Pay-off: how to quickly become a productive person
Investment: 8 mins (4 mins if you’d learned to speed read)
You’re not as productive yet as you’d like to be are you?
(I recommend pausing to actually consider some possible answers).
Being productive vs becoming productive
Perhaps one problem is that most productivity advice focuses on how to be productive rather than the more useful and important, “how to become productive”. You can’t just be the person you currently are whilst doing things differently. You need to become the person who does things differently.
It’s a bit like teaching a high jumper that all they need to do to win is jump higher than the bar.
A lot of what’s presented in personal productivity articles and talks makes sense on paper, but have you noticed how it doesn’t often address the gap between where you are personally at and how to actually get to the stage where you’re doing this stuff consistently, and well?
My intention is to help you rapidly become productive. So read on…
What’s hot in ‘productivity’ right now
In this week’s post I’ll share a few popular productivity ideas that you may like to explore and then I’ll finish with a controversial method I came up with and have called ‘The Productivity Snowball Method” that’s simple, practical, and helps you actually become productive, which you can apply as soon as you finish reading.
This approach rapidly increases your momentum and motivation until you reach a productive state of mind that propels you through your day, feeling increasingly stronger as you storm ahead.
What’s the productivity silver bullet?
First, to put you in the picture, I’ve always been looking for the productivity silver bullet.
Some years back I ran many courses on ‘how to double your productivity’, which were well received. I focused on helping my clients to produce more with less, work smarter not harder, and to force their efficiency (an old MSN Finance article of mine here on how to force your efficiency – an approach I still often use. Again, I suggest reading later!)
Both myself and my clients enjoyed the results these ideas were getting, one Director of a company I worked with saying “In many cases, I can now get done in 2 hours, tasks that would previously have taken 2 days.” When you experience results like that, sharpening your productivity becomes addictive. And I think it should. Because having greater control over your time, energy, and results is pretty liberating.
And when you feel like you’re winning, winning becomes easier and more likely.
So you get the picture. Any one of us can question and improve our own productivity. We can better align ourselves with achieving important things faster, more easily and consistently. Doing so enables us to experience and live a different work and personal lifestyle with a more rewarding set of outcomes. Imagine the effect on your business too, if everyone in your team improved in this area.
The 2nd most useful productivity idea
I’m going to be controversial here.
Perhaps the most commonly taught idea on personal productivity these days is the idea of tackling your most important task first. I was once a big fan of this. But it’s dropped to number 2 on my list.
Gary Keller recently focused on this idea in his useful book ‘The One Thing’. You can click on the images for Amazon links if you’re interested.
Tim Ferris recommends clearing your top 2 most important tasks before 11am in his book, “The 4 Hour Work Week”.
And a very productive friend of mine argues that you have time for two things every day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and that the other ‘stuff’ doesn’t really matter because it didn’t make the cut.
Before both of the above popular books, Brian Tracy said the same thing in his short and more practical book “Eat that Frog!” where the ‘frog’ is the most important task that you’re most resisting.
And ‘resistance’ is an important concept in the world of productivity. The excellent book, “Do the Work” by Steven Pressfield explores this idea. He convincingly argues that to be productive, resistance is the monster we must continuously conquer, and gives some ideas on how to do that, particularly aimed at authors and writers, but applicable to all if you’re prepared to think it through.
And there are plenty of other popular techniques and systems such as Dave Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) where he’s a big fan of clearing your mind, and processing your to-do’s:
And there’s the The Eisenhower matrix (important vs urgent, but neglects energy levels and feelings of resistance) and one of my personal favourites for the last ten years, the work of Mark Forster who created the ‘autofocus’ and ‘final version’ approaches which are interesting to productivity geeks, but more importantly useful and fairly simple for just about anyone to use.
But how about something ultra-simple that helps you become productive
If you’re looking for a simple model (that you don’t even need to learn – or rather I’m going to help you accelerate your learning of it) that helps you:
- get the most important thing done early
- overcome resistance
- build momentum and motivation
- shift to a productive state of mind
- feel great about your progress
- get the little things done too
- clear the path ahead to become more productive
- make your day easier and more enjoyable as you progress
…then let me introduce it via an interesting discovery:
The productivity snowball method
Have you heard of the debt-snowball method for clearing debt effectively? It has helped many people clear debt more easily, and faster using the counter-intuitive approach of clearing your smallest debt first rather than your most costly debt first. (Disciplined money focused people stop cringing – this works well for others who aren’t like you!)
Creating your own productivity nemesis
Whilst mathematically it makes much more sense to clear your most expensive debt first, you invite the biggest scariest monster of all to stand between you and your problem – ‘resistance’.
Clearing the expensive debt first is smart, if you’re disciplined. But progress is not obvious. And so momentum and motivation (and all those things we want to feel in our life) get squashed before they even had a chance to see the light of day. And we wonder why it’s so hard.
Clearing the smallest debt first, whilst potentially more costly, shows quicker progress, momentum and motivation, and can make you feel good and more determined to chop away at what’s ahead. It tackles resistance head on. Easy wins first. Progress progress progress. And consequently, you may just keep up the behaviours required to clear your debt more effectively over all, mostly, because it feels good.
It gives you that essential constant feedback that you’re actually winning, and that you can do this. What price would you pay for that?
This helps you increase your chances that you’ll get the right thing done.
And that’s the idea behind my method of being productive in your day.
Start by becoming stronger than the monster in front of you
The rule is: you must be stronger than the monster ahead of you, at every moment of the day.
That’s the rule.
And to become stronger, you must earn that strength by convincing yourself that you are strong, by winning small battles along the way that you’re practically guaranteed to win. Because this feeeeeds you with some sort of magical productivity juice.
Each battle won, increases belief and makes you stronger until you kind of feel unstoppable.
But note the important word, ‘battle’.
Each task you knock over early must be carefully picked because it’s a task worth doing, with positive results that advance you towards your larger goals. i.e. you don’t earn this powerful feeling by reading the headlines, making coffee, or having idle chat with your colleagues. No, those uses of your time are lame attempts to warm up (or procrastinate).
You become productive by warming up on being productive immediately.
So, how can you ‘learn’ this approach quickly, since I usually wrap an accelerated learning model around these things?
Simple, you view your work day as a three course dinner.
How to eat your day up like a pro
Brainstorm all that needs to be done. Check:
- your calendar
- your previous days work
- your goals
- what’s ahead
- what you’re resisting
- what’s hanging over your head and keeps haunting you that you could do with getting done
Then, keeping in mind your finite appetite, as well as what’s more nutritional, allocate these to each course of your dinner as follows:
Pick tasks that are important for your progress but quick and easy to knock over.
The achievement of these tasks must make you sense important progress, with a sense of clearing the path ahead, clearing your mind and freeing up your focus for your main meal. They should help you feel like you can smash through walls (especially if your main meal is a toughy!)
They should take no more than 30 minutes all up.
They should enable you to knock off a big chunk of tasks from your to-do list, so it looks simple moving ahead.
I find it fun to do them over upbeat music, and with coffee.
And you should begin your main meal (at least the first few ‘bites’) BEFORE taking a break. Taking a break would destroy your momentum and enable the ‘resistance’ to grow again. You don’t want that.
The main meal is your ‘frog’ or your ‘one thing’. Usually the thing you’re resisting the most which makes the most impact if you get it done.
Often it’s about creating or connecting something you’ve created. It’s mightily important. You get paid most to do this thing, and you’re the person to do it. Everyone is relying and counting on you.
Spend your morning doing this, with total focus (and regular short breaks to get up and move!)
Aim to get it done by 12pm.
Don’t do any other tasks that threaten the achievement of this one (you could consider turning all distractions off, or working from home.)
And obviously, since you want to snowball your wins and keep your strength up, cut your food up into bite sized pieces or you’ll choke. You can slice up and organise your main meal so that it feels easy, if you think it through. It’s you who determines the size of each battle you’re going to win in order to continuously feel stronger after each one. Don’t over look that. You’re snowballing remember, not melting or grinding to a halt.
Dessert and tomorrow’s menu
By now you should have enjoyed your starter and main course. You can use the afternoon to do the less demanding tasks – still important things, but you’ve already won the biggest battle of the day.
So now you get to use your energy and handle resistance however you like in the afternoon, focusing on whatever you are more drawn towards, so long as it’s important! You may decide to keep working on your main course still, if that’s keeping you feeling strong. But don’t threaten your energy for tomorrow. Pick your tasks to both move you along but also make you feel stronger and better.
On that note, any tasks that you haven’t added to your starter, main or dessert obviously should be stored on your menu for tomorrow’s consideration (or scheduled for a later date).
And once you’re done with your dessert you can go down the pub, see your family, or catch a movie.
This approach is easy to implement by default although meetings and commitments may throw things slightly off course. Obviously if they do, in between just come back to your dinner (starting again with a smaller starter if you need to build yourself up again).
Essentially this approach is about strategically ordering your important tasks to create an increasingly growing productive state of mind, which have you slice through your tasks easily and enjoyably.
The take away tool is the dinner model. But you must also remember to keep the starter to 30 mins and ensure you pick tasks that increase your strength whilst also making most progress through your ‘main meal’.
Most productivity advice I’ve come across doesn’t address this important point. It just tells you to get the important thing done! Well good luck with that if you’re not mentally, physically or emotionally ready to..
Let me know how it works for you or if you have any other questions. I hope I’ve been clear.
Enjoy your meal! And if you liked this post, please share.
P.S. if learning to develop productive habits is important to you or your team, I can probably help each person find their own unique silver productivity bullet, so give me a shout. I also help your sales and non-sales teams to do this here.
P.P.S. Why not order your current to-do list into this structure right now and get straight on with your starter…