How to Achieve Stress-Free Productivity: A Guide for HR Leaders

tablet on a work desk helping with stress-free productivity

Stress-free productivity is the goal for every worker. Here's a quick guide from "Getting Things Done" for busy HR leaders.

Stress-free productivity is the goal for every worker — to feel on top of their workloads without being weighed down mentally and emotionally by to-dos.

In the productivity classic "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity," author David Allen writes: "It's possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do, and still function productively with a clear head and positive sense of self-control… You already know how to do everything necessary to achieve this healthy, high-performance state. If you're like most people, however, you need to apply these skills in a more timely, complete and systematic way so you can get on top of it all instead of feeling buried."

In a series of must-read books for HR leaders, we're taking a closer look at how you can apply these strategies to your own workload and help your team get more done.

Do It, Delegate It, Defer It and Drop It

Allen recommends a systematic approach to evaluating your workload and assessing each new input. Even when you have a lengthy to-do list, it's possible to look critically at any incoming request or assignment and quickly make a decision about it. At a high level, Allen's system consists of:

Drop it: The first question to ask is whether something is actionable. If the answer is no, then "drop it." Dropping it can mean adding it to a list for later, throwing it in the trash or retaining it for reference in the future. Generally speaking, these items get no more immediate attention — and maybe no more attention at all.

Do it: Will the action take two minutes or fewer? If so, take action on it immediately. Answer an email, send a report or return a call. Quick, easy-to-resolve actions come off your plate. More complex items you have to face yourself get deferred to a project plan, where you define the actions you need to take and then feed it back into your system.

Delegate it: If the action will take more than a few minutes, can you delegate it? Delegating might mean handing it off to someone else, hiring talent (for example, to help with managing social media or cleaning your home) or simply waiting for someone else to tackle the problem if it's not your core responsibility.

Defer it: If a project or action will take longer than you can take to complete it, simply add it to your list. This might mean adding to your Next Actions list, which you turn to when you have time to be productive. Or it could mean scheduling time on your calendar to address it later.

Putting This System Into Action

Busy managers, especially, can benefit from putting this system into action. At a higher level, it's useful to think about getting better at specific parts of the process.

Capture: If you're a typical busy manager, you have requests coming via email, text, instant messenger, quarterly goals, verbal questions and more. Developing a capture system means simply creating a "command central" to hold all these items in one place. Your capture system might be a list, bullet journal, project management system or another system that works for you. The goal is to streamline your information capture process and minimize the "catches" to as few as possible. Allen writes that most people struggle with this because "Most of their commitments to do something are still in their head. The number of coulds, shoulds, might-want-tos and ought-tos they create in their minds are way out beyond what they have recorded anywhere else."

Clarify: Creating a list is just the first step. As Allen notes, "Random lists strewn everywhere, meeting notes, vague to-dos on Post-its on their refrigerator, computer screen or in their Tasks function in a digital tool - all lie not acted on and numbing to the psyche in their effect." Each item on the list is set in motion by deciding what action to take — do it, delegate it, defer it or drop it.

Organize: It's important to create a schedule and plan to organize your actions. Your Next Actions list can always be referred to, whether a moment pops up or you have an hour blocked on your calendar. As Allen says, "Others make good decisions about stuff in the moment, but lose the value of that thinking because they don't organize the results."

Reflect: Stay current. Once you've created a system, it's important to keep it up to date — whether you're clearing out old tasks, adding in new ones or checking your calendar so you know what's coming up next.

Ways to Help Your Team Increase Productivity

If "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" is helping you tackle your workload, it may also make sense to share insights from the system with your team. One option is getting them copies of the book or providing them access to one of the associated training courses. However, implementing the principles can be just as useful. Consider the following approaches:

  1. Provide access to tools that make capture possible: Invest in tools that help your team stay organized. Project management systems and to-do apps are effective methods.
  2. Focus on action: Encourage your team to take immediate action on requests that cross their desks. Reinforce this by having managers ask employees during one-on-ones or staff meetings if there are outstanding requests they haven't been able to solve. Managers can suggest plans of attack and help clear up blocks.
  3. Dedicate time to organization: It's difficult to stay organized when days are packed with endless meetings, deadlines and other commitments. Build your organization's schedules so employees have at least 15 minutes each day or an hour each week to organize their systems and stay on top of their workloads. Stress-free productivity takes some time to organize.

Stress-free productivity is attainable with the right systems. Start with the way you think about your projects and workload, and focus on a systematic progression from capture to action to keeping your system current. Not only can it help individual managers, but there are strategies that can help your team.