Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” You may be busy from the moment your alarm goes off in the morning until the time your head hits the pillow at night, but are you accomplishing anything meaningful toward the fulfillment of your goals? Are you making forward progress, or are you just running in place?
Make a decision today to stop wasting time—or just spending time—and, instead, invest some time in learning how you can be more productive in the areas of your life that really matter.
Our SUCCESS team has put together tips and strategies from experts and readers alike for enhancing your productivity at the office, at home and on the go. Read our favorites, and then feel free to join the discussion on Facebook or Twitter and share some of your own best practices.
1. Plan your day.
Although many people rely on their computer’s calendar, writing down events and to-do lists in a day planner or journal forces you to spend a few minutes each day setting short-term goals and prioritizing tasks. Reader Simon Ponce uses the 90-Day Success Planner. Of course, the Franklin Covey planner is a beloved classic. And other readers have discovered The 7-Minute Life Daily Planner by Allyson Lewis, who suggests the strategy of a “5 before 11” list—the five things you want to accomplish before 11 a.m.
2. List your goals.
Hopes and dreams remain fantasies until you identify them, write them down and create a plan for achieving them.
3. Determine your best time of day.
Are you a night owl? An early riser? You may already know your peak times of day for energy and creativity. If not, take a week and chart the times of day when your energy and attention seem to peak or lag. When do you work quickly or creatively? When do you make the most errors? Once you know your peak times, schedule activities accordingly, keeping in mind that everyone has highs and lows throughout the day; it’s what you do with them that counts.
4. Journal .
Not only a diary, a journal is an all-encompassing log of thoughts, ideas, discussions, phone numbers, tasks, planning, reminders, etc. By keeping a journal, you’ll have only one place to look for previous ideas, thoughts and plans. As SUCCESS reader Jim McMonagle says, “My journal is my productivity tool. It keeps me focused on what is most important every day.”
5. Commit to a peak-performance partner.
Once a week, have a 30-minute accountability call with another super-achieving peer. Discuss your wins, losses, fixes and ah-has, and challenge each other for better results the following week.
6. Rethink and renew.
Historian Arnold Toynbee said, “Nothing fails like success.” Using old strategies to tackle new circumstances may be keeping you from taking greater strides.
Stephen R. Covey recommends taking time to rethink. “We have to examine our paradigms (our view of things), our tools, our skills to determine if we’re approaching the problem in the right way. As a first step, we may even step back and make sure we’ve correctly defined the problem. Then we need to see if, based on the evidence of results or lack of results, we need a new approach.”
If you find you need some new tools or skills, don’t be discouraged. “This can be an exciting proposition because you will most likely find new growth and development in the process—this is success!”
7. Narrow your focus.
What three projects, tasks or priorities will most contribute to the accomplishment of your biggest and most important goal? Write them on a notecard, and then spend 90 percent of your day on those tasks. Spend the other 10 percent delegating, reassigning or in rapid response.
8. Leverage technology.
Although your smartphone can be a distraction, it is also a valuable productivity tool, aiding in last-minute research, emergency file downloads, calendar management, social networking or grocery lists. Explore your phone’s capabilities and see what it has to offer.
9. Get real with your to-do List.
“I make a to-do list by the week,” says SUCCESS reader Eva Pauline Scott. “Then I can see everything at a glance and pick what I need to do at the time that will fit the day. Also, I like David Allen’s Getting Things Done idea that If it will take less than two minutes (in my case 10), do it now.”
10. Take personal responsibility.
You are the only one responsible for handling your time and productivity, says Laura Stack, author of SuperCompetent: The Six Keys to Perform at Your Productive Best. “Never lay the blame on anyone else,” she writes. “Unless you live in a totalitarian state or are an indentured servant (unlikely), then, when it comes to productivity, it’s all up to you. If something or someone gets in your way, it’s your duty to go around.”
Calculate how much your time is worth and spend it doing what you do best. Then hire others to clean the house, pick up the dry cleaning, complete mail-outs or answer routine e-mails. “I don’t do it all myself. Delegation to well-trained and talented staff is the key,” says SUCCESS reader Shelly Larson Lisoskie.
12. Remember Your Why
Whether it’s your toddler at home, your spouse on the beach or a group of lifelong friends that’s more like family, remind yourself what you’re working for: time with the people you love most. As SUCCESS reader Joan Graham says, “I stay focused. I have photos of my family at my desk, which motivate me and keep me centered.”
This article was published in August 2010 and has been updated.
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