A very famous story told by Stephen Covey, author of the book ‘The 7 Habits of highly effective people’, provides a valuable lesson about life. One day a man was strolling through a forest when he came across a lumberjack who seemed extremely irritated. Upon conversing, it was discovered that the lumberjack was trying to cut down the tree but due to the blunt saw his efforts were unfruitful. When the man simply asked the lumberjack, why he didn’t sharpen the saw and came back to cut the tree, the lumberjack replied “I don’t have time to stop!” This story perfectly portrays the scenario most of us, in particular the youth, face today, where we are focused on being busy, rather than being productive and are so engulfed by the not so important aspects of life that when it throws something valuable back us we are unable to handle the responsibility.
The big question is, how did we ever manage to reach this stage? The main reason for this directionless adventure is firstly because of absence of channelised discipline and secondly, lack of productivity. It is easier to put the blame on LUCK or lack of it, but the truth is we are chasing the ‘dream’ others are living, looking for the easy life but not wanting to put in any effort and finally basing our judgments and decisions on what others in society are doing. We consider luck as some kind of miracle, however as Roman philosopher Seneca famously said “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. Now as human beings we have developed two major modes through which we operate; a reactive mode and a proactive mode. I recently learnt a very valuable lesson from my mentor and friend Engr. Muhammad Ahsen Mirza that being reactive leads to highly ineffective outputs because we are learning without knowing, while operating in a proactive state means that we are aware of what we are learning and actively connecting the dots. You see luck itself gives us two options; natural selection and a choice. Through natural selection we were born into our current family tree, but we have been given the choice of what legacy we want to leave behind. By taking the proactive path we are able to imbue a disciplined life and enhance our level of productivity.
Productivity is a concept that people today fail to understand properly. We associate productivity with macro and micro trends through which the society as a whole is being run. With the rapid advancements 21st century equipped us with, we are no longer supposed to be ‘operators’, but ‘skilled knowledge workers’ with the ability to manage ourselves. This means the first and foremost thing we should be focusing on is ourselves and our value i.e. how ‘I’ as an individual can provide a relevant output which ‘we’ as a team can convert into a relevant outcome.
Over recent times the most common thing I have overheard people say is; ‘everyone talks about the various skills we need and urgency in acquiring them but no one really explains how we acquire them’. Since we are talking about productivity, I will take it as the basis for my explanation. Taking that very first step is always the most difficult thing because we are uncertain of the path we are treading onto. However that ‘shadow’ of uncertainty that looms over us gets eliminated as soon as we start to incorporate certain characteristics in our life i.e. integrity, maturity, abundance mentality and interdependency. Through these we are able to enhance productivity and develop skills. And as difficult as it may seem, there is no rocket science involved, all we have to do is add a few rules into the mix and we end up with a recipe that is bound to give our life a discipline we were truly searching for.
Rule number one, wake up early. Being an early bird gives us the necessary kick start for the day ahead. In addition to more hours, studies have suggested that a person who wakes early has better decision making power, is more energetic and requires less time to complete task.
Rule number two, cherish time. Entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of Paypal, Tesla inc. and SpaceX considered the ‘ninja’ of time management and known for his 100 hour work weeks uses every minute at his disposal to set out tasks according to estimated time.
Rule number three, start using the Eisenhower Decision Matrix to help prioritise tasks (figure 1).
Rule number four, break down tasks into smaller pieces so that if we do make a mistake the loss is easier to bear and can be corrected without extra effort. Rule number five, ‘learn’ not study. Researching allows us to learn new ways to understand things and overcome the single sided bias, thus making us more proactive. Finally, the most important of all, Rule number six, DO NOT look busy and do nothing, prepare yourself for the opportunity that is just around the corner and grasp it before it is gone.
I recently learnt a very valuable lesson from my mentor and friend Engr. Muhammad Ahsen Mirza that being reactive leads to highly ineffective outputs because we are learning without knowing, while operating in a proactive state means that we are aware of what we are learning and actively connecting the dots.