(OK. Probably not.)
So, this is the PJP post for the October Word Carnival. And the subject is “productivity.” And as you might imagine, I’m particularly feeling the pressure on this one.
Must. Produce. Brilliantly.
Eep. Here we go.
For some time now, I’ve been writing about productivity from a business owner’s perspective. The basics — the big picture — the forest, if you will.
Now, it’s time for the trees.
1. Get Clear On What True Productivity Really Is.
Here’s a hint: it’s not just getting shit done. It’s about producing something. When most folks talk about feeling lost or overwhelmed, or are having trouble getting their crap together? They’re quite often suffering from a disconnect between what they want and what they do on an average day. That is a key symptom of checklist-itis, the pathological focus on scratching off items from a to-do list.
2. Get Enough Sleep.
There is a reason torturers use sleep deprivation. Because it works, is why. Ask any new parent. A few nights of less than adequate sleep will make you forgetful. A few weeks of it? Will make you say or do anything. You cannot afford this condition. You have a business to run.
3. Eat Your Veggies. And Your Protein.
Do we really need to go over a healthful diet here? Fine. Go here. Pick your approach. Follow it. If you need further help, click here and find a dietitian near you. It’s time to grow up. Snickers and Cheetos will not cut it anymore. You need serious fuel for your body and your mind if you’re serious about becoming truly productive.
4. Get Some Exercise Daily.
There is nothing on this earth that will produce as much consistent physical and mental energy as exercise. You don’t have to go all Tae-Bo on yourself. Take a brisk walk every day. Do some yoga every day. Whatever gets you moving — but move. Every day.
5. Know Your Values.
Your values feed your vision. Your vision dictates your goals. And your goals dictate your actions. Want to get more tasks done? Start at the macro level. Not sure what your values are? This post lays it all out, and even provides a helpful worksheet you can download and use.
6. Clarify Your Vision.
A clear, realistic, and inspiring vision not only helps you figure out where you’re going and how to get there — it keeps you motivated over the rough patches. Motivation fuels your discipline, which is necessary stuff if you want to actually produce something worth the trouble of creating. The vision exercise in the worksheet found here will help you achieve some much-needed clarity on that vision.
7. Have ONE LIST.
You can have as many sublists as you like, but you should keep one and only one to-do list with everything you’ve obligated yourself to do, in every single area of your life. You can organize it by “contexts” (as Getting Things Done calls it) or by project or by priority or by area or alphabetically or whatever system floats your boat. But have ONE LIST.
8. Keep That One List Current.
If you find yourself hurriedly updating your to-do list a few days a week, wondering “What the hell was that thing I told that person I’d do by tomorrow…?!?!” then this one’s especially important for you. Write your stuff down as it happens. If you cannot possibly get to your list (say, because you’re out of the house and you keep it on your computer), then you need a back-up system. Easy fix: a cheap 99-cent spiral pocket notebook you carry with you everywhere and write one thing down per page when you’re away from the big list. Then, when you get back, update the list from the back-up system. Do it at least daily and this becomes a very simple and quick task.
9. Be Really Freaking Picky With Your List.
Your list is the record of your commitments. Do not let anything on to that list that doesn’t further a goal or isn’t absolutely required by virtue of parenthood, marital vows, or sheer necessity to keep yourself breathing.
10. Have Some Freaking Integrity.
See #9 above. If it’s on your list, and especially if it’s got a deadline attached to it, do it. Your reputation is a fragile little thing. Protect it like a mama bear.
11. Learn To Read Your Own Signals.
Your body will know when you’re about to get in trouble, much sooner than your conscious brain will. Listen to what it’s telling you, and deal with emergent situations before they turn into emergencies.
12. Adopt the Two-Minute Rule.
As a task crosses your consciousness and before you write it down on the list, ask yourself if it takes less than two minutes to do. If so, do it right then and there. This will eliminate the whole “overwhelmed by a shit-ton of picky little stupid stuff” thing.
13. Do the HOP Test Every Single Morning.
HOP stands for Head-On-Pillow. The HOP test is simply this: at the beginning of your day, project yourself forward to the end of the day as you place your head on the pillow, and ask yourself this: “Which of these dozens of things I have to do will keep me up tonight when I put my head on the pillow if it’s not done?” Move heaven and earth to get those things done today.
14. Deal With Email.
There are dozens of “how to manage your inbox” posts out there. At some point in the future, there will be one on this blog, too, most likely. But whatever system you adopt, make sure it includes this one rule: Set three times to check email during the day. Only three. Deal with your email only during those times. Turn off all notification systems in between those times.
15. Get Off the Answer-The-Phone Merry-Go-Round.
Returning calls within 24 hours should suffice for most conversations, except those calls from your kids’ school, your doctor, and your spouse. OK, and sometimes there are other calls that need to be answered immediately, granted (grudgingly). But most calls do not need to be returned ASAP. If you’re working, and someone calls who’s not on that A list? Consider returning all calls at one time. Say, after lunch.
16. Train Your Clients and Team Members.
Whatever rules you adopt, especially with respect to #s 14 and 15, make sure you train your clients and team members accordingly. Otherwise, you’ll get piled-up, increasingly-frantic emails and voice mails over the course of the three hours it takes you to respond. What can I say? People are weird.
17. ID and Deal With Overwhelm Immediately.
When you start getting panicked over your commitments (either complexity or number of), don’t put off dealing with it. Identify the source of the overwhelm and deal with it immediately. Like, NOW. Ask for help, create a research plan, renegotiate unnecessary obligations, whatever needs to be done to get you back on track. Because it’s kind of hard to be ruthlessly & truly productive when you’re trying really hard not to have a heart attack.
Ah, the review. The greatest productivity routine of all time. I do a daily review every morning (reviewing upcoming deadlines, appointments, and the task list) and every night (debriefing how I did that day, looking ahead to the day tomorrow). It takes a total of ten minutes out of my day but keeps me from being surprised by crap I forgot about. I also do a week-end review which takes about thirty minutes total. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.
19. Outsource and Delegate Whenever You Can.
Look, there are things we do well, and things we don’t do well. The list of what I don’t do well would fill the freaking phone book. You have a choice to make when you’re running your own business. You can either tackle the stuff you’re not good at yourself, or you can hire someone else to do it for you. You choose the former, and you risk making yourself crazy, delaying other necessary tasks (the stuff you do do well), or you can choose the latter, and get it done much faster and much more accurately. This is a no-brainer.
20. Deal With the Unsexy Stuff NOW.
By “unsexy stuff,” of course, I’m referring to the crap none of us really like. The legalities. The insurance stuff. The tax crap. You know, the things that can PUT YOU OUT OF BUSINESS. Deal with it. NOW. (See #19.)
21. Use Your Calendar App Promiscuously.
That little insignificant app that came with your computer? Is POWERFUL STUFF. Especially that alert/reminder feature. Every time a deadline comes up, I plug it in, with a one-week, three-day, and one-day reminder.
22. Know Your Distractions and Mow ‘Em Down Ruthlessly.
What’s your poison? For me, it’s Law & Order reruns. Sigh. KILL THEM DEAD. Show no mercy. Or …
23. Reward Yourself BIG.
… you can use your favorite distractions as rewards. Or your favorite treats. But reward yourself for staying on task. And if it’s a big task, it requires a BIG reward. Seriously. Who said this “productive responsible business owner” stuff can’t be fun, too?
What’s Your Best Tip?
I’ll be updating this post with more reference links periodically in the future, as I write more articles. I may even update the list itself — hey, I never said I know everything about being productive. (That would be … kinda sad, actually.)
In the meantime, I wanna know what you know. What are your favorite productivity tweaks and tips? Share ‘em in the comments! And be sure to head over to The Word Chef to get the links to all the other brilliant productivity tips from my fellow Carnies.