Tag Archives: productivity

The 5 Ds of Productivity: How to Use Them to Your Advantage

When it comes to managing overwhelm and juggling multiple priorities, the 5 Ds of productivity come in handy.

The 5 Ds are: Do, Diminish, Delegate, Defer, and Delete. Your mental obstacles and bad habits can get in the way of implementing them.

Here are tips to overcome the psychological barriers and self-sabotaging behaviors that can stop you from using the 5 Ds effectively:


1. Do

Procrastination often leads to long to-do lists without the necessary follow through. Putting things off can create more overwhelm, reduce the quality of your work, cause you to miss deadlines, and damage your reputation.

In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen advises that if an action will take less than two minutes, do it as soon as it’s defined. You also first need to prioritize what’s most important to you, then break down the task or project into small, manageable steps that you can readily execute. Carve out non-negotiable time to complete each step.

In certain situations though, procrastination can work. Sometimes you do need to reflect on things, clarify your intentions, and determine your ultimate goal before you take action. Some problems take care of themselves if you stay out of them. Some circumstances improve over time and with little or no effort on your part.

Choose the right things to do. Doing the wrong things might offer temporary relief, but no long-term value. If a colleague fires off an angry email to you, the temptation might be to craft and send an immediate, defensive response. But it’s best to wait until you’re in a calmer state of mind and address it on your own terms. Or you could just ignore it.

Do the things that really matter. Embrace procrastination when it works.

2. Diminish

Being a perfectionist can cause you put in too much effort, energy and time into minor things that have minimal value. Perfectionists tend to be perpetually anxious, generally dissatisfied, and overly goal-oriented.

When a task or project must be done by you personally, focus on the most critical aspects rather than the trivial pieces. Perhaps a timely first draft is more important than a flawless but delayed final version. Strive to deliver a good, workable product instead of perfecting the parts that don’t matter. If the client wants a simple solution that takes care of the basics, there’s no need to deliver one loaded with bells and whistles.

Pinpoint what you can’t control — such as how critics feel about you — and let it go. Focus on what you can do to influence the situation, improve your circumstances, and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.

At times, being a perfectionist can present advantages. Maintaining impeccable standards and high expectations, and aiming for them, can work to your benefit. Catching damaging errors and paying attention to critical details are typical strengths among perfectionists, including many lawyers, surgeons and accountants.

Diminish tasks that aren’t valuable to others or meaningful to you. Allow your perfectionist tendencies to help you hone your craft, without forcing you to lose sight of the big picture.

3. Delegate

Delegating tasks or projects to another person is hard when you’re a control freak or a micro-manager. You want things done a certain way and you’re hardly ever satisfied with the results of others’ efforts.

But in many instances, you need to delegate and hand over control to others — especially when the task doesn’t have to be done by you and can be done better by others. L. David Marquet, author of Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders, describes levels of leadership in which you move from telling people what to do to not telling people what to do. The levels he sets forth are as follows:

Level 1: “Tell me what to do..:”

Level 2: “I think…”

Level 3: “I recommend…”

Level 4: “Request permission to…”

Level 5: “I intend to…”

Level 6: “I just did…”

Level 7: “I’ve been doing…”

When you encourage others to take responsibility, you free up your time to focus on strategic matters and critical tasks that are better handled by you. You also reduce overwhelm due to taking on too much, as well as boost your productivity in areas that truly count.

Normally, however, you cannot delegate until you have defined what tasks need to be accomplished or what problem has to be solved. Setting healthy boundaries and reasonable limits also doesn’t mean you’re a control freak or a micro-manager.

Delegate responsibility to others who can do the thing just as well, if not better than you. Channel your desire for control into communicating assertively when lines are crossed.

4. Defer

Overachievers have trouble deferring goals and dreams for later, even when they are at peak capacity. They load up on stimulants, work around the clock, and attempt to multitask to get the maximum amount of things done in limited time. But going into overdrive – with no breaks for refueling and recharging – adds wear and tear. Running out of steam compromises your ability to accomplish your highest priorities.

If something is important to you, and you just don’t have time for it now, deferring it is a viable option. Set a reminder for when you will start to take action on the deferred item. Keep a journal for all your creative ideas that require fleshing out. Create a bucket list or someday list for things that call for more planning, but can wait.

Realize that setting goals and having the desire to achieve them can move you out of temporary dips. Knowing your ideal direction allows for strategic thinking, deliberate choosing and achieving your top priorities.  But you can still lead a purposeful life, even if you experience disappointment from not achieving a goal, big or small.

Defer pursuits that you still consider worthwhile, but must give way to more important matters and true emergencies. Use your ambition to get you to the next level without running yourself to the ground.

5. Delete

When you’re a people-pleaser, it can be very uncomfortable to say no. You say yes to projects that are boring or stressful to you because you want to help someone out of a jam. You agree to commitments that aren’t in line with your priorities because you want to be of service.

Your time, energy and attention span are limited. Say no to requests gently, directly and compassionately, while nixing the guilt.  Consider moving goals off your someday list if they have lost their luster and reflect an old version of you.

The habit of striving to make others happy, to the detriment of your well being, can be transformed into a more positive quality. There is a big difference between a kind person who genuinely cares about others and a people-pleaser who depends on others for validation.

Decline unsuitable job offers, re-negotiate commitments that don’t match your values, and delete icky tasks you don’t have to do. If you want to serve your community well, hit the delete button to clear out unnecessary clutter and create desired space for what really moves you. Give yourself room to breathe.


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Photo by: Phil Dolby

top 10 lazy ways to get things done

Over the past 13 months, I’ve blended parenting into what I thought was an already challenging work-life mix. Since July last year, my kid has grown from being a defenseless newborn to now an assertive toddler.

Along with parenting, I’ve kept a thriving law practice and continued to coach, write and speak on creating a purposeful and enriched life. My marriage, relationships, and friendships also remain top priorities. Then there’s my taking weekly piano lessons, learning music theory, and mastering contemporary to classical pieces. And while I no longer practice yoga, tai chi, or meditation daily, I still turn to them when I need that extra glow.

Objectively, my work-life mix is by no means extraordinary (other way more productive, creative, successful people get tons more done). But personally, it keeps me fulfilled and moving toward my BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals).

Although I sometimes wish I had more than 24 hours in a day and the energy of iron man Rich Roll, I mostly rely on “lazy” way to get things done. Here are my top 10:

10. Work in short bursts. This could mean 90 minutes of work followed by a 15-minute break. Or it could involve breaking down your work in 25-minute blocks with short breaks in between. Or you could set aside just ten minutes to perform the task.  When time’s up, stop and move on to something else (or keep going if you’re in the zone).

The energy and attention you bring to the task is just as, if not more, important than the time you spend on it. Limiting your work hours often leads to sharper focus.

9. Complete big journeys in tiny steps. Whether you’re setting up a new business, creating an online course, or writing a book, chip away at it in easy, micro steps.

Break down the big project into small, actionable to-dos. Then take the first step and the next one. Find your ideal teacher. Sign up for the art class. Go to class. Buy the watercolor paint brushes. Fill out the canvas.

8. Embrace “good enough.”  You don’t always have to impress your friends and enemies with epic, ground-breaking stuff. Save your best work for when excellence counts. Forget about crossing all your t’s and dotting all your i’s in a routine report that everyone just skims.

Tolerate tiny mistakes. Accept your limitations. Do the job well enough to keep your clients, build your reputation, and avoid getting fired. But don’t expect to execute perfectly every single time. Perfectionism will drive you mad.

7. Make it a habit. Reduce decision-making fatigue by narrowing down your options, making repeatable and satisfactory choices, and following routines. President Obama wears only gray or blue suits because, as he told Vanity Fair, “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Willpower is a limited resource. Maintaining self-control can be exhausting. Routinize the mundane areas of your life. Develop healthy habits and break bad habits. So you don’t have to think and work so hard.

6. Get help.  Delegate. Barter. Hire someone. Stop micromanaging and trust your team to figure it out on their own. Accept help – especially when it’s free, reliable, and offered with enthusiasm and no strings attached.

5. Take a break. When you’re feeling depleted and drained, getting the caffeine boost or sugar rush isn’t truly what you need. A weary body is often a wake-up call to get more sleep. Nap whenever and wherever you can.

Don’t disrespect your inner energy with artificial stimulants. Invigorate yourself naturally. Step outside for some fresh air. Listen to the birds and the trees rustling. Stroll at sunset or walk in the moonlight. Sit quietly and meditate. Or go for a run or hop on your bike. Taking a break gets you recharged, refreshed, and ready to take action.

4. Put things off.  Deliberate delay isn’t necessarily unproductive. It can lead to an extra burst of energy or add to your sense of urgency to get the thing done. If you work well and deliver good results under external pressure, putting things off until the last minute does little or no harm.

Procrastination works in many situations.  It can also cause you to lose projects that weren’t right for you, didn’t matter to you, or didn’t capitalize on your strengths. (Good riddance!) Sometimes what looks like procrastination is really incubation (i.e. your mind is preparing for work and you’ll snap into action when the time is right).

3. Do what you feel like doing. Permit yourself to just do what you want to – at least for an hour each day. Ease up on the self-imposed deadlines, let go of obligations, and drop the productivity rules. (You can get back to them later if you must.) Think about what excites you, gets the creative juices flowing, and lights your fire. Then do that thing.

2. Do less. Simplify and shrink your to-do list. Have just three main things to do on a given day. Focus on only three big goals in the week. Do one thing at a time. Declutter your life so you have one less thing to do, clean or maintain. Buy wrinkle-free clothes so you don’t have to iron much. Stop buying stuff unless it’s absolutely beautiful and/or useful to you.

Doing less frees you up to create your best work and deliver top-notch results on the things that matter. It makes room for interruptions, distractions and emergencies that are bound to come up. Don’t commit to anything else when you’re working on a major goal that deserves your undivided attention.

1. Do nothing. Many things take care of themselves and get resolved without your interference. There’s often no need for you to send a reminder note or make a follow-up call. The package arrives at your doorstep when you’re home. The approval letter you’ve been waiting for eventually comes in the mail. Your client sends the exact information you need to finalize the project.

Step out of the way and let things happen naturally.

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This top 10 list is not for those who are lazy in the traditional sense.  It requires a more focused and conscious approach to productivity. Instead of being super busy all the time, you get to decide what really matters and get those things done at the right time.


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Photo by: ShellyS

The power of NO

True productivity is not about working long stretches and getting it all done.

It’s about choosing what you say yes to and what you say no to. It’s about maximizing your impact in areas that are significant to you and where you make the most difference.

Being a team player, volunteering for extra duties, and offering to help are positive behaviors. But saying yes to every request can lead to missed deadlines, low-quality work, delays in critical projects, high stress, lingering resentment, and failure to keep commitments and promises.

Even when it’s better to say no, you might say yes because:

(a) You want to be friendly, agreeable, liked or popular.

(b) You think you would harbor a sense of guilt if you walked away.

(c) You fear you will not be called upon for future opportunities if you pass on the present request.

(d) You believe you have no choice.

But the reality is:

(a)  There are many ways to say no without getting blacklisted.

(b)  There are times when you must walk away from stuff that’s wrong for you or distracts you from your real priorities.

(c)  There will be future opportunities if you state that you would love to help, except the request involves areas outside your expertise or focus, or you have prior commitments that are non-negotiable.

(d)  The decision to not over-commit is always a choice.

The next time you get an impromptu request, ask yourself the following:

(1)   Do you lack the interest, knowledge, resources or skills to complete the task efficiently and effectively?

(2) Is there a more appropriate person who can do the task just as well, if not better?

(3) Will handling it consume too much of the time you need to tackle your major projects?

(4) Are you capable of higher-level work that would provide greater value?

(5) Are you getting dumped on with other people’s priorities?

The more yes’s you have to these questions, the more reasons you have to say no. If no seems too drastic, you could say not now, ask for more time, or refer someone else. But think before you jump to yes — or you could wind up earning the reputation of being unreliable or scattered.

When you’re busy reacting to distractions, interruptions, and other people’s issues, you will be less focused on your major projects and top priorities. Feeling overwhelmed saps your energy and blocks your creativity.

But when you clear out clutter and tune out static, you can be truly productive. You can savor the present, live your vision, and produce amazing results in areas where you really want to be and where others need you the most.


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Photo by: Horia Varlan