Productivity: Are you OBT or TBT?

Do you know the difference?

I recall early in my career starting a new job and proudly ticking all the items off my to-do list. I was very happy with myself. Strolled down the hall looking for someone to celebrate my achievement with. Upon meeting an older mentor, I waited for the inevitable questions. “How are you doing?”, he asked. Just the question I had expected. “Up to date and Just cleared ‘my’ to do list … Feeling great” I proudly announced. To which he responded, “Wow, I have not been up to date for 25 years”.

I smiled but inwardly thought to myself. ‘Talk about unorganised. How can you not complete all the tasks on your To-Do list’?

It only took a couple months before I realised I was going to be in the same boat. As the department grew and pressure mounted I came to the swift realisation. I WILL NEVER BE UP TO DATE. Projects and tasks need to be prioritised and SOME would NEVER get done.

It was then that I realised I need to ask myself a new question. More on that to come.

The Science Behind our Challenge

At any given moment, we are constantly bombarded by signals from our five senses. With this onslaught of input, how do we manage to not go completely insane? The key is that we pay attention to only a small proportion of that information and throw much of it away. This process is known as selective filtering or selective attention, and most people do it all the time.

Our Brain is constantly trying to resolve what it should Focus on. Where should the focus of attention be. To do this it resolves questions we ask ourselves. This means that the quality of questions they ask will determine what we focus on. When I coach my clients, I do so with the understanding that the questions I ask influences the direction of their thinking.

For example, if I ask you “What will ‘X’ get you?” you will tend to think about specific things (more money, less stress, more time). However, if I ask you “What will that do for you?” you are more likely to come up with more value based abstract answers (freedom, contentment, acceptance).

Your brain unconsciously filters out unimportant details as it resolves ‘what to focus on’. However, you can consciously control what you brain Selectively Filters and Increase your productivity.

The Question that boosts Productivity

Considering the many demands for your attention you NEED to DECIDE in advance what your brain is going to filter for and hence focus on.

If you are like any person working in a pressured environment, you could probably end up with multiple to-do list items that need to get done While you neatly prioritise them with the obligatory A, B and C’s next to each item, you know they will be replaced almost immediately with new tasks and you will never again in your life get a clean slate. It may leave you feeling like Sisyphus, in Greek mythology, who was condemned to roll a rock up to the top of a mountain, only to have the rock roll back down to the bottom every time he reaches the top. For Eternity.

To make matters worse people often allow someone or something else to control their focus. The first step toward taking back your focus and achieving more is to ask a new type of question.

Outcome Based Thinking vs Task Based Thinking

The challenge is that many people are focused on Task Based Thinking (TBT). At the start of every day they ask themselves some form of the following questions

“What do I need to do today?”

With this in mind the Selective filter is now set. Your brains ‘Focus of Attention’ is on TASKS, Things to do. It will have no problem coming up with enough tasks to fill your day, perhaps even many days to follow. Leaving you feeling behind the eight ball and overwhelmed with the magnitude of what needs to get done.

Alternatively, you can engage in ‘Outcome Based thinking” (OBT). Outcome Based thinking is a key element to leadership productivity that starts by determining what our mind pays attention to.

Instead of asking “What should I do?” Outcome based thinking starts by asking

“What Outcomes Do I Want?”

A focus on outcomes will quickly change your selective filtering system. Bringing to attention the outcomes you want rather than the tasks to be done. A focus on outcomes will change what you should be spending your time doing. It may begin to deliver fresh ways that you can achieve an outcome rather than get stuck in the daily grind of operations.

Naturally, there may be many derivatives of asking outcome based questions. For example, you could ask

  • What is the ultimate outcome?
  • What is the goal I am trying to achieve?
  • What results are we looking for?
  • What will make today successful?

Leaders who know what they ‘want’ see the world differently. More importantly people selectively attend to things that interest or excite them. Often these are positive outcomes, goals and results.  So, when you decide what you want, your mind filters for how to see that outcome fulfilled.  It’s like buying a new car. You start seeing it everywhere

Value OF OBT

1.      Greater Creativity

Outcome based thinking can lead you to more creative insight due to directing your thinking in a way that requires a creative answer. It may disregard the traditional process to achieving an outcome and find creative ways to achieve the same result.

2.      Greater Connection to ‘Why’

Outcome based thinking helps people to connect to what is important rather than the mundane.

3.      Higher Energy

People enjoy attending to things that interest or excite them.

4.      Improved Teamwork

Outcome-based thinking gets everyone aligned first, before you even begin to think about your individual tasks. This way, creating measurable results is effective and achievable.


Question 1: The Outcome we want to achieve is?

Get the team together and work toward coming to consensus on the answer to the question:

What is our outcome we are focusing on?

Have each person write down what they think it is on a piece of paper. (All of the answers may be different – maybe extremely or slightly so, but they certainly won’t be 100% alike.)

Question 2: What can we stop doing and still achieve the outcome?

This helps to evaluate activities that do not best serve the outcome.

Question 3: What will help us achieve the outcome faster?

This helps prioritise what needs to be done.

By Aiden Holliday

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