Main-te-nance (noun): work that is done regularly to keep a machine, building or piece of equipment in good condition and working order.
My last blog post was about increasing personal productivity and the importance of not getting so caught up in putting out fires that we don’t get to anything of real significance.
Consider if you have a 1967 Porsche Targa in your driveway; the issue of a tune-up is a no-brainer. No one would risk ruining such a finely crafted (and expensive) machine by neglecting routine—but critical—maintenance.
Ah, but when we turn our attention to the finely crafted “machine” reading this article, and the equally finely crafted enterprise you’re responsible for, suddenly “tune-up” starts to sound like your mother nagging you to brush your teeth. Yet the same principles apply: Maintenance is what it takes to keep us “in good condition and working order.”
Step #1 in any productivity tune-up has to start with a quick assessment of where you stand today. What’s frustrating you? Where do you feel you are failing, or just failing to achieve your potential? What are the sources of stress? Next, take a hard look at the source of these problems.
Or, as productivity expert Julie Morgenstern puts it, answer the question: “Is it me, or is it them?” Taking a hard look at these issues will help point out what needs attention. Then consider some of these tips and resources from well-known productivity experts to identify ways you can accomplish more while reducing stress and putting some enjoyment back in your life.
Keep track of your most important commitment—the one you make to yourself. Productivity guru David Allen, author of Getting Things Done , contends that commitments to yourself are qualitatively different than those you make to others because your conscious mind can essentially “lose track” of them. While your boss will remind you of your commitments to her, your mind doesn’t know your email address. What Allen calls your “mental RAM” will continue to expect those commitments to be fulfilled, but you may have forgotten about them amidst the clamor of your work life. The result is the worst kind of stress, because you feel the pressure but you can’t quite figure out where it’s coming from. In his most recent book, Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life , Allen offers several effective tips for capturing these “open loops” and closing them, either by completing, canceling or renegotiating them.
Practice saying “No.” Do you find that your work has bled almost seamlessly into your personal life? One of the answers to this problem is often the word, “No.” You have to acquire the skill to utter that magic word in order to create some boundary around your work and create the opportunity for personal relaxation and renewal. The key is to steadfastly turn down obligations unless they further your priorities.
Invest in your health. This goes without saying, right? Actually, for most of us, it also goes without doing. Yet, apart from the obvious benefits of better health, increasing your physical well-being can yield tremendous benefits in terms of your productivity at work. In the view of Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of The Power of Full Engagement , it is managing your energy—starting with your physical health, including diet, sleep and exercise—that is more important than managing time in improving your personal productivity.
Protect your mornings. Author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy refers to the “magic hour” after you get up—a time to protect yourself from the news and other distractions and concentrate on your day: What you are going to accomplish and exactly how you are going to do it. Many experts report that most people are naturally more creative and energetic in the mornings, which is an argument for applying yourself to your most challenging tasks then and saving the routine housecleaning until later in the day, one of the notions at the heart of the Morgenstern’s Never Check Email in the Morning .
Pick a system—any system—just pick one. How many different places do you squirrel away information? Email? Yellow pads? Daily planner? PDA? Post-it Notes stuck like a yellow halo around your computer screen? It might take a serious investment of time to sort through the options, but decide on one…and then use it. Each of the productivity experts referenced here, and the hundreds of others in the bookstore, will claim their system is the best. But most of them also acknowledge that any system that you actually use is going to be better than no system or the hodge-podge that so many of us have fallen into. As Allen puts it, in choosing an organizer, whether high-tech or a stack of 3×5 cards, go for “simplicity, speed and fun.”
Fun? Wait, did that man say “fun”? Another important tune-up is to get reconnected with what’s happening to your personal life. Maintaining your personal relationships, relaxing and—gasp!—having fun are critical to your mental health, which, in turn, affects your energy, creativity and productivity.
But the most important tip of all is to build a regular “Tune-Up” into your calendar. There are countless ways you can improve your productivity, lower your stress and enhance your physical and emotional well-being. But they all require some focus, some thought and some energy. The key is to treat the process of personal renewal itself as a priority.
To use Stephen Covey’s classic “maintenance” metaphor, think of this as “sharpening the saw.” Schedule it. Place it in the priority queue, assign time to it, and actually give it some of your attention. Your time will be well spent.
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.
We all want more self-confidence. Self-confidence can mean the difference between enjoying life and being afraid. Not all of the factors that contribute to self-confidence are under your direct control. But enough of them are to make a huge difference. You can develop the habits and skills that make self-confidence automatic.
With more confidence, you’ll achieve more, too. Self-confidence is personal power.
Become more self-confident and enjoy all that life has to offer:
1. Keep track of your successes. Do this all day long. Start each day with a fresh sheet of paper and list your successes. It might be a good performance at a meeting or completing a report on time. This system will change your focus and increase your self-esteem.
- You have plenty of successes each day, but you only notice a few spectacular successes each year. It’s also easy to notice every little failure. Make a list of all your successes, big and small. Avoid thinking about your failures.
2. Pay attention to your body language. Strong, confident people stand tall and sit up straight. Maintain good eye contact. Keep your body open. Smile. Pay attention to your surroundings. Imagine the most confident person or movie character you can think of. How do they stand, walk, and move?
- Adopt the physiology of someone confident, and you’ll feel more confident. Try it! Pretend you’re a highly confident person and carry yourself as one.
3. Do something that makes you uncomfortable. Having success outside your comfort zone is a fast way to increase your self-confidence. Take a speech class or jump out of an airplane. When you can deal with discomfort and experience success, your self-confidence will grow rapidly. You have countless opportunities to test this theory each day.
4. Get rid of the negative voices in your head. Those self-defeating thoughts that never seem to stop can be a major drain on self-confidence. Catch yourself when you’re making negative comments to yourself. Change your self-talk to something more positive.
5. Be over prepared. A lack of preparation can sap your self-confidence. Whether you’re unprepared for a speech, a test at school, or a vacation, preparation is the key to confidence.
6. Make of list of all the great things about yourself. List them all: your smile, sense of humor, and ability to play the banjo are all fair game. List everything about yourself that’s even slightly positive. Notice how great you already are. Then notice how much more confident you feel after making the list.
- You can probably rattle off all your faults. You’ll probably require more time and thought to make a list of your positive qualities.
7. Be assertive. When you ask for what you want, you feel more confident. When you go after the things you want, you feel more confident. Taking control of your life results in greater self-confidence.
8. Focus on others. By focusing on making a contribution to others, you don’t have time to worry about your own perceived flaws. One way to stop thinking negatively about yourself is to put your attention on something more important. The positive feelings and respect you’ll receive will also allow your self-confidence to grow.
Be all that you can be. All you need is a little more self-confidence to kick-start your way to greater accomplishments and more peace of mind. Self-confidence ebbs and flows, depending on the situation, but a healthy level of self-confidence is a powerful trait to possess. If you’re feeling stuck, a little more self-confidence might be the cure.
Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
Einstein, considered by many to be the greatest mind of the 20th century, was known for mulling over his questions until falling into a semi-trance. In these states of deep contemplation, he made fascinating discoveries, then spent countless hours working back out of the maze to make his discoveries translatable to others.
The trick to sustainable success in any arena is not, as many believe, to be the smartest or most educated guy in the room, or to be born into wealth and opportunity. Rather, the trick is to become so focused on the goal and so determined not to give up that all distractions fade into the background, and the answers rise to the top.
If you would like to see more success in your endeavors, here are 3 simple tips to help you get and stay focused, so you can achieve your goals:
1. Think “Micro”
Studies have shown that humans get overwhelmed and become less productive when focusing on too many things at once. The concept of multitasking is a misnomer as we can only effectively focus on one thing at a time. Therefore, pick one small aspect of whatever you’re doing and give it your full attention.
2. Give Yourself Permission to “Go There”
Oftentimes, we don’t give something the necessary attention because we feel we cannot disengage from all the other demands in our life. Give yourself permission to let everything else go for a while. De-prioritize to re-prioritize and be okay with the fact that in order to say ‘Yes‘ to what you want, you must say ‘No‘ to something else.
3. Give Yourself More Time
With deadlines looming, it’s easy to shortchange yourself on the amount of time actually needed for excellence. Ask for more time if you need. OR, refer to tip number 2 to create more space in your life. Progress takes persistence and persistence takes time.
You don’t have to be an Einstein to let your genius shine through. Brilliance belongs to everyone…you just have to drill deep to get to the gold.
How will you persist to unlock your brilliance today?