During a recent talk I gave to a group of health professionals, when we asked the audience if they would like to learn becoming more productive, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’. But what came after the ‘yes’ disappointed me: “…of course, time management is so important in our job”.
You see, often when you hear about productivity, the first thing that comes to mind is Time Management, To-do lists, and email policy. But being productive i.e., engaging in stuff that adds most value to your time on a daily basis requires more than calendars, apps and email management.
We need a new way of looking at productivity and effectiveness. And this new paradigm must solve the most common drawbacks of the tired old thinking revolving around the use of time. It must address the struggles we face due to lop-sided approaches to efficient work.
- It should be balanced i.e., it should not create disharmony between your various roles in life.
- It should be sustainable – something you can adopt as a way of life, and not a “flavor of the month”.
- It should fuel your wellness – physically, emotionally and spiritually.
- It should be platform-independent – that means it should be adoptable regardless of whether you like or hate technology and the ever-increasing noise of “productivity tools”.
If you want to cultivate a habit of being productive and make it a part of you, pay attention to these four critical pillars:
Energy, Time, Task and Psyche.
In other words, an effective productivity system must:
- Maximize your energy levels.
- Optimize your time management
- Streamline your approach to work
- Position your psyche for peak performance
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These four pillars work in harmony to create peak productivity. Ignore any one and you set yourself up for failure. In fact, we could look at specific combinations of each (without one or two of them) and clearly see the consequences of not having a comprehensive approach. For example:
- Ignoring energy leads to burn-out and illness
- Ignoring time leads to inefficient performance.
- Ignoring task management leads to errors and overwhelm.
- Ignoring psyche creates a feeling of emptiness, and ultimately makes the entire habit unsustainable.
So, what can you do about these four pillars?
Maximize your energy levels
Your goal should be to begin your day at a high, and maintain an optimal level through-out. Here are a few suggestions to do that:
- Eat to fuel and freshen, not to feed and fuse-out: Eat the right foods, at the right times in the right quantities for the right reasons.
- Move more: find excuses to get up and about thru-out the day. More importantly, find ways to move not only your body, but also your mind and spirit! (isn’t it amazing that a great conversation, a good book or a beautiful scenery can uplift us?)
- Rest & renew: Sleep well, take micro-rests and naps thru-out the day. Empty your mind thru meditation daily.
- Breathe well: a most effective wellness booster – breath was always considered a miracle instrument, both for physical wellness and spiritual evolution by Eastern traditions. For good reason…as science is now beginning to understand.
Optimize your Time Management:
The secret here is not in scheduling or living by the clock. Here are some tips:
- Understand your rhythms and cycles: yes, everyone of us has a waxing and waning pattern with regards to performance. Once you know what times are the best for you, you could utilize those blocks of time to do your best work.
- Become a Minimalist: Noted designer Dieter Rams gave a great mantra for all of us to live by : Less, but better. Spend your moments invested in things that matter, those that add meaning to your life and work, rather than chasing all rabbits. (I highly recommend you read Greg McKeown’s insightful book Essentialism to keep your eyes on what truly matters).
- Avoid working under influence: No, it’s not what you think. If driving under influence is dangerous, so is working under influence. But very few folks function after a tipple. Here the influence I am talking about is that perilous addictive habit called multi-tasking. Avoid the illusion of efficiency your multi-tasking habit puts you in. Do one thing at a time and get into a state of flow doing it.
Streamline your approach to work:
It’s never the work that kills you. It’s your troubled relationship to your work. The way you handle your work is very similar to handling a demanding child – with care, diligence, focus and without allowing it to get the better of you. Here are some good tips to remember-
- Focus on 1 big accomplishment each day: That’s it. Work to create 1 big splash daily vs a lot of wasted spraying around.
- Follow the 3-3-3 rule: have diamond clarity on your big 3 annual goals, then chunk them down into goals for each quarter (so you have 3 goals for each quarter), and finally schedule them in weekly increments of 3 smaller goals each. This must be your main focus from week to week. Everything else must take second place.
- Every morning, tackle your biggie: Plan out in minute detail how your day will play out the night before. Identify your big task for the next day. Then get to it first thing in the morning. And stay at it till you take it to a logical conclusion (which could mean ‘complete’ or end of one phase and/ or beginning of another). The rest of your day will be a breeze.
- Have a strategy to work your to-do list: A lot has been said and written about to-do lists, so I wont get into the details and how-tos. What’s important is that you adopt a customized technique that helps you get thru your list in a reasonable manner within a reasonable time-frame. For example, one effective way is to label your items as ‘must-dos’, ‘should-dos’, nice-to-dos’ and ‘whatevers’. Naturally, your ‘must-dos’ must never be at the mercy of your ‘nice-to-dos’.
- Become good at slicing: If you want to get big projects done, you must come up with a practical list of smaller steps. In other words, chunk your big tasks down into smaller bite-sized pieces. Here, the critical step is first chunk – because if your first task is something that can be done in reasonably quick time with optimal effort while being fun and exciting, you will launch into it immediately. This will kick-start your big project and inject the required fuel and momentum to keep going.
Position your psyche for peak performance
We all need the right emotional frame of mind to even want to become productive, isn’t it? If you lack motivation or enthusiasm, you are not going to pay attention to your time, energy and task. Guaranteed. So, in a way, your psyche ensures that your productivity system doesn’t get derailed. Here are some tips to keep yourself revved up to craft a great day:
- Start and end on a good note: Darren Hardy calls it ‘book-ending your days’ in The Compound Effect. How you begin your day decides how your day will pan out. And how you end your day decides what frame of mind you wake up with the next day. So, its critically important to have some rituals at the two boundaries of your day. After you wake up, set yourself into a positive frame of mind engaging in some proven practices such as meditating, praying, reading something inspirational or instructional or simply feeling grateful for a few specific blessings in your life. Before you go to sleep, recall anything positive that happened during the day and feel thankful for it. And have a positive expectancy about the coming 24 hours.
- Use will-power but don’t depend on it: Will-power has been proven to be a finite resource till the next refill – just like the charge on your iphone. You have a limited quantity for any given day, so use it wisely. Don’t leave your critical tasks and decisions for late in the day because by then your will-power battery may already be in the red. Better yet, automate as many routine functions as possible so that you don’t have to revisit your decisions (and thereby consume will-power in the process).
- Play tricks on your mind: did you know that by informing your mind about how close you are to your goal completion, your momentum and enthusiasm to work can increase? Also, setting and keeping visible deadlines in front of you while you work can be a powerful tool to help you focus and work effectively. In addition, make it a daily practice to measure your productivity (how much time did you work productively or waste, how energetic you felt during the day, what was your mood like etc). This will create more awareness. As Robin Sharma says, awareness precedes choice precedes mastery. If you measure it, you have better chances of improving it.
So there you have it. You can come up with several different strategies to make your 4 pillars stronger on a daily basis. But remember, before strategies, you need to have a strong ‘why’ to become more productive, and the discipline to stick to your chosen strategies.
What additional strategies can you think of?
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