The Productivity Workout

The Productivity Workout

Want to lose weight? Is your goal to eat healthier? Trying to exercise more regularly? Many of us have goals and desires to live a healthier lifestyle but it’s hard because it doesn’t just happen. In fact, it takes a lot of planning, discipline and time. Becoming more productive isn’t any different.

I often hear people say that they want to get more done. They would like to be more organized and efficient. But they don’t do anything differently. It’s almost as if they feel or hope these things will just somehow miraculously just happen. If only.

Living a healthy lifestyle requires exercising 3-5 times a week, walking 10,000 steps a day, limiting calories to less than 2,000 a day of healthy foods. None of this happens without proactive planning and dedicated time and effort. Similarly, to increase your productivity and efficiency, you need to develop and follow your own productivity workout.

SET GOALS

To get started, you first need to clearly establish your goals. It’s not enough to just say you want to be more organized or productive. You need to be able to openly articulate goals that can be easily tracked and measured. As Yogi Berra famously said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

TOOLS

To improve your fitness, you may need an exercise coach, workout equipment, healthy recipes, a fitness tracker app and other tools to help you achieve your goals. Without these tools, achieving your goal will be a lot more challenging.

Similarly, you will need certain tools to help you become more productive. First, make sure you have one single calendar you use to schedule your time, including work and personal meetings, appointments and reminders. Also, make sure you establish and maintain a single to-do list to track your tasks. Finally, obtain a journal to keep your notes in one place for easy reference when needed.

DISCIPLINE

Now, you just need a plan to put your workout in action. Begin by scheduling an hour each week in your calendar for planning. During this time, review and confirm your appointments and meetings for the week ahead. Identify big items that need to be done and schedule them into your calendar to ensure they get done. For critically important items, schedule it twice. Be sure to update your to-do list.

Each day, either the night before or at the start of the day, review your list and select your top three priorities for the day. It’s fine for them to change as the day progresses because things come up and you can adjust. Also, feel free to eliminate tasks that don’t necessarily need to be done.

TRY THIS OUT: Find an hour this week and block it off to develop your own productivity workout. First, identify your goals and determine what tools you will need to establish to help you. Schedule time each week for planning and for setting your daily priorities just as you would set aside time to exercise.

Arrive on Time Every Time

Arrive on Time Every Time

This time of year, the kids are heading back to school and everyone’s anxiety seems to increase as the pressure to deal with the madness of the morning rush and arriving to school or work on time returns. How many of us start our mornings with, “Hurry up! We’re going to be late.” With the same morning routine and commute, why is it so hard to be on time?

With all the tools and technologies, we now have, from fancy alarm clocks to GPS apps telling us exactly how long it will take to get to our destination, we really don’t have any excuses to be late. Here are some of the techniques I use to help me be on time.

GRAB AND GO

Make sure you have everything you need to take with you ready to go before it’s time to leave. It’s critical to make sure there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place so you are not hunting for your car keys or looking for lost shoes when it’s time to leave. Find a set place for your keys and create a “mud room” space somewhere for shoes, coats, hats and backpacks. With the kids, I encourage them to gather all of their stuff the night before so they aren’t running around in the morning.

BUFFER TIME

Before you leave, check your map app to see how long it will take to get there and ensure you’re taking the best route. These apps will alert you to traffic issues and will route you around any unforeseen trouble spots. Take the time that is projected and add 20%. For example, if it says it’ll take 10 minutes, give yourself at least 12 minutes to get there. For a 20-minute drive, leave 25 minutes ahead of time.

For meetings, don’t leave your office when the meeting is supposed to begin. Make sure you leave your office with enough time to get to the conference room when the meeting is scheduled to start. If necessary, leave enough time to stop by the restroom or check-in with a co-worker on the way to the meeting.

HAVE A PLAN

If you are going somewhere you haven’t been before, do some research. First, check and review the directions. Find out where to park and how long it may take to walk to your destination from there. Keep the phone number on hand in case you get lost or need more detailed directions.

Don’t worry about being too early. Take the extra few minutes to check email or social media, make a quick phone call or, even better, review and update your to-do list. It’s a great to have some extra time to get something done.

TRY THIS OUT: Next time you are late, think about whether any of these tactics would have helped get you there on time. Next time you’re headed out, give it a try and see if it helps. Better yet, keep at it and when it becomes a routine, you’ll quickly find you’re always there on time!

Don’t Break the Chain

Don’t Break the Chain

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld popularized one of the most important productivity and habit forming techniques when he stated and restated, “Don’t break the chain!” He claimed that his secret to success was to write jokes every day. To ensure that he did so, he kept a big calendar and marked each day with a big red X when he completed writing.

Seinfeld explained, “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

This technique has proven successful for any behavior you want to instill or habit you might want to break. Simply set your goal and mark each day you achieve that goal. As the chain gets longer, you’ll see that you’re automatically motivated to complete the task at hand simply so you don’t break the chain.

I have integrated this technique into my task management app called priorigami. The concept is simple. Each day you select your top three top priority tasks and when you complete all three you are congratulated. The app keeps track of the number of tasks you complete each day noting the goal of three tasks per day. It looks great and feels good to see the chart when you’re hitting your goal each day.

IMG_4068

On the other hand, there are days when you’re just not that productive and you aren’t able to complete three tasks. In those cases, you “break the chain” and as you can see the results aren’t as satisfying or motivating. Looks like you came up a bit short.

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 2.53.49 PM

The reason this technique works is that it changes our focus from achieving some big audacious overall goal to the process of completing one simple thing each day. Instead of fixating on becoming a better writer, the focus is on making time to write each day. Or, instead of obsessing on losing 15 pounds, the focus shifts to making time to exercise daily.

Once you get started, you will notice that each day, the task gets easier and simply becomes part of your routine. In fact, research shows it only takes 21 days to create a new habit. So, if you try this and keep at it, in less than a month you will have also formed a new habit.

TRY THIS OUT: Identify something you want to achieve or change. Set a daily goal that can be easily achieved, measured and tracked. Get a calendar and a marker and place it in or near your desk or bathroom mirror where you will see it daily. Mark each day you complete the goal. How does it feel? How many days can you go before breaking the chain?

Productive Packing for Your Next Trip

Productive Packing for Your Next Trip

How many times have you gone on vacation and forgotten something? Happens to my husband all the time. He has forgotten his belt, sunglasses, swimsuit, medications and even his wallet. At this point it’s a family joke and we all try to guess what he might forget on his next trip.

Here are some simple tricks you can use to make sure you remember everything you need so you can enjoy your trip without the worry of forgetting something you will need. For starters, try to begin packing early and don’t wait until the very last minute.

KEEP THE ESSENTIALS

Keep the essentials that you need for every trip in a bag that’s ready to go at any time. Include the necessities including a sewing kit, first aid kit, basic medicines and toiletries. Then it’s a no brainer to quickly grab and pack it whenever you’re heading out on a trip.

VISUALIZE YOUR TRIP

Think through and visualize your trip. Imagine yourself going through each day. What are you doing? What will the weather be like? How many times will you need to change clothes? What gear or accessories will you need? How many nice or casual outfits will you need? Try to picture yourself there and walk through the entire trip in your mind to clearly see what you will need to bring along with you.

MAKE A LIST

About a week before your trip, start making a list of all the things that you will need to take, focusing mostly on the one-off items that you don’t use every day. Good examples are chargers, reading materials, travel documents and loyalty cards and accessories depending on your destination. Also, remember all travel documents and access to travel and reservation confirmations and addresses. Reference this list as you begin packing.

DO A DRY RUN

The day before your trip, pack your toiletries in your travel case and then use it the morning of your trip. Make sure everything you need comes out of your travel bag. By doing this, you will quickly realize if you’ve forgotten something and you can immediately add it to your bag and then you’re good to go. You can extend this practice to include everything you do for your morning routine. If you don’t have the luxury of time for doing this, as you get ready in the morning make sure everything you touch goes directly into your travel bag. 

TRY THIS OUT:  What have you forgotten to pack on previous trips? Would any of these practices have helped you remember that item? Before your next vacation visualize your trip, make a list of the must-haves and make sure you do a dry run the morning of your trip.

The Three R’s of Productivity

The Three R’s of Productivity

One of the little understood clues to increasing your productivity is to do fewer things. Seems somewhat paradoxical but when you think about it, you can focus on doing the most important things well when you aren’t trying to do everything all at once.

Reference the three “R’s” of productivity to identify and eliminate the unimportant distractions that eat up your time and energy.

REDUCE

You don’t have to do everything that’s on your to-do list. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of reviewing your list daily to prioritize the most important tasks but also to determine if there are things on your list that aren’t important or no longer need attention. Keep in mind that it’s OK to remove items from your list. If they truly are important, they will come back around. If there’s a task that’s been lingering on your list for over two weeks, that’s a sign that perhaps it really isn’t that important and can be removed.

REUSE

Before you begin a task, see if there’s something you have already created that you can leverage. For example, a proposal or press release that you’ve already written can often be repurposed. Also, before you create a new document or presentation look for templates to help you get started. Microsoft has a large library of templates available for their products. Also, you’ll be surprised how many free templates are available online so do a quick search to see what you can find and use. There’s no point in trying to re-invent the wheel if the heavy lifting has already been done and is readily available.

REASSIGN

Just because you can get something done, doesn’t mean that you should always be the one to do it. Think critically about the tasks that can easily be handled by someone else to free up your own time. Often it feels like it is just easier to just do ahead and complete tasks by yourself to ensure that they are complete and done correctly. However, we don’t think about the opportunity cost of what doesn’t get done during that time. Could your time be better spent? Keep in mind John C. Maxwell’s advice:

“If something can be done 80% as well by someone else, delegate.”

TRY THIS OUT:  Look at your to-do list. Which things on your list don’t need to be done? Think about which items can be removed or reassigned? See what already exists that you can leverage that might reduce the amount of time you need to spend on it. Cleansing and curating your list is just as important as creating one.

The Value of Being Organized

The Value of Being Organized

Over the years, many of my friends and colleagues have consistently commented that I am so organized. I take pride in this compliment since I do work very hard at being organized. I follow the Two Minute Rule. I make sure there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place. I live by my lists to the point that everyone knows (and even jokes) about them. I even make my bed every day.

Lately I’ve been wondering if this obsession of mine is worthwhile. Does the time spent being organized help me be more productive or is it just a waste of my time? I consider whether the energy spent on organizing would be better spent on getting stuff done. So, I did some research and some soul-searching to dig deeper.

First, one definition of “organized” is: “having one’s affairs in order so as to deal with them efficiently” which implies that there’s an inherent benefit. Second, 1 of out 4 Americans would like to be more organized. Surely, this desire is not just about having everything in the right place but to get more done. Third, when I searched for the benefits of being organized, hundreds of articles popped up listing the countless benefits of being organized from health, to efficiency to style, brand and even your reputation. Finally, I came across this quote from the wise Benjamin Franklin:

“For every minute spent organizing,
an hour is earned.”

All that said, here’s the value I can attribute to the time and energy spent on being organized:

SAVES ME TIME

Because I have a home for everything and I put everything back in its place, I never waste time looking for anything. I also schedule my full day so I don’t wonder what I should do next. I start with my meetings and appointments and then fill in the top priority tasks for the day to make sure I have allocated time to get them done. Very little of my time is time wasted.

MAKES ME MORE RELIABLE

Thanks to my to-do list I very rarely forget things that need to be done. I know that my brain isn’t good for remembering things so I make sure I always write down my tasks. Because I block time on my calendar to complete tasks and to focus on deep work, I never miss a deadline. The combination of my to-do list and my calendar ensures that I meet my commitments and deliver on expectations.

REDUCES MY STRESS

By maintaining a clean house, I don’t have to rush around and clean up before someone comes over. I don’t stress about where things are what needs to get done. I don’t worry about what I might be forgetting or leaving things to the last minute. Because I have a plan in place for the day, when urgent issues arise, as they often do, I can easily adjust and re-set expectations as needed.

THINK ABOUT THIS: How organized are you now? Identify a specific area of your life that feels chaotic. Is there a simple system or routine you could apply to help you become more organized? What would the value be to you to become more organized in that specific area? Is that benefit enough to warrant spending the time being proactive?

Crafting the Perfect To-Do List

Crafting the Perfect To-Do List

While researching productivity practices and challenges, I found that approximately 80% of us use some sort of calendar to manage and keep track of our time. We diligently enter in meetings, appointments, birthdays and other reminders. However, surprisingly, I also found that 80% of us do not have any system or methodology for tracking our tasks.

Some of us jot tasks down on a piece of paper but don’t have the list with us when we remember something else that we need to do. So, this list ends up being incomplete. Some use a notebook or try to remember tasks by adding notes or reminders on our phones. Others just hope that somehow it will all just get done.

So, why aren’t we using some sort of system, process or list to manage our tasks? Because most of them just don’t really work and often it becomes more work to maintain the list than to do the tasks. Here’s what you need to do to create a to-do list that will actually help you get things done.

KEEP ONE CENTRAL LIST 

The most critical element in developing a system that will work is to create and maintain all your tasks in one single to-do list. It’s best to keep track of everything you need to do on your Smartphone using the Notes or a task management app so your list is always with you as tasks come up. This makes it much easier to review, prioritize and determine what to tackle when.

PRIORITIZE

Don’t try to get everything done all at once. Many people fail to use to-do lists because they find them to be too overwhelming. While the list should contain everything you need or want to get done, you must prioritize the top three things you need to do each day so it’s more manageable and achievable. Schedule time in your day to focus on completing your top three prioritized tasks.

CLEANSE YOUR LIST

Spend a few minutes each day reviewing your list and updating it. Don’t be afraid to change your priorities during the day as things come up and challenge yourself to delete tasks from your list as well. Often, when a task lingers on your list for several weeks, it’s an indicator that it may not be that important.

CREATE SMALLER TASKS

Make sure to enter tasks that are clear and actionable in a set amount of time. Frequently, people get frustrated with their lists because nothing ever gets done. Make sure your tasks are broken down into each step along the way. For example, instead of adding a to-do to “Plan the party” start with “Set Date for the Party.” Once that’s done, then add “Create Guest List” and “Draft Party Invitation.”

TRY THIS OUT: How are you currently keeping track of your tasks? Are they all listed in one place? If not, start a central list or download a task management app like priorigami? After you get in the habit of keeping all your to-do’s in one list, check back to see how your tasks match up to these recommendations.