Reduce stress levels and increase your productivity by getting rid of all loose ends
Loose ends, like loose shoelaces, will trip you up. They stop you from concentrating on the big rocks – those tasks that speed you towards your personal and professional goals. They disrupt your focus, drain your energy and fill you with frustration. They kill personal productivity.
In this post, you’ll learn how to boost your personal productivity by tying up those loose ends with a simple five-step strategy.
What are loose ends anyway?
Loose ends are small or big tasks that you haven’t yet done anything about. You need, or want to do them, but you haven’t processed them into your productivity system. Still, you think about them regularly (“I mustn’t forget I need to do XXX and YYY”). The big denominator for loose ends is that they are somewhere stored in your brain, instead of in your productivity system.
Where do loose ends come from?
I wish I had the exact answer to this. If only it were this simple, you could simply cut off the source and never suffer a loose end again! Unfortunately, life doesn’t quite work this way. Loose ends come from multiple sources. Some examples:
- Interactions with other people – for example, meetings, phone calls, and voicemails
- Email (Just one reason it’s essential to learn how to drastically reduce email overload), or other messaging services
- Social Media
- Something you heard on the radio, watched on the television, read in an article or book
- Your very own thoughts
- Physical mail you receive
- And many more..
Common loose ends we all neglect
Often, loose ends are those small tasks we really don’t like, which seem to be not urgent at this moment, but which we really have to do sometime soon. We know these tasks need to be done, but we constantly push them to the back of our mind. For example:
- Booking your car in for a service
- Completing your tax return
- Paying a credit card bill
Other common loose ends are things we really want to do (which are important to us), but to which we haven’t really committed to yet. Some examples:
- Going through the business cards you received during a networking event
- This big idea that came to you while driving to the office
- A promise you made to a colleague that you haven’t yet fulfilled
- Phone calls you want to return
- Going through the notes you made during a training workshop
- Sorting through your wardrobe and discarding clothes you no longer wear
Loose ends steal your focus and decrease your productivity
The brain works in mysterious ways. It stores all your loose ends in your subconscious. Then it reminds you of them when you least expect and least want. This manifests as thoughts of these loose ends when you can’t do anything about them – or don’t want to. Here are a couple of examples:
- You may be halfway through composing a complicated spreadsheet when you think about a phone call you’ve been meaning to make for a week. Your concentration is blown, and it takes you 10 minutes to recover your focus. That’s 10 productive minutes lost. And you still did not make the phone call.
- Or perhaps you’ve been to the supermarket, and it’s only when you are nearly home that you remember you had to buy toilet paper. What do you do? Spend 30 minutes on a return trip, or hope your existing supplies last until the next time you are shopping?
Whether your loose ends are small tasks that are about to slip through the cracks or things that you might forget, the result is wasted energy and brainpower, and a loss of focus as thinking about loose ends distracts you from what you are currently doing. And did I mention the stress they can cause?
How to deal with loose ends
Whether you are already a productivity expert, or a total unorganised chaotic person, we all have loose ends in our lives. They come up all the time, even without us asking for it. So the challenge for all of us is to keep up with them, for which I recommend the following 5-step strategy:
Step 1: Capture all loose ends
As soon as something pops up, whatever it is, capture it in an ‘inbox’:
- Define a maximum of five inboxes, and assign potential loose ends to them. For example, you might record notes of phone calls in a notebook. You may have an actual box for letters and bills. You could use your email inbox to record ‘notes to self’. You might create a dedicated note in Evernote or OneNote.
- Always have at least one inbox with you, wherever you are. Your task manager’s inbox on your mobile phone or a small notebook is perfect for this. Whatever ‘comes in’, record it.
- Regularly review your inboxes (see step 5 below).
Step 2: Do it immediately
If the potential loose end is something quick and easy to do, just do it. Now. Don’t leave it to disrupt your focus later.
Step 3: Decide not to do it!
Think about the item. Do you really need to do it? Is it deadly important? If you decide not to do it, what impact will it have? If you decide not to do something, you are telling your brain to forget it and you'll free up your brainpower.
Step 4: Delegate
Is there someone else who could do this task better or quicker? If so, delegate to him or her. Increasingly, I’m seeing people from all walks of life using virtual assistants (VAs) for this reason. These people delegate a host of personal and professional tasks to their VAs, freeing their time to boost their own personal productivity.
Step 5: Review daily
Dedicate 15 minutes of every day to reviewing your loose ends inboxes, and create new tasks in your task manager or calendar:
- Review your inboxes
- Check your most recent notes
- Consider who you spoke to today, and any promises you made
- Recheck your voicemail
- Check all the papers and notes you collected during the day, and clean up
When was the last time you reviewed your loose ends?
If you employ the above five-step strategy, you’ll find you eliminate productivity-sapping loose ends. Don’t delay this process. Start now. Sit down for 15 minutes, and write down everything that you still must do and that is bugging you. Then either do it, delegate it, delay, delete, or schedule in your personal productivity system.
If you want to boost your personal productivity and professional effectiveness, contact me today. Together, we’ll develop a plan to help you achieve more and be better than ever.