Here’s a very simple change in thinking that can transform your work. I call it output orientation.

output

Normally when we think about goal or task completion, we tend to concentrate on organizing and scheduling around the procedures that will create what we want.

With a slight shift, we focus our attention on the tangible results we want to see during the process.

Essentially we are setting our filters to the physicality of our goals – — for example, in business, they will sometimes use the jargon word “deliverables” to describe what we will produce and “hand over” or “pass on” to someone else.

Typically, people think about “what I have to do today” or “Today’s To Do List”, and then write down the actions they have to take in a list – “send email to Susan”, “write draft proposal for XYZ”, “make grocery list for dinner party on Sun”, etc.

That is all well and good if you are the sort of the person who follows lists as guides to your action. You may be surprised to learn (or not be surprised at all) that many people are not moved to action by what is written on a list.

One person whom I was speaking about their productivity issues with said, “I look at a to-do list, and it seems like suggestions or options rather than what I’m going to do.”

On the other hand, I know one senior executive who is very careful about what he puts on his to-do list because once something goes on the list, it MUST be done, and in the order, it is set down on the list.

This is one of the reasons why expensive time management systems often go unused or tried for a short period and then set aside.

The secret is that most of these proprietary branded systems are based on “The Master List Principle” (a concept from the 1950s).

Everything is sorted from a master list of projects and tasks into planners, and diaries, etc. but the key to making any of these systems work, is that you have to be someone who works with and responds to lists of tasks as imperatives rather than as suggestions.

While we’re at it, another reason the time management and productivity industry makes billions is that so many customers attempt to use an external system to structure and resolve their internal analysis, decision making, and planning problems but IT’S THE WRONG WAY.

If you’ve bought several or many different time management systems and failed with them, or only use a tiny portion of them; it’s quite likely you tried to fit their strategy without reference to where you were starting from and what you were struggling with.

There is no one size fits all perfect system (regardless of what the marketers say), and the effort you will expend to attempt to shortcut from one place (yours) to another, without the fundamental strategies in place first, is just a waste of time, money and energy.

Whether you are building a skyscraper or software application, you have to get the foundations in place BEFORE you start the project or watch it fail later.

With the output orientation, we are changing how we think about what we are going to do, but also how we think about and adjust what we are doing along the way.

Using the examples of tasks on the to-do list from above and thinking tangible results — quantities, qualities, criteria — and also the benefits that we will receive rather than just the “things” we’ll get done.

So, using the transformed examples from above that follow, let’s extend the descriptions a bit more than we normally would to give you the idea.

In practice they are written in a punchy and concise way:

  • “send email to Susan”
    “email three short paragraphs to Susan – thanking her for input, sharing results, invite for coffee”
  • “write draft proposal for XYZ”
    “skeletal outline a 5-page proposal std format for Bill Jones at GadgetCo – headlining his three key criteria -> discuss with the team on Weds.”
  • “make grocery list for dinner party on Friday”,
    “create a menu that will thrill Darren, Dora, Bobbie and Max on Friday and turn it into a shopping list”

Look at each matched pair and notice the differences between them.

  • Does one of the pair sound more appealing to do?
  • Does one of the pair have more detail about the final form of the output?
  • Does one of the pair have more prosperity criteria?

When the outputs are well-crafted you have a much better idea of exactly what you are aiming for and, in some cases, some of the thinking is already done so when you are scheduling; you can just begin rather than thinking about beginning.

I hope this makes sense to you because when you shift your thinking to the outputs rather than the tasks that make up the outputs – taking action becomes more appealing, smoother and it leads to happier results as well.

Start with this one days’ worth of outputs and redraft your task list or make a new one… it is worth the effort; I promise you.


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