It’s all a game. Usually you lose.
It’s 6:30am. You get up after you snooze your alarm three times, still feeling groggy. You pull yourself together and think you are on the right track to get to work before 9:00am after getting your kids off to school and your spouse off to work, all with lunches in hand. You think for a few minutes about that big project you need to get done and you go to the task of attacking it.
Fast forward to 3pm. You’ve had interruption after interruption. An employee needs help with a “quick question.” Your spouse sends you a text asking where to pick up the dry cleaning and what is for dinner. You talk an angry customer off the ledge for 45 minutes. Your lunch didn’t get eaten and you have spent 30 total minutes on the big project without really making any progress. You end the workday feeling exhausted and unproductive. Sound familiar?
Let’s stop the madness so you can win!
I have been analyzing productivity for years and have come to a few key realizations:
- It takes diligence to be in control of your time. Everything and everyone will try to sabotage that control. And they’ll succeed if you allow it.
- You are unique and therefore your map to productivity has to fit who you are and how you work.
- With effort, you can be in control of your time.
In coaching people on their productivity, I find it most helpful to ask two questions: What area do you need to be productive in? And how will you do it? We can look at these questions from five different angles: the big picture, each month, each week, each day, and each hour.
Let’s break it down here so you can dive into creating your own personal productivity system.
The big picture: If you don’t have a map, how will you know where you’re going?
In order to get a hold of your time, you first have to think about your goals. Identify where it is you want to go and work backwards on how to get there. For example, let’s say your big picture goal is to increase gross revenue by 10% by December 31.
This goal clearly answers the first question of what. It is clear, measurable, and you’ll know if you have succeeded or not at the end of the year. But it seems like a pretty massive idea, so it needs to be pulled apart into smaller steps in order to be achievable.
Next consideration: how. Here, you are going to think about your most meaningful contribution to meet the goal. Think about your zone of genius and how you can work from there. Let’s assume that you are incredible at sales. Thinking about the previously discussed goal, your big picture effort might be to outline a monthly sales and promotional strategy. For example, you’ll boost referrals in January, roll out a new class in February, cross-sell summer camps in March, etc.
Each month: Step by step, the path becomes clearer
Now that you have a framework of the project or goal, you can go back to the two questions, this time with each month in mind. Decide what has to be done first and set that for the first month, and so on with subsequent tasks and months. It’s critical to remember that not everything can be done at once! Keep separating out smaller segments of steps so you can plan accordingly and make progress over time. Then, look at how you will make those steps happen. Maybe you need to carve out specific sales-oriented days before the month begins. Get those on the calendar and don’t budge!
Each week: Little by little, you will see progress. Celebrate every win!
At the beginning of your week, visit the plan you’ve created to answer the what and the how up to that point. Staying on track with the plan will clarify the best direction forward. Reduce friction in your week by protecting the time that is devoted to your project or goal. So, in our example, let’s say you’ve mapped out time on two days per week, Wednesdays and Fridays, to increasing sales. Your first week might look like this:
Each day: Slow and steady wins the race.
You might take planning a step further at the beginning of the week or at the beginning of a day, depending on how you operate best. If you can identify the best time of day to work on the project or goal, you can carve that out as soon as possible and not let something else hijack that time. For example, you might be able to set aside Wednesday morning for phone calls because you know that is a time when you can close your office door and focus, plus the best time to reach those clients is after 9am.
Each hour: Stick to it and you will succeed.
Oftentimes, you might know what to do but underestimate how much time an activity will take. It is important to monitor a project by asking if you gave yourself enough time. (Try setting the stopwatch app on your phone when you start a new task.) If you haven’t given yourself enough time, adjust for all future times in hours/days/weeks to align with what you’re trying to get done. Remember, you need to know how to modify your plan to keep making progress.
Diligence for the win!
If you can carve a big project into smaller pieces and place those pieces into your schedule, you will start to see major gains in your business and in your life. Don’t let other people or things define your what and your how.
Be intentional with your years, months, weeks, days, hours. You only get this one life to live and what you do and how you do it will define your legacy. Are you going to leave that up to other people or are you going to take it into your own hands?