There is no end to the articles and blogs and tools and apps that aim to help you be more productive. Many of them are even good. But in some ways, they’re all a bit of distraction for the task at hand: getting stuff done.
Being productive is hard. If it was easy — if an app could solve your problem — we wouldn’t see such a proliferation of articles and blogs and tools and apps.
So to make things a bit easier on ourselves, let’s start by defining our terms.
What is ‘productivity’ anyway? Productivity means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For us, let’s define productivity as the clarity to focus on the right things and the ability to move the needle on some of those things every day.
Personal productivity is a Holy Grail: Many pursue it. Few seem to find it.
For me, the secret to moving the needle every day is to fall into a regular rhythm of productivity — a daily, weekly, quarterly, and annual rhythm. I use that rhythm to affirm what is important, set a course, and chose what to focus on — then I work like hell to get stuff done.
How to Be Productive Every Day
Start every day with a 5 – 10 minute review of what needs to be done that day. If you think about it, it’s a little bit crazy to start the day without stopping for a minute to take a breath, look over the millions of things that you could do that day, and pick a few priorities for the things that you absolutely want to do that day.
Try to pick two or three “Most Important Tasks” (MIT’s) that must get done that day. Often times, the tasks pick themselves as meetings and deadlines and milestones dictate. The tasks you pick for the day will also depend on the goals and theme that you have for the week.
The Real Secret of Productivity: Turn Productive Days into Productive Weeks
If a productive day is good, a productive week is better. After all, it’s stringing all those product days together that allows you to achieve your biggest goals. But that means remembering to look ahead — and to recap where you’ve been.
At The Beginning of the Week: Look Ahead
Every Sunday afternoon, or first thing Monday morning, I take 15 – 30 minutes to plan the week ahead. Ask yourself these kinds of key questions:
- What are the most critical outcomes I need to achieve this week?
- Who are the most important people with whom I need to spend time?
- What should I do more / less of?
- What new things should I do to take my life in the direction I want it to go?
At The End of the Week: Looking Back
On Friday afternoon or Saturday morning take 15 – 30 minutes to review the week that is wrapping up. Savor what you have accomplished that week and assess how well you have done. I typically ask myself questions such as:
- Did I accomplish what I set out to accomplish?
- How well did I honor the person I am trying to be?
- What remains undone?
- What do I need to stop doing?
- What do I need to do differently?
I write up my responses in a journal and move things around my ToDo list in anticipation of the week ahead come Monday morning.
Warning: Don’t Forget the Big Picture
In addition to being productive daily and weekly, it’s important to make sure the things you’re getting done are moving you in the right direction. That means stepping back occasionally to look at the big picture.
Quarterly: Review Your Career from 10,000 Feet
Once per quarter, take a half-day (or two) to rise up to the 10,000 foot level, review your progress, and make any course corrections. Spend half of your time looking back over the last quarter. What did you accomplish? How happy are you with the results?
Spend the other half of your time looking ahead. Where do you want to be in the next three months? Do you need to make any adjustments to your strategy? What will be the goals and theme for the upcoming quarter?
Download the Quarterly Review Planner for a great list of questions that help with looking back and looking ahead.
Annually: Review Your Business from 50,000 Feet
Once a year spend some time on the big picture. Where are you going with your life, your business, your career? This is the 50,000 foot view of the year ahead. This is classic strategic planning. Consider the questions:
- Where are you now?
- Where would you like to be in a year?
- How will you get there?
See my article on Demystifying Strategic Planning for a great overview of the annual strategic planning mindset.
Learn to Tie It All Together: Creating Your Own Rhythm
To make all of this work, you need a bit of a system to keep track of what you are working on and what you have done — but that is a topic for another day. I use a simplified version of the Getting Things Done approach to productivity and an application called Things.
You don’t need to get fancy — and don’t be distracted by a system, a tool or an app! Just start the rhythm: daily / weekly / quarterly.
If you don’t already have a system, just grab a stack of 3 x 5 cards, clip them together with a binder clip, and make a list of your three MITs every morning. Develop a rhythm first. Evolve into a system later.
- Check out the archives to my Pause • Plan • Do Newsletter, which contain a full year of Monday / Friday questions.
- Set aside 15 – 20 minutes on Friday afternoon to review your week.
- Set aside 15 – 30 minutes on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning to plan for the week ahead.
- Download the Quarterly Review Planner and start to plan for your next quarterly review.
- Have fun. Progress is its own reward. Life is too short to toil with too much work and too little time.
May you have a productive week.
Is there a productivity tip you’ve had success with? Do you have your own rhythm you use? Share it in the comments!