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.

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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.

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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.

How Being Busy Breeds Productivity

How Being Busy Breeds Productivity

Why does it seem that the busiest people get the most done? It’s certainly not just because they are busy. Being busy and being productive are very different things. You can be very busy with all sorts of distractions and time-wasters without getting a single thing done. You can also be very productive taking a long, relaxing walk while solving a very difficult problem that’s been blocking your work. But while they are very different, they do work hand in hand.

I’m sure you have heard Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” I have often wondered why this was the case. Logically, it would seem that the people who aren’t as busy would have the most time and ability to get a task done.

While working in the corporate world, juggling work, home and two very active student athletes, I was often asked to take on one more task and for the most part I would happily take it on and get it done. Interestingly, now that I’m running my own business and my daughter is soon off to college, I find myself having more flexibility and more time and for a fact, I’m not as productive. My to-do list is longer than it ever was and tasks linger on my list for much longer.

Since I have now experienced first-hand the fact that the busiest people indeed are the most productive I have a better understanding of why this is true. Here are a few reasons why busy people get more things done.

THEY HAVE A SYSTEM

Busy people must be organized to keep up with everything they need to do. So, they naturally and routinely use systems to support them including their calendars, to-do lists, notes and communication tools. They have a process and are disciplined in sticking to it so when something new comes up, it simply fits right into their existing processes. There’s a place and priority for everything.

THEY ARE RELIABLE

Busy people deliver on their commitments. They agree to do something and get it done and then in turn, they are asked to take on more. They are asked to do more because they are dependable which in a way ends up being a vicious circle. The more they do successfully, the more they are asked to do. The biggest struggle for busy people is learning to say “No” to tasks that are unimportant or can be delegated to someone else.

THEY DON’T PROCRASTINATE

Busy people don’t have a lot of free time and they know that things always come up at the last minute so when a new task comes up, they try to tackle it as quickly and as soon as possible. To make sure it gets done, they will schedule time to get it done and sometimes they will even schedule a backup time to ensure there’s still extra time to do it. Recurring tasks are scheduled and conducted on a routine schedule for fear of them not getting done in time otherwise. On the other hand, those who aren’t so busy feel like there’s plenty of time to tackle a task later and often it just lingers.

THEY ARE FOCUSED

Because there’s so much to do, busy people recognize that when they are working on a task, they need to focus their full attention on it. They know they need to complete it as efficiently as possible and move on to the next thing. They do not have the luxury of dilly-dallying over a task for any extended period.

TRY THIS OUT:  How busy are you? Look at your busier days and compare them to some of the not so busy days. Do you notice a difference in the level of your productivity?

The Myth of Time Management

The Myth of Time Management

So many of us talk about time management. Countless articles have been written and tools have been created to help us manage our time. There are time management gurus, tutorials and classes. Half of our working day is spent juggling our calendars in a never-ending attempt to “manage our time.”

But, what if we cannot manage time? Consider that this may just be a completely useless exercise. If you think about it, no matter what we do, time will always continue to tick forward. We cannot rewind it and we cannot fast forward it. It just is and just continues according to the plan – each second, every minute, the next hour and then into the next day.

That said, it should be obvious that time itself cannot be managed. I would propose that instead we rethink what we’re trying to “manage” and reorient our focus to the things that we can and do control:  our priorities, energy and attention.

PRIORITIES

Each day we all have more to do than we can handle. We know what needs to get done and we constantly make choices about what’s most important and what needs to be prioritized. Setting clear and deliberate priorities is the single most critical factor driving our productivity and future success. We can and do control how we spend our time even if we cannot control time itself.

ENERGY

We can also decide how to spend our energy. Energy is finite and to optimize output, it’s imperative that we focus our efforts and our energy on the most important priorities. This is harder to do than it seems these days due to the countless distractions that get in our way. So often, we expend more of our energy on the things that are seemingly urgent but not all that important.

ATTENTION

Focus seems to be a lost art especially for me. With countless dings, pings, alerts and notifications, it’s virtually impossible to focus on any one thing for an extended period. I personally struggle with this constantly. Research has shown that multi-tasking is not possible and simply does not work. To be most productive it behooves us to focus our full and complete attention on one task at a time. I have found that the Pomodoro technique works best for me since it forces me to focus for a set amount of time and reward myself with a break.

TRY THIS OUT: Do you spend a lot of time trying to manage your time? Does it work for you? Do you spend any time managing your priorities, energy and attention? If not, pick one and try to focus on it for a day or two. Do you find that you’re more productive?

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.