You spend all day running hither and thither and yon, busy, busy, busy. You skip lunch, or eat at your desk, or on the run, to save time. You can’t seem to go a minute or two without some sort of interruption, or distraction. You end the day exhausted and frazzled, wanting only to drop into bed and sleep.
Looking back, you realize that you did, in fact, accomplish very little for all the “busy-ness” and hectic, frantic pace. You were very busy, but you weren’t very productive.
And the good news is that you get to do it all again tomorrow. Goody joy!
Whether you’re an entrepreneur with a start-up, or just an Average Joe trying to make your way in the work world, you’ll never accomplish much (except perhaps for an early heart attack or nervous breakdown) if you can’t get a handle on your productivity problems. Busyness doesn’t cut it in the real world.
Being effectively productive can change your whole life. You can free up hours you never before thought you had to spend with friends, family or on hobbies and interests.
So, ready to change your life? Ready to become a productive, efficient individual who ends the day satisfied instead of stressed, relaxed instead of rattled, excited instead of exhausted? Then read on!
You wouldn’t set out on a road trip without knowing where you were going to end up. You wouldn’t dare go without a good old fashioned map, or Siri, or Google’s driving directions. You can’t be truly productive, either, without a road map to get you from Point A to Point B.
Your plan can be as complex or as vague as you can live with, but it should have three main components:
Tip #1: Decide what to do first
The goal is simple. It’s the Point B you’re aiming for. Whether that’s to end the day with the house clean, dinner cooked and the laundry finished, or it’s to earn your first million before you turn 30, you have to know where you’re going.
You then break that goal down into steps that you can easily manage one at a time, into actions that can be planned and accomplished. The more important that step is to reaching your goal, the higher it should be on your list of priorities.
Priorities serve as your motivation to keep moving forward. The higher a priority, the more important it is that you do that thing, take that step, accomplish that action. Make sure you are always aware of which level of priority you are working at.
Lower priorities can be fun and easy to accomplish, and are great when you need a break from a more important task. But they shouldn’t be the only thing you focus on day after day. Keep Point B in mind at all times.
Tip #2: Decide what to do when
Routines are vital to success. The most successful CEOs and celebrities establish daily and weekly routines.
One of the biggest advantages of creating routines for your day is that eventually you don’t have to think about where you need to be or what you need to be doing. It becomes automatic. You can also sometimes schedule your routine around your preferences.
Got a bit of a slump going every afternoon? Schedule lesser important tasks for that time period, or stop and take an exercise break to reenergize. Know that you feel at your best on 9 hours of sleep? TiVo the late show, watch it at breakfast, and get your butt to bed at a decent hour.
You’ll be amazed at how much smoother and easier your days go when you don’t have to think much about what you should be doing, or where you’re going to be in an hour. Routines help keep you on the right track so that Point B gets closer all the time.
Tip #3: Have a Plan B when things fall apart…
Having a Plan B on the way to Point B is also a good idea. Don’t make your routine so rigid that a deviation from it creates stress and chaos. Don’t give up on reaching your goal because you suffer a setback of some sort.
Plan for setbacks and the occasional event “beyond your control” when creating your roadmap. Add some “free time” into your daily plan – not necessarily time to do nothing, but time to use on those unforeseen things that come up.
Maybe it takes longer than you’d planned to finish that big project. Perhaps a coworker is ill and you have to pick up some of his work. That head cold is really doing a number on you and you just can’t face another load of laundry in the shape you’re in.
That’s OK. It’s all right to occasionally get sidetracked or off track. That’s what rest stops are for. You don’t camp there, but they don’t keep you from your final destination, either. Setbacks are to be learned from, not a reason to cancel the trip.
Figure out what’s gone wrong, and try to find a new way around it. Detours, road construction, flat tires – all hazards that can seem like the end of the trip, but are in fact, just problems to be overcome. That’s where Plan B comes in. Or Plan C. Or even Plan Z. Point B is still there. You just have to find a new road to reach it.
Implementing Your Plan
You’ve got your map. The bags are all packed with plans and goals. Your daily routine is running as smoothly as a finely tuned engine. Point B is out there, waiting on the horizon like a beacon in the night.
All you’ve got to do now is put all that good planning and preparation to work. All the plans and routines in the world won’t help if you don’t implement them properly. You can’t let distractions, bad days, or other people keep you from getting too far off track.
Remember, those are rest stops, not camp sites or alternative destinations. It’s time to hit the trail, put the rubber to the road, and your foot on the pedal. Point B is calling!
Tip #4: Say no to distractions
There are always things, not necessarily good things, that will beg for your attention. Email, social media, the office gossip, the sunny afternoon weather, that will try to get your focus off your priorities, get you out of your routine. There are three ways to deal with distractions: Simply say “no”; say “later”; or schedule them into your routine so they stay in their proper place.
Saying “no” is easy. Turn off Twitter. Mute the machine so you don’t hear the chime saying you’ve got mail. Tell the person you’re meeting with that you’ve got to be out the door by 3pm, no later. Deadlines tend to kill distraction.
Saying “later” is easy, too. That chatty neighbor can be told to come back when you’ve finished what you’re working on. Promise the girl down the hall that you’ll meet her in the break room in a half hour, when you’ll be needing a break anyway. Promise yourself a walk in the park after work, to enjoy the glorious weather after a week of drecht and drizzle.
Saying “when” may be a bit harder, at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. Like to keep tabs on your social media accounts throughout the day? Add a few minutes several times a day to your routine specifically for tweeting and posting. Answer any phone or email messages at certain times of the day. Those distractions are kept under control easily by creating time slots for them.
Tip #5: People are difficult creatures but they can be tamed.
Let’s face it, unless you are a hermit living in a cave in the mountains somewhere, you’re going to have to deal with other people. As well-meaning and professional as they might be, they still can serve to throw you off course. Here’s three specific types of ways you can deal with the people in your working life:
Outsourcers –You don’t have to do it all. Your business may actually function better if you AREN’T doing it all, especially if you lack certain skill, knowledge, or talent for certain tasks. (Outsourcing can be a source of stress and distraction, unless you are careful to communicate exactly what you want, how you want it, and when.) Others can do for you what you don’t have time for, or can give up less productive tasks for more important ones. Letting someone else take care of things can really lessen the amount of distractions you’ll have to deal with.
Coworkers – The office can be a place of great productivity, or a huge source of distraction. Saying “no” and saying “later” may not always work, especially if you have “one of those” coworkers. (Or more than one, for that matter.) Cubicle Hell also doesn’t allow you the luxury of closing a door, either. Try head phones and Pandora. Try a sign on your chair saying “Busy, come back later.” Try talking to the supervisor or manager about the individual in question. If all else fails, rudeness may be resorted to in extreme situations. Simply say, “Go away. I’m busy earning my paycheck.” Or, “I’m working on my promotion. What are you working on today?” Productivity, reaching Point B, is more important than good manners, if bad manners are used sparingly and only in final desperation.
Customers – Your customers are the ones that really pay the bills. You can’t be rude to them. You can’t say “no” too often or you won’t have any left. But you can say “later” – as in dealing with emails and phone calls at certain times. You can outsource customer service. You can hire someone to handle PR, marketing or sales. You can use automated systems for filling and delivering orders. You can set deadlines on sales meetings. You can create business hours that work best for you. Customers don’t have to be constant distractions. Most of them don’t mean to be. And they understand “later” much better than you might think they do.
Tip #6: Me, myself and I. How to deal with yourself.
Yup. You’re a people, too.
You have to keep yourself healthy and fit for the journey. And we’re not just talking physically fit, either. Mental and emotional health is important, perhaps even more important, than physical condition.
The most successful people spend a great deal of time and effort on their “down time”. The Victorians had a phrase – masterly inactivity. They advocated spending “down time” on hobbies and interests that were of a productive nature – hand crafts, gardening, nature studies, hiking and other physical pursuits, reading good books. Perhaps we need to resurrect masterly inactivity in our own lives.
Turn off the screen and pick up a good book. Join the gym. Become a rock collector, or a bird watcher. We all need things to keep us happy, satisfied and positive about ourselves and our lives. We all need some “laziness” too, to keep us from becoming hyper-focused unhealthily on work. Don’t let yourself get so run down, or run around, that you can’t do the job you need to.
Get yourself in physical, mental and emotional shape to deal with disappointments and “bad days.” Point B isn’t as far away as you think. You can get there. But not if you’re too tired, or sick, or depressed, to make the trip.
Being productive isn’t as hard or as boring as it might seem in the midst of busyness.
One thing about really productive people is that they keep an eye on their routines and schedules, like keeping an eye on your gas gauge while driving. They review, revise, reflect, and redirect, as often as necessary.
They have a Plan B for their productivity plans. Knowing where you are, where you want to go, how you’re going to get there, and how to deal with the things that will inevitably try to get in your way (including yourself) will not only make you more productive, but will make the trip from Point A to Point B a lot more fun along the way!
PS: If you are using Gmail and are looking at ways to be productive, check this article out.