How To Get Things Done: 4 Levels of Productivity

Real productivity is not doing more, more efficiently. But it begins there. We need to develop personal disciplines of working efficiently. But efficiency only takes us so far. I’ve noticed that those who get things done practice 4 levels of personal productivity.

First, let me say productivity is a pipe dream. I keep thinking that someday I’m going to be more organized, more disciplined, more focused, and have more time to get everything done. The problem is, I’m already super productive! Think of how much you’re getting done now compared to 5 or 10 years ago. I’m probably double, what about you?

Here’s why it’s a pipe dream: It’s never enough. There’s a never-ending work load. No matter how much I do, there is always more I could do.

My personal calling drives me forward. I want to impact more people, learn new things, and accomplish new challenges. While my motives may be good, productivity still screams more, More, MORE!

4 Levels of Personal Productivity

I’ve observed four levels of personal productivity. Each level increases your productivity. In many ways, we need to master each level in order to move on to the next. Yet, as you move up, you usually have to continue the practices of the previous levels – although revised.

Level 1 Productivity: Optimize

Level 1 Productivity is doing what you do, more efficiently. It’s finding the best route to drive to work. It’s optimizing your morning routine. It’s doing all your necessary errands in as little time as possible. At work it’s running efficient meetings, having an effective system to process emails, and using various computer programs to cut the time it takes to do things.

At Level 1 ask: How can I do this more efficiently?

Ways to do this are the subject of my post: The Life You Want Someday Begins Today.

Level 2 Productivity: Increase

Level 2 Productivity is doing more, efficiently. If Level 1 is finding the best route to drive to work, Level 2 is taking the bus so that you can do your emails on the way to work. It’s increasing the number of tasks and activities that will move you forward. A couple years ago I added weekly blog posts to my communication strategy. Then added social media sharing of those posts. After adding these things, I figured out how to optimize getting them done (back to Level 1).

At Level 2 ask: What else could I do that would give me the best results?

Level 3 Productivity: Manage

Level 3 Productivity is managing others to do what you used to do or doing additional things. I hired an administrator to whom I could delegate tasks and processes. She took over those things and began doing them (Level 1 for her), got good at them, so I added more (Level 2). With my freed up time, I started doing new tasks (Level 2 for me), while I managed her (Level 3 for me).

Notice that the key word for this level is “Manage” not “Delegate.” For some strange reason we think that when we delegate something, we’re done. I wish it were so. We still must manage the person by training, coaching, supporting, and encouraging them. And this takes time. So, Level 3 is actually swapping some of our previous work for a less time intensive different work (managing). As the person doing that work become more efficient, the time trade-off becomes better.

At Level 3 ask: What is it that only I can do? Who can do the rest?

Level 4 Productivity: Focus

Level 4 Productivity is focusing in order to have a bigger impact. It’s not about how fast, or how much you can do. It’s actually the opposite. You have to slow down to speed up. We slow down by ruthlessly eliminating all the projects, products, meetings, processes, etc. that do not directly contribute to a singular focus.

Level 4 is going big on one thing rather than dabbling in a bunch of things. It’s about how little you (and your team) can do. It’s having laser focus on what’s important to achieving your singular objective. Sure, working on our big thing still means doing many different tasks. In that way, we’re back to levels 1 through 3 again. But we’re focused only on productivity pointed in only one direction, not 6 different directions hoping one or two will pan out.

You don’t begin with Level 4 Productivity. You must master self-management and management of others before you can successfully eliminate in order to focus. Otherwise, we eliminate tasks and simply fill the space with other meaningless pursuits.

At Level 4 ask: What is the one thing I want to go big on?

I’m on this journey too. I’m mostly struggling with Level 4 right now. I see all the opportunities, projects, and products I could work on and ask, Will this narrow my focus or expand it?

Slow down to go fast. Focus to increase. It’s counter-intuitive. And it’s productive.

Question: Share your experience as it relates to the 4 Levels. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    3 thoughts on “How To Get Things Done: 4 Levels of Productivity

    1. Hi Keith, this reminds me of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Bottom line is, are we using our strengths & gifts effectively to serve others well, or are we using our time & energy to build up our own image and reputation.
      As an example, if I am gifted in teaching and encouragement, yet I insist to stay in a role of operational leadership, no matter how laserlike my focus is, i will potentially burn out and lose my capacity to produce and serve.

    2. Keith: Sorry I missed reading this when it first emerged. This is great thinking, and especially relevant to both the profit and non-profit sectors! Thanks for your clarity of insight. Steve