It’s a new year. Again! 2016, this time. Many of us are making resolutions and maybe even crafting goals for the future. But wait! Hold off for just a minute. ….Haven’t you been there and done that before? How did it work out for you? Did you accomplish the things you resolved to do? Did you make that quantum leap in productivity and satisfaction that you were hoping for? I’m betting maybe not. A University of Scranton Study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that only 8% of those well-intentioned resolutions are ever accomplished. Why not try a different approach? I want to offer you a potentially better way: Five relatively simple steps to become exponentially more productive this year.
Let me begin by saying that it is easy to fall short of our potential when it comes to productivity. And by easy I don’t mean physically or emotionally easy because of a lack of effort. If you’re reading this I imagine you’re a pretty motivated individual. You probably care about what you do and you probably put a great deal of effort into it. But that effort may not give you the return that you hope for. A lack of alignment between effort and activity can be a derailer. Productivity isn’t about getting everything done. That’s probably impossible! True Productivity is about consistently accomplishing the important things. False Productivity is about getting a lot of things done, maybe even doing them very well, but having very little to show for it at the end of the day.
One of the challenges to True Productivity is that there are simply so many urgencies and events in our lives that it is very easy to get caught up in activity traps that don’t provide a lot of value. Have you heard of the 80/20 Rule? It’s a ratio based on the work of Italian Economist Vilfredo Pareto. Back in the 1890’s Pareto discovered that income distribution was disproportional within the population. To simplify it, he found that 80% of the wealth was held by about 20% of the people. That 80/20 rule applies to much of what we do and experience in life. Years ago I was doing work for Campbell Soup in Camden NJ. Campbell’s at the time (and still does) made a great many varieties of soup. But two of their soups accounted for a disproportionate percentage of sales. Can you guess which ones? That’s right, Tomato and Chicken Noodle. That’s the Pareto Principle in action; a majority of results from a minority of causes; a disproportional amount of value from a precious few activities. It also means that within a set of items – soups, salespeople, activities on a typical to do list – only a few of them will return a high value on the time invested. Most of them will likely be relatively low value activities.
The Pareto Principle helps to explain how the True Productivity in our lives can be masked by all of the many, many low value activities that we face every week. It’s very easy to get caught up in those low value events and simply not spend our time on the truly productive activities. We can find ourselves like a racehorse with blinders on, running hard first thing in the morning out of the starting gate, around a circular track but ending up right back where we started at the end of the day.
So what do you need to do to become truly productive? There are a number of time-tested principles. Since this is a blog and not a book. Let me hit the highlights in five relatively simple steps.
Step 1: Clarify who you are and what matters to you.
This requires some introspection and soul searching. I know that’s not always easy. Self-reflection doesn’t always feel tangible. Many of us have an action orientation; we want to do something, and introspection doesn’t feel much like action.
But there is a real value in that inward focus. That’s not exactly new information is it? The ancient Greek aphorism “Know Thyself” was written on the wall of the Apollo Temple at Delphi. Cutting edge or not, it is good advice. How can you hope to be truly productive long term, day in and day out without self-knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses, preferences and blind spots? That self-knowledge is a prerequisite for self-regulation and the ability to flex your approach from an area of strength to a less preferred area of need. But I’m getting beyond the scope of this post so let me refocus. How can you do what really matters most until you’ve really pondered (yes I used the word pondered) who you are and what you are about? Yes, yes, I know that’s a lifelong process. And in future postings I’m going to offer a variety of tools to help. But let me get you started with a few simple questions. To help you overcome inertia and kick it off, put aside 30 minutes today or tomorrow and answer – deeply answer – the following questions:
1) Who Am I? What makes me tick as a person? (Try to peel back the layers of who you are):
2) When I look at myself honestly, what do I do well? Identify your best traits, qualities, skills and abilities:
3) If I am completely honest with myself, if I look behind the façade that I wear, I have the following weaknesses or development areas:
4) What do I value most: (Check off the ones that matter most to you)
- An exciting life
- Personal growth
- A comfortable life
- A sense of accomplishment
- Freedom (independence)
- True friendship
- Spiritual development
- Inner harmony
- Mature love (personal intimacy)
- Recognition or fame
Notice that these aren’t questions about what to do or how to do it. They are at a much more fundamental level, questions about who you are and what matters most to you.
Step Two: Identify which hats you prefer to wear
We all wear a lot of different hats; we play different roles. I’m a father – husband – son – coach – friend – teacher – neighbor …. the list goes on and on. But some of the hats I wear are more important than others. Step number two to becoming more productive is to identify the roles that are most important to you. Which hats do you most care about; what are your key roles? Keep the list to between three to seven roles. Any more and you will find yourself wearing hats you that matter less to you; any less and you may lose the balance in your life. And don’t forget to consider both your personal and your professional hats.
The most important roles in my life are
- Income Generator,
- Subject Matter Expert,
- Personal Coach and
I highly recommend that you include yourself – using whatever terminology floats your boat. If you aren’t a stakeholder in your own life, then who is?
Step Three: Identify who matters most
Life is about relationships. People matter. Our relationships come in a variety of flavors. We interact with one another at different levels and intimacies. Husband – wife – friend – coworker; we have varying stakes in one another’s lives. But some of our relationships matter more than others. Those relationships represent our Key Stakeholders – the individuals and groups in our life to whom we have the greatest interest and connection. It’s critical that we identify who those people are and how we want to be with them and be seen by them. To do that, look at the roles you identified in earlier. Ask yourself:
1) Who are the key stakeholders for each role?
2) How do I want to be with them? How do I want to be seen by them?
For example one of my key roles is Parent. Now, we all have paradigms and baggage about what being a Parent is all about. But I have to peel back those layers to identify what it really means to me.
How do I want to be with my children? Relaxed, natural, genuine, helpful are some words that come to mind right away.
How do I want to be seen by my children? I want to be seen as caring and loving. I want to be seen as offering unconditional support.
It’s important to recognize that how I want to be, and be seen, are both aspirational. My kids will be the first to tell you that I am not always helpful, that they don’t always see me as caring or offering unconditional support. But by clearly identifying and articulating those behaviors here, I can work to make them part of who I am on a daily basis.
Step Four: Program Yourself For True Productivity
We use the GPS in our car or on our phone to get to where we want to go. Once we’ve set the destination, we rely on it to help us navigate the twists and the turns, the cross streets and the detours on our journey.
We need a reliable GPS for our personal productivity as well. Life can be hectic. We have twenty-seven different people who want something from us, a hundred tasks on our to do list and only twenty-four hours in the day. We can’t do it all. It’s very easy to get caught up in the day and react to the urgencies and pressures of the moment. We can fall in to that activity trap and feel that sense of false productivity I mentioned earlier.
Everything that we’ve done up until now is to help you identify what really matters to you. It’s not just an exercise. It needs to become a tool you use everyday. It needs to be transformed into an inspirational GPS that you can follow to achieve what matters most to you. And that GPS needs to be visible – on a daily basis – so that it resonates in both your head and heart.
To make that happen, I recommend that you develop a personal productivity statement. Use what we’ve done so far as the springboard and develop a written – paper or virtual or both – statement about what you aspire to. Keep it in an accessible, conspicuous place.
Start off each day by reviewing your productivity statement to reinforce your intentions and help you focus your attention and energy.
Here’s my personal productivity statement:
I will aspire to maintain myself physically, emotionally and ethically so that I can:
- Be Kathy’s best friend
- Actively demonstrate my love for my family
- Enjoy life through everyday pleasures
- Help people to improve their effectiveness by providing simple truths, interpersonal tools and helpful mental maps
- Develop and manage diversified income streams
Yours doesn’t have to look like mine. Craft it in a way that is meaningful and inspiring to you. But make sure that it is built on your Values, Roles and Stakeholders, and that you keep it handy.
Step Five – Live it
Living it will always be a test. It requires discipline – the ability to do what you know needs to be done even when you don’t want to do it. Discipline can be painful. But as the legendary Jim Rohn, wrote “We must all suffer one of two things: The pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is that discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons”.
But discipline and good intentions alone aren’t enough. To live it, you need to plan it. Take time – at the start of each week – to review your personal productivity statement. And then ask yourself “what can I do this week to move towards who I want to be”? Identify one or two activities that will add value to each role you’ve captured in your personal productivity statement. They don’t have to be large projects, just activities that will help you move in a positive direction. Being truly productive is often a matter of doing the right small things. For me, identifying an activity like “watch Love It Or List It with my wife” is a value added activity that moves me closer to my aspiration of being Kathy’s best friend. It’s a simple thing. It doesn’t require a great deal of effort on my part (although I am not a particularly big fan of that show) but it is still a high value activity.
One last recommendation. Studies show that actually scheduling an activity increases the likelihood that you will accomplish it. Once you’ve identified those value-added activities for the upcoming week, pull out your calendar – paper, smartphone, notebook, whatever you use – and allocate time on the calendar to do it. Instead of just saying I’m going to go the gym and work out this week. identify the specific days and times that you plan to accomplish those tasks. Then hold yourself accountable. If something unavoidable crops up to prevent you from meeting a scheduled commitment immediately move it to another location in your calendar
The ideas I’ve written about here aren’t my inventions. I didn’t pull them from thin air. They’ve been written about by many authors over the years, including Alan Lakein, David Allen, and Stephen Covey. I’ve given you a relatively high level view. If you’d like a deeper dive into some of these concepts I reccomend The Five Choices by Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill and Leeana Rinne of Franklin Covey.
I’ve just scratched the surface. There are at least twenty-five important ideas that I didn’t talk about here that can help you improve your true productivity. Tools or tactics about setting goals, managing email, mono versus multitasking, and daily planning to name just a few. I will get to them, I promise, in future posts.
The five steps I’ve written about here really work. I use them myself and I’ve also seen them make a difference for my clients. If you follow these simple steps they can make a difference for you as well. Why not try something different this year and make that leap in productivity?