Mastering the art of progress

By Michelle Gibbings

You live in a world where there’s lots of information, ideas, tasks and people vying for your attention. You may be juggling requests from clients and employees, as well as trying to manage expectations from partners and associates.

It’s easy to get distracted and to get to the end of the working day feeling like you haven’t made significant progress.

If you want to make progress, you need to get deliberate and adopt behaviours that will help you, not slow you down.


Ditch the busy-ness

It’s very easy to make yourself busy. You can be incredibly busy – all day, every day. But sadly, the busy-ness never amounts to much.

To accelerate your progress, avoid the trap of being ‘busy’ on things that don’t really matter.

Instead, get ‘busy’ on purpose. Look at your day, and drill into how you spend your time. Ask yourself:

  • Am I conscious about how I use my time?
  • Is it purpose driven and focused, or is it completely random?
  • Will the activities I do today get me a step closer to my goals?
  • Will they make a difference to my life and to the life of those around me?
  • How much time am I wasting on activities that don’t add any value?


Stop multi-tasking

We all love to believe that we’re brilliant multi-taskers. However, the reality is we aren’t. Our brain isn’t hard wired to handle multiple issues simultaneously or to rapidly switch back and forward between tasks.

When you multi-task your attention is fractured, and as you switch from one activity to another you lose concentration and ultimately, become less productive.

David Rock, in his brilliant book Your Brain at Work uses the metaphor of the pre-frontal cortex as a stage. The pre-frontal cortex is that part of the brain that handles the executive functions such as thinking and decision making.

Issues arise when there are too many actors on your stage, each trying to play multiple scenes. He notes: “While it is physically possible sometimes to do several mental tasks at once, accuracy and performance drop off quickly”.


Get focused on what matters

Highly productive people are incredibly focused on what they need to get done by when.

One of their tricks is that they time-box their work day, and set aside the morning for highly complex thinking. They also ruthlessly manage their schedule to ensure they don’t waste time. They are comfortable saying ‘no’ when they need to.

They also turn off all forms of social media and emails so they are not distracted when they are focusing on a complex task. They are able to direct their attention to where it matters most to help them make more progress, faster.

Applying such targeted concentration enables you to ignore the distractions that divert you from making progress.

It starts with planning ahead. The night before, think about the things you really need to do tomorrow and write these down.


Think long term, not short term

You may have heard the story about how 3M Post-it notes were developed. A 3M scientist who was attempting to develop a super-strong adhesive accidentally created a reusable adhesive.

However, the discovery of its ultimate use wasn’t instantaneous. In fact, it took six years before one of his colleagues saw the benefit of his development – that it could be used on paper and, in this case, that it could be used on a bookmark to stop it falling out.

As Steve Jobs said: “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.”

When a person equips themselves to make progress, they not only focus on what they need to achieve now, but what they need in the longer term.

They are willing to stretch and challenge themselves. They also look for new ideas and insights to help them determine if they are on the best path forward.

Making progress – it can be challenging, but with deliberate focus it is more within reach than you may think.

Michelle Gibbings is a change and leadership expert and founder of Change Meridian. She works with global leaders and teams to help them accelerate progress in complex environments. She is the author of Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work. For more information, visit or contact [email protected]