By Magdalena Bak-Maier, Founder, Make Time Count

Nothing comes close to the heart of general productivity like doing the things you really want to do, doing them efficiently and getting the desired results. However, as time passes, we often accumulate activities that, while not necessarily ones we can drop, certainly don ’t seem to attract high - level enthusiasm, commitment or drive.

In today ’s busy world, many people are doing more and more tasks and end up feeling worn out, tired and dissatisfied. They might feel overcommitted or caught in a frenzy of doing things while not knowing exactly why. Some people opt for doing things that are easy when what they really want to do is something far more ambitious. This might take the form of an unfulfilling job, or relatively safe projects or a ‘good enough’ relationship. Spending time on safe but not highly rewarding activities might be a good strategy during uncertainty. However, longer periods of it tend to result in lower morale, dissatisfaction and that infamous feeling of boredom! If protracted, this state can end up causing high levels of stress and depression, and can generally lower one’s health and sense of fulfilment.

The Diamonds, Gold and Lead exercise is good for identifying what’s really important, what you are currently doing and what is and is not a good time investment. It will help you pinpoint activities that deserve more of your attention as well as raise your awareness about others that you might be outgrowing or have indeed long outgrown. Some of these tasks might still need to be done and the exercise will stimulate you to think about how to achieve them in a better way. Diamonds, Gold and Lead will provide you with greater clarity about what you’re doing at the moment and what you need to change, whether for career management, general work satisfaction or even arranging your daily or weekly work schedule for high - level productivity by mixing up work as you would a well - balanced meal.

The exercise sorts all activities into five areas:

1. Diamonds: activities that are truly special and unique, things that help you develop and grow and which improve your life massively.
2. Rough diamonds: activities that will turn into diamonds down the line and which are appearing on the horizon.
3. Gold: activities that are worthwhile because they contribute steadily to your resources, your worth and your stability.
4. False gold: activities that appear to be gold but end up as energy sinkers and time drainers, often disappointing and causing hurt.
5. Lead: activities that take time but which no longer contribute positively towards your present situation or your future.

Every activity at a specific point in time, in one’s career or life stage, can be assigned to one of these five areas. One of the key benefits of this highly beloved activity is that, once assigned, you will automatically adjust your attention and time so that you concentrate on high - level activities and begin to prioritize work easily in accordance with its position. I have found this exercise

Gold and Lead Exercise

1. Think about all the key activities you engage with currently at work and/or in your life. This may include specific projects, relationships, activities, interests, groups, etc.
2. Assign each activity to one of these five areas: real diamonds, rough diamonds, gold, false gold and lead. You may want to take each area in turn or simply outline all in one go.

In fast - changing times, it is imperative that you do not waste valuable time on activities that are no longer precious and keep your competitive edge by exploring and mining your figurative

Reflective Questions

• What is/are your diamond/diamonds at this time?
• What do you generally notice about where your effort and time goes at the moment? Where do you focus most of your attention and where do you focus none of it? Is this as it
should be?
• Can you find activities that are currently in the process of shifting positions? Which way are they shifting?
• If you keep doing what you ’re doing now, what are the
likely outcomes?
• How will this picture look in a month, six months or a year
from now?

Takeaway Lessons
What people often observe when doing this exercise is that things have a way of moving around and they are not terribly aware of this. For example, something that might have been gold at one point in time may stay gold, transform into a diamond or turn into lead. Equally, things that might have appeared to be lead can sometimes turn out to be rough diamonds. Imagine a network of casual contacts. One day, one of these people may turn out to be the critical link or support you need, or a very good friend. A product your company was developing as a sideline may become your unique selling point. Similarly, a hobby can sometimes feel like false gold only to turn into a lucrative business venture.

Many people spend disproportionate amounts of time working up false gold and lead instead of rough diamonds, not because they choose to do this but because they have forgotten to stop and examine what they are doing. With more and more things to do it is easy to get lost in the activities and end up losing focus on the most valuable ones. The same holds true for teams and organizations. While very simple, this exercise can help you pinpoint key information in a short amount of time with high precision.

This extract is taken from Get Productive! By Magdalena Bak-Maier (Wiley). Magdalena is founder of Make Time Count devoted to working with clients and organisations to develop talent and high level, sustainable productivity. A trained neuroscientist, Magdalena's tools and models help businesses and individuals get results and feel good. See www.maketimecount.com for more information.