Improving your personal productivity requires changing habits. Here are some productivity tips that can help you improve your habits in your professional and personal life.
The secret to making improvements is planning and enacting change. Here are seven tips for seven weeks to get you started:
Week 1: (Today!) Throw Something Away
When you’re facing a desk swamped in papers, or a closet bursting with clothes, or counter-tops littered with piles of random objects, don’t say to yourself, “I need to get organized.” Your first instinct should be to get rid of stuff. If you don’t keep it, you don’t have to organize it.
This is fantastic advice, not just for your home but your business as well. Start your productivity project by getting rid of something, and try to do this at least once a week through the end of the year. You can toss a piece of paper, throw out unused junk, or decide that you’re just not going to pursue that project any more. There aren’t many feelings more powerful than having less on your plate. Throw something away so you can focus on everything else!
Week 2: Dedicate Some Time
Every business is different, but all of us can benefit from a recurring appointment in order to work on a critical task. For you, it might be battling email, handling books, returning phone calls or conducting inventory. You may just be behind on trade magazines or your current business book. Pick a task that you wish you spent more time doing, and then go to your calendar and set up a repeating event. Treat it as a dedicated meeting: turn off your phone, close down other applications and explain to your colleagues that you need to focus for this time. Even a mere half hour on a dedicated task can have a tremendous impact on your productivity and sense of well being. Dedicate yourself and watch what happens.
Week 3: Draw a Picture
Didn’t expect that coming? Sometimes, we feel the need to “get organized” by writing down our goals or documenting business processes in written form. But often, a visual diagram is a more powerful and more effective way to review, to understand and to plan. Get a few large sheets of paper and some brightly colored markers, and draw. Sketch out a diagram of how some part of your business works, such as the sales process or your customer service plan. Or, draw a picture of something you want to achieve in the next year, whether it’s a new location, a new procedure, or a graph showing company growth. Then, hang it up on the wall.
When home-made diagrams are at eye level, they become part of the landscape of our business. We want to make adjustments and modifications. We want to see ideas become reality. We have a visual reference for the way we want our business to operate staring back at us at eye level. And the best way to interact with documents on the wall is to stand up, become active and engaged, and talk about the ideas presented with the rest of the team. A picture may be a worth a thousand words, so a diagram of how your company works hanging on your company’s wall beats a million pages of written documentation hiding on a shelf or in a drawer. The difference: this work will actually be read and maintained.
Week 4: Get Happy
Productivity and satisfaction are inextricably connected. If you want to be more productive, you should also try to be more satisfied.
There are a million ways to find momentary happiness. Eat some chocolate. Get a massage. Take a vacation. Read a gossip magazine. The pleasure derived from a moment of relaxation can rejuvenate us so that we can get back to work. But an even better way to find satisfaction is to do something for someone else. Provide some positive affirmation for a co-worker or friend. Give a small, unexpected gift. Offer to help out with a project that helps someone feel less overwhelmed. Satisfaction moves among groups of people in a viral fashion through a scientific phenomenon called emotional contagion. Be happy, make others happy, and leverage that happiness to get more work done.
Week 5: Make Distant Appointments
You can admit it. Next year certainly does not seem like it’s right around the corner. If you look at your calendar for the months of next year, most of those days are empty. They are open and unscripted. They are opportunities to do work that you’ve always dreamed of doing.
Now is the best time to put things on your calendar that seem tremendously important but not particularly urgent. Go reserve a half day six months from now to create the outline for that book you want to write. Block off time to call your referral partners every month, or reserve time for a regular meeting with colleagues. Even if you don’t know when others are available, marking down time helps to create something rigorous in your schedule. It’s easy to fill an open day with unspecified work. It’s hard to ignore an appointment you set ages ago because you made a commitment.
Week 6: Reflect on the Past
It’s helpful always help to review the past day, month or year, but getting nostalgic is something that should only be done after you’ve already made some progress on the present and the future. Set aside time this week to review each of the months of the last year or so. What parts of those months stand out in your memory? Now compare with your financials and your Sent Items folder in your email. Do the records match what you remember?
The purpose of looking back is not to identify where you went wrong, but to see what parts of your life in the last twelve months were most powerful. Don’t just repeat the parts that were positive and avoid those that were negative. We need to fail in order to learn how to succeed. Reflect on who you have become over the course of this year. Prepare yourself to grow in the year to come.
Week 7: Write a Detailed Plan
The final component of your preparation should be to lay out a plan for the year. For each quarter, each month, and even each week: write goals. Make these objectives specific, and include numbers wherever possible. A goal for Week 17 might be: “Attend one networking meeting” or “Write a blog post.” The detail of 52 individual to-do lists may sound a little excruciating, but it is also liberating. You are forcing yourself to state what is important to you well in advance of doing the work.
However, it’s essential that this plan not become a monument to your failure. DeMarco and Lister write that “If the date is missed, the schedule was wrong. It doesn’t matter why the date was missed. The purpose of the schedule was planning, not goal-setting.” No one knows what the future will bring, so be open to changing the plan! Be prepared to move items or drop them off the list. As President Dwight Eisenhower once noted, “Plans are worthless, but planning is invaluable.” Get ready for the future, but don’t cling to the past.
Every day is your day. Every year is your year! Maximize your productivity and satisfaction to achieve more in your business and personal life. Throw things away, dedicate time in your day, draw pictures, get happy, make distant appointments, reflect on the year, and a write detailed plan. That’s plenty to do for the next seven weeks. See you then!
A version of this post was also published as a guest blog for Roundpeg, an Indianapolis-based marketing agency.