accomplish),
- to make sure you are doing those tasks,
- and to constantly and continually be learning.
If you do these 3 simple actions, you will be well on your way to being the most productive person in your organization.
Also Read: 33 Ways to Improve Work Performance Today