Being productive doesn’t mean getting everything done. I know it sounds a little like organizational heresy but you need to admit the truth (at least to yourself): You can’t get everything done.The more you try the less you really end up accomplishing. True productivity means working on the right tasks. Identifying the right task in the moment when the phone is ringing, your email notification is blowing up and your boss is standing in your doorway asking if you’ve finished that report yet, can be very difficult to do. That’s why so many of us spend so much of our time engaged in activities that don’t really add the value that we might like. We’re busy, we’re getting things done, but we aren’t accomplishing the things that will make a difference. Sometimes it can feel as if we are a race horse with blinders on, coming out of the starting gate in the morning, running full-out around the track throughout the day, only to end up back at the starting line when we finish.
There is a better way. It requires two things: Planning and Discipline.
When I ask people if they plan their own work they invariably say yes. Then when we explore it, it turns out that the planning is usually limited to making “to do” lists – often times multiple lists, some of which are written on post-it notes and attached to their computers. A few of the people I talk to go a step beyond the list. They schedule items on their calendar. There’s nothing wrong with scheduling or lists, but they aren’t enough.
There are three types of planning you need to engage in to dramatically boost your own productivity:
- Personal Strategic Planning
- Weekly Alignment & Activity Scheduling
- Daily Calibration
1) Personal Strategic Planning
Organizations engage in strategic planning. They identify who they are and what’s important to them. They formulate long-term goals and decide on strategies to accomplish those goals. The reason they do those things is because it pays off for them in the long run. They are better able to direct their talent and resources. They are more successful. You need to do the same type of planning to help you identify the best use of your time and energy.
You need to figure out who you are and what is most important to you. How is beyond the scope of this post, but I will tell you what you should focus on. Identify your most important roles and goals.
We all play a lot of different roles. I’m a father – husband – son – coach – friend – teacher – neighbor – a musician (at least in my own mind) …. the list goes on and on. But some of those roles are more important than others. What are your key roles? Don’t forget to consider both your personal and your professional lives. Stay balanced. And in addition to the role, identify who your stakeholders are and how you want to be and be seen.
For example, one of my key roles is to be a Supportive Parent. Now, we all have paradigms and baggage about what being a Parent is all about. But I’ve had 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, can both be 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 more a part of who I am on a daily basis. And for each of the roles you identify, set goals to help move you forward.
2) Weekly Alignment & Activity Scheduling
It can be tough to stay true to what’s important with the urgencies and pressures that bombard you throughout the week. You need to realign yourself to your most important priorities on a regular basis.
Take ten minutes to review those roles and goals at the start of every week. Refresh your memory about how you want to be and what you want to achieve. 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. 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. Identify what you can do that week to further those roles and goals. Then schedule your ideal week. 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 actually do it. Create a time block to accomplish it.
3) Daily Calibration
Things never work out exactly the way we anticipated. So, you need to review and recalibrate your weekly plan every day. Ask yourself questions like: What didn’t I get done yesterday that I need to carry over to today? What new issues have come up? How important are they? If new issues have come up, or an activity that needs to get done didn’t, don’t just put it on a “to-do” list that you may or may not get to. Block out time for it. Put it on the calendar.
Those three steps – Personal Strategic Planning, Weekly Alignment & Activity Scheduling and Daily Calibration can make a major difference in your personal productivity, if you live them.
Living them will always be a test. It’s hard to change habits. 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”.