A former colleague of mine had a post-it note on his wall that read: You have as many hours in the day as Beyoncé. Inspiring words, but for those of us in professional services (rather than entertainment) it can feel like the to-do lists never end.
I recently watched a webinar on productivity given by MIT Sloan School of Management Senior Lecturer Robert Pozen. There was a lot of useful information in the webinar, but one piece of advice really resonated: begin with the end.
“Beginning with the end” means letting your desired outcome drive the planning and execution of your task. If you are cognizant of what your end-goal is, it will make tackling projects of any scope a lot easier—whether that’s writing an email or the final report of a multi-phased segmentation study.
At CMB, we always begin with the end in mind. When kicking off a project, we meet with key client stakeholders to align on business and research objectives. We leverage our proprietary Business Decision tools to identify what the desired business objectives are, and use that information to inform our research objectives and design. This preliminary decision-focused conversation ensures the research solution, story, and results are actionable and will deliver meaningful outcomes with true business impact.
Once the project is kicked off, no time should be wasted—consider building out a narrative and recording tentative conclusions as soon as data starts coming in. It can be tremendously helpful to have a mid-field check of the data to revise those conclusions, and then do a final revision once you have all the data. The story might not change much during this time, but writing and revising your conclusions prior to the close of an initiative can make delivering the final report less stressful.
Particularly in market research, there’s pressure to deliver results faster than ever. When you start with the end in mind, you can be building out the story in an iterative process, rather than scrambling to at the end. Since unearthing a clear and meaningful story is one of the most important pieces of a project, you’re only helping yourself (and your colleagues) by beginning with the end.
Other ways to improve productivity
As I mentioned, there were loads of other useful tips from Pozen’s webinar on how to increase productivity:
- Write down your daily goals: Rome wasn’t built in a day, so jot down objectives you can realistically accomplish today.
- Don’t exhaust your schedule: Avoid scheduling every minute of your day. Having a calendar filled with meetings may look productive, but it’s important to include “thinking time” for yourself.
- Include work and non-work tasks: Your list should include routine essentials like going to the gym or having dinner with your family. This will help maintain a healthy work/life balance and will give you time to “recharge”.
- Manage your inbox: If you’re in the zone, don’t feel pressured to stop and respond to each email immediately (unless it’s urgent, of course). Instead, set aside time a little later to respond to all emails.
- Let go of perfectionism: Do you reread an email 5 times before you hit send? Scan through a deck repeatedly? Chances are, it were ready to go after the second review, so save your mental energy for something else and move on.
- Quit procrastinating: One of the biggest hurdles to getting things done is simply starting them.
I’m now being mindful of how I can incorporate these practices into my life to maximize my productivity, and in turn, hope to tip the scale of my work/life balance in favor of a more stress-free work week. I hope you can too!
Caitlin Dailey is a Senior Project Manager on the Financial Services, Insurance, and Healthcare team at CMB and is looking forward to trying out these tactics to help get her out of the office a little earlier in 2018.