It is interesting how often it seems like we get so busy and focused on putting out daily fires that we don’t ever get to accomplish anything of real significance—those things that would make us happiest in the long run. Life becomes something to “get through” instead of an exciting path to greater fulfillment.
The efficiency of technology only increases the pressure we feel to do even more than ever before. All of it leaves us feeling too busy and robbed of a sense of accomplishment. So, what can we do to increase personal productivity? Below are some tips to help you to get more done in less time—and do what you really want to be doing.
Often busy-ness is a cover for not really knowing what’s the best thing to be doing. To get around this, you have to know what your priorities are in the moment. To determine this, you need know what your larger life priorities are.
One of my favorite authors is Stephen R. Covey, best-selling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and he suggests writing a personal or organizational mission statement, a statement that summarizes your higher purpose and goals in life. Here’s an example:
To create a balanced, healthy and value-driven life by creating nurturing relationships and guiding others to see their full potential through my work as a therapist.
Without a mission, you won’t be able to say no to tasks. You can only know what to say no to when you know what to say yes to first.
We can learn all the self-management tricks in the book, but none of them will be worth a dime if we don’t follow through and use them. That’s where self-discipline comes in. There’s no easy, painless way to enforce self-discipline, but if we don’t utilize it, we will be left forever unfulfilled.
Brian Tracy, one of the world’s top business speakers and author of 35 books on business and personal productivity, offers some very simple advice: Simply start doing what you know you need to do. Stop pushing it off for later. Once you start seeing the results active self-discipline yields, the desire for the payoff begins to become greater than your resistance to taking action.
To more easily promote successful self-discipline, Covey and Tracy suggest breaking down tasks into smaller chunks and then simply focusing on taking the first steps. This way all your tasks and goals won’t feel so overwhelming, which makes it easier to take action.
Clean up the loose ends
David Allen, author of Ready for Anything, points out how crises typically arise because secondary priorities have been neglected. He suggests working on unfinished tasks to open up your creativity. It’s more difficult to focus on the bigger, more urgent tasks when you’re painfully aware of ongoing but necessary projects that you never seem to start, such as reorganizing your files, catching up with your accounting, or updating your phone book. So, set aside some time—even if it’s just an hour or two a week—to work on these longer term, but less urgent projects. Just don’t let these tasks become distractions from working on the bigger picture goals.
Shattering the creativity/organization myth
Allen also talks about how many people believe that if they’re organized, they can’t be as creative. As if having too much structure limits one’s artistic expression. But every form of art needs structure. A painting or a photograph needs composition. Each individual scene in a screenplay needs to work with each other as a whole. The truth is, your creative capacity actually expands when you give it structure. That’s because when you’re organized, you actually know what to do and how to do it—as opposed to having all these wonderful, but unrealized, ideas bumping around in your head.
Balancing stress and recovery
Top athletes around the world know the value of alternating periods of intense activity and focus with periods of rest. Balancing stress and recovery are also critical in managing personal energy—and thus, productivity—in all areas of our lives.
“Too much energy expenditure without sufficient recovery eventually leads to burnout and breakdown,” write Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in their book, The Power of Full Engagement. “Too much recovery without sufficient stress leads to atrophy and weakness … full engagement requires cultivating a dynamic balance between the expenditure of energy (stress) and the renewal of energy (recovery) in all dimensions.”
Work when you’re supposed to be working!
If you want to maximize your productivity at work and balance it into the larger scheme of your life, focus is crucial. Tracy says the reason people’s lives get out of balance is not because they have too much work to do, but because they do too little work. And he means they waste too much time when they’re supposed to be working. If you have to, turn off the phone and shut down your email. You’ll find the more work you do get done, the better you feel—which motivates you to keep doing more of the same.
And some quick tips…
- Write out your goals.
- Break down your goals into actions.
- Break down these actions into bite-sized chunks.
- Schedule these chunks into your planner.
- Follow through with action.
- NEVER give into the temptation to do the small things first just because they’re small.
- Intersperse periods of intense work with periods of recovery, even if brief.