Have you ever felt really productive? You were able to check off a dozen items from your to do list, catch up on reading, and spend time with an old friend all in a single day! I know I have experienced days like that, but wouldn’t it be better if those days weren’t so far apart? Would you like to see those kind of “productive” days a few times a week instead of a few times a month?
In order to accomplish this high state of accomplishment, you have to dive deeper into the meaning of productivity, set the right kind of goals, and regularly keep yourself in check. Being productive has become an ambiguous term for doing as much as possible, but productivity is more than that; it’s about doing the right things on a consistent basis.
It’s easy to fall into the productivity trap. Ever write a long to do list and plan your week out only to realize you spent more time planning than actually getting things done?
“It’s time to stop doing productive and start being productive” – Mike Vardy, Productivityist
In this post I want to talk about setting yourself up for success. Instead of talking about being productive, you can actually be productive. Let’s change the way you approach productivity so you can consistently reach a state of accomplishing all you set out to do.
The first step to being more productive is to set an even playing field. What does being productive mean? To some, being productive is measured by how many items can be checked off a list. For others, productivity is measured by doing work that aligns with your responsibilities, and for others productivity is just a matter of how long you can stay off of Facebook (you know who you are).
Productivity is measured by effectiveness (doing the right things) and efficiency (doing that right thing in a reasonable amount of time). Combining these two actions creates high performance and productivity in any area of life. The proper definition for productivity is “the state or quality of producing something.” What are you producing?
Defining productive work
Productivity is about combining effectiveness and efficiency. Let’s break down each of these areas and start defining what productive looks like.
- Effectiveness: What skills and abilities are you paid for? Since I’m a web designer, the most valuable work for me is designing websites – not answering emails, generating invoices, having meetings, or paying taxes.
- Efficiency: There are usually a handful of tasks you can check off to call your day successful. For me it’s hitting a design milestone on a website project, fixing a certain amount of bugs, and/or clearly communicating with clients. Being efficient is about doing the least amount of work to get the most amount of success. Check out the 80/20 principle to learn more about this concept.
Take the time to define what work is most productive for you. Make sure your to do list has more of the tasks that matter most to your responsibilities, and do your best to figure out how to be more efficient by setting priorities on the tasks that will produce the most results.
Now that you’ve defined what work is most important, it’s time to define goals to set yourself up for longer term success. Goals are a concrete way to keep you motivated over time. It’s easy to be productive today after reading this article, but what about tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Well written goals will help set purpose and drive to your work, so even when things get tough you have something to strive towards.
A well written goal should follow a set of requirements to prevent ambiguity. The SMART criteria is a great place to start (taken from Wikipedia):
- Specific: target a specific area for improvement
- Measurable:quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress
- Assignable:specify who will do it
- Realistic: state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources
- Time-related: specify when the result(s) can be achieved
Don’t create too many goals, but try to set long term (12 months) and short term (six weeks) goals to prevent yourself from becoming numb to what you want to accomplish.
Here are a few examples of good goal writing:
- I will run and complete the marathon in town on May 16, 2015.
- I will have 5,000 email subscribers by July 4, 2015.
- My team will complete and launch 30 new website designs by December 31, 2015.
Notice that productivity isn’t all about work. You also need to focus on your personal life. Setting goals will put you a step ahead of the pack. Just consciously deciding what you want to accomplish will set you up for success.
Now that you’ve written your goals, it’s very important to set up regular times to review those goals and measure your performance, as well as reviewing projects, tasks, and calendar events on a regular basis to stay laser focused.
Here are some practical time frames and actions you can take on a regular basis:
- Daily: Choose the same time every day to decide what top three actions will bring you the most success towards achieving your goals; do them first.
- Weekly: Choose the same time every week and review all your projects, calendar events, and to do lists to make sure everything is up-to-date. Also check to make sure everything you’re doing lines up with your goals and is the best use of your time. The weekly review can be the most productive use of your time, if you use the time wisely.
- Monthly: Every month take a closer look to make sure you’re reaching milestones that bring you closer to achieving your goals and analyze your projects, calendar, and tasks to make sure you’re not losing efficiency or effectiveness. A monthly review allows you to change direction if need be. Remember life happens in seasons; it’s possible your daily tasks, projects, and even goals can change over time.
- Yearly: Sometime in the next year you should take the time to start this process over and really look at where you are going in life and what you want to achieve. A yearly review is not just a time of analyzing how you can improve effectiveness and efficiency (focusing on your short falls), sometimes the best yearly reviews happen when you look back at the previous year and give yourself praise for all you did accomplish.
The most disappointing thing about goal setting, trying to be more productive, or any other form of personal development is when a person stops trying. The last piece of advice for a great year of productivity is to keep growing. Learn new things, keep pushing your skills, learn from others and don’t be afraid of change. Growing and becoming better is really what productivity is all about.
Let’s make 2015 a great year of productivity. Remember it’s about being effective and efficient so you can reach your goals. Review yourself regularly and never stop growing. I wish you the best of luck!