Wrestling with Alligators

21/10/2016 |
  • Call back “Ian” (I don’t know who Ian is, or why he called)
  • Complete our “short” customer service survey. (It’s not that short!)
  • Set up an introductory lunch. Do intro by email.
  • Buy yellow roses for dinner party. Forget it. Pink carnations will do just fine.

My actions seemed so harsh. With one keystroke, I eliminated items from my to-do list with wild abandon. I felt a rush of adrenalin like I was wrestling snapping alligators to the ground. “You go, girl,” I said to myself.

Not all information is worth your attention

Learning how to process the endless amount of information that comes our way every minute of every day is essential for the Productivity Ninja. Equally important, however, is learning how to protect your time and attention from being consumed by such information. In fact, one of the nine characteristics of a Productivity Nina is ruthlessness. Ruthlessness is focusing only on the things that add the greatest impact, even at the expense of other things that are ‘worth doing’.

Think of this concept as 1-800-Got-Junk for information. Sure, you may be able to delegate it to someone else, or figure out a more efficient way of dealing with it, but there is a lot that just has to go. And your decision has to be made quickly, otherwise you continue to be dragged down by the choices.


Why do we hang on to tasks we don’t need to do?

Hanging on to tasks we don’t need to do is partly our fault. According to Harvard Business Review, we instinctively cling to tasks that make us feel busy and thus important, while our bosses, constantly striving to do more with less, pile on as many responsibilities as we’re willing to accept. The same article reports on a 3-year study on how knowledge workers could become more productive. The workers spent almost half of their time on discretionary activities that offered little personal satisfaction. The study concluded that such workers could become more productive simply by eliminating or delegating unimportant tasks and replacing them with value-added ones.

Easier said than done, of course.

But the study’s conclusion provides helpful advice about saying no. Asking ourselves, “is this a value-added task?” helps assess not just the productivity value, but also, the emotional, health, entertainment, and other kinds of value that certain activities give us—or not.

Assessing the value of tasks

Here are some questions to consider when reviewing a list of tasks with Ninja ruthlessness:

  • Can I drop this task with no negative effect? (For example, is completing that survey really worth my time?)
  • Is this task going to deplete my energy or renew it? That is, walking the dog might actually make you feel better; driving grumpy Aunt Lottie to the library one more time might just put you back into therapy.
  • And finally, will saying no put you back in control?

There’s an old saying, “When you’re up to your waist in alligators, it’s easy to forget the original goal was to drain the swamp.” Information that demands your attention is like those alligators snapping at you, trying to gain your attention. Once you’ve wrestled them out of the way by saying no, you can return to what is most important for you— it could be a business goal for your company, or a personal goal for a more balanced life.

It doesn’t matter which, what matters is that you’re now back in focus, back in control of your own life—and free those annoying alligators.


By Beth Parker

Beth Parker is a Canadian author and ghostwriter engaged in a continual struggle to balance the needs of her business with the welcomed chaos of five children, a husband and various pets. She has a BA (English), University of Toronto, and an MA (Journalism). In her fictional spare time, she paints pictures.

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