My friend Drew asked me for some productivity tips the other day.
I don't consider myself an expert on the subject, and I certainly waste my share of time. In fact, I believe that not being productive all the time is important for our emotional and spiritual help.
But Drew's request did give me a good excuse to gather my thoughts. Let's dive in.
Fruitfulness, Balance & Impact
At its best, productivity has almost nothing to do with marking tasks off a list and everything to do with fruitfulness, balance, and impact. Healthy productivity requires investing the present wisely to create a more peaceful, prosperous future.
In other words, productivity has at its heart discernment and wise decision-making, not frenetic activity.
Let's say your goal is digging up a stone. You can "work stupid," dig furiously, and excavate a huge hole around the stone, or you can instead work smart, dig thoughtfully, and remove just enough dirt to make room for a lever. With a lever and a fulcrum—that is, with simple tools—you can work much more efficiently.
Discernment is the fulcrum. Wise decision-making is the lever.
Wally Wallington demonstrated that a single person can lift a Stonehenge-sized monolith, weighing 22,000 lbs. He also moved an entire barn over 300 feet by himself. He used only his own muscle, gravity, and ingenuity.
Ingenuity is one of the human traits that makes us different than slugs.
I have no revolutionary productivity tips to share, but perhaps some of you will benefit from applying muscle and ingenuity to the leverage points that I outline below.
Set Daily Goals
With no chosen harbor, any wind will do. So choose your harbor by making goals for each days. What is the one thing that will make today a success if you accomplish it?
Big deadline to meet? Report to finish? Website to launch?
The quality, or significance, of our goals is more important to our success than the number, or quantity, of our finished tasks. You will meet your goals more often if you spend 15 minutes each morning choosing them. Write them down on a 3x5 notecard. Put it in your pocket. Or buy the No. 23 Leather Pocket Journal from Colonel Littleton. I've used mine for several years now.
Keep your list of goals next to you while you work.
Focus on finishing those and only those.
Eat the Frog
I stole this concept from Brian Tracy.
If you have more than one thing you need to accomplish, start with the things that you'd rather avoid. Turn off that drippy faucet of anxiety!
Perhaps you need to have a hard conversation with your business partner, tell your clients you're raising your rates, or fire an unresponsive contractor.
Rather than procrastinate and spend all day full of dread, eat the frog. Do the unsavory tasks. You'll feel energized.
Focus that reclaimed bandwidth on other, more enjoyable work.
Evaluate Importance and Urgency
You can spend your entire day blazing through your to-do list and still feel disappointed at the end. Why? You crossed off a bunch of unimportant, non-urgent to-dos that didn't move the needle.
Focus on those tasks that protect your livelihood and grow your business.
Differentiate High- & Low-Leverage Tasks
What do you do on those days when nothing feels urgent?
Focus on those tasks and activities that are "high-leverage." High-leverage tasks are the ones that you enjoy and the ones that make you money. By contrast, low-leverage tasks are ones that drain your energy and have no impact on your bottom line.
One of my high-leverage tasks is blogging because I love to write. Blogging might feel like cruel and unusual punishment to you. So don't do it. Pay someone on oDesk to turn your list of bullet points into a 500-word post.
Focus on the projects that make you the most money and bring you satisfaction, then delegate the rest.
Multi-tasking is for amateurs.
Focus on finishing your prioritized list of daily goals, and you'll end up being vastly more successful than all the people trying to do 10 things at once.
Capture New To-Dos
Lunch, coffee, meeting, phone call, email, text message, Voxer, Facebook, Skype…
Create a system for capturing new to-dos when you're on the go or in the middle of finishing your daily goals.
If I'm driving from one meeting to the next, I use Siri on my iPhone 5 to create reminders for whatever action items fell to me. I can do this without endangering myself and slow-moving grandmas at the crosswalk. If I'm still in the meeting, I write tasks down in my pocket journal on 3x5 notecards.
Because I use this simple system consistently, very few important to-dos fall through the cracks.
Focus on capturing new to-dos without getting sidetracked by them.
Next week, I'll be sharing some of my email productivity tips.