Two Essential Steps to Productivity

Folks generally fall into two categories: the free thinkers and the list-makers. Regardless of which camp you fall into, most of us regularly experience the time warp phenomena that leaves us asking, “Where did the time go?!”

As a free thinker, you’re likely pulled in a variety of directions based on where your interactions and creative thoughts take you. As a list-maker, you probably spend more time creating and organizing your lists than you do on actual tasks (this is me). How do you get things done and move forward on extraordinary (and overwhelming) goals?

There are hundreds of formulas and strategies for boosting productivity. From my experience as a supervisor, a business leader, and on a personal level, it boils down to two simple, but essential, steps:.

1. Create Deadlines that Matter: Given a deadline, especially an externally-defined due date, both free thinkers and list makers will put some rubber on the road, at least at the last minute. We thrive on external gratification. However, if you’re the CEO, you work for yourself, or you’re looking for traction on personal goals, you are probably setting your own deadlines, which are more like “maybe-lines.” To keep yourself from pushing back your own success, develop an accountability partner. Share your goals with someone you respect enormously, and then set up regular meetings. You will quickly find it impossible to show up empty-handed to those meetings, creating deadlines that matter to you.

2. Doing the next right thing: The “next right thing” is not a new concept, but it can revolutionize how you invest your time. Here’s the trick: do the next right thing that will move you toward your goals. It’s deceptively simple, but requires practice and focus. Instead of a detailed to-do list that assumes all things will remain constant while you progress from task to task (and get overwhelmed by the 100+ check boxes), the idea is to understand your goal and then complete the next right thing that will make a dent. It’s often just a phone call or setting up a meeting. The process ensures that the most important task each day gets tackled first, which gives you early traction that can keep you doing the next right thing all day.

We all have 8,765 hours in the year. The average American uses 1,768 of those hours to watch television (that’s 34 hours per week). If you assume only 7 hours of sleep each night, that leaves the average Joe with 4,442 potential productive hours. You could still accomplish amazing feats if you used that time wisely, if you insist on spending half of your life in bed or watching sitcoms. Creating deadlines that matter to you and then investing in high-impact tasks that evolve with your goals, or teaching your employees to do so, will set you up for achieving the extraordinary.

  1. What a novel approach! I am going to have to find someone to do this with as well. Prevention through accountability – so that I don’t ever have to write:

    “This past (entire!) hour I justified reading my twitter feed for marketing. By 1 o’clock I will put another $1 in the bad behavior jar and actually get something impactful done.”

  2. These are both good tips. I’m going to try the “next right thing” approach tomorrow at work.

    When I was in undergrad, I would set up productivity sessions with an accountability partner, wherein we both logged on to an IM app and at the top of each hour wrote this to each other:

    “This past hour I _____. By _____ o’clock I will ______.”

    They replied with the same, and we just repeated each hour. It’s just a short term goal with accountability attached. The key is to not really get into conversations; just a declaration of how I did (whether I achieved the goal or not…no judgment or excuses) and what I’m going to do next.

    I think I’m going to try to revive this idea with my wife…

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