Productivity 101: Setting Out Goals

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Happiness 104: How To Forgive & Release

Productivity is the action and ability to produce

The most essential part of productivity is the reason for doing it at all

  • The most frequent unproductive action is to pursue a bad goal
    • The goal should be clearly defined
    • The goal must be attainable
    • Think deeply about what the right thing is for you to work on

Productivity is about attaining a result

  • You need to visualize what you’re aspiring for to succeed at attaining it
    • The vision doesn’t have to be a “life’s calling” as much as knowing what you want the result to look like
    • Learn to be decisive; self-doubt is unproductive while decisiveness creates productivity

Productivity is only worth attaining from a position of mental wellness

Productivity becomes near-impossible without happiness

  • Productivity is only worth its gains when it increases happiness
  • Habits will need to change, which is more difficult when unhappy
  • Improving a productivity system will never improve productivity as much as learning happiness

Productive people have to be self-aware enough to know what to change in themselves and their environment

  • Productivity only happens when we have tended to all of our needs
  • You are most productive at things you care about or like
    • Also, if you delegate what you don’t like to people who do like it, they’ll be more productive at it than you!

Productivity is similar to budgeting

If you don’t make plans, you misuse your time

Focus on managing your energy instead of your time

We expand our work to fit the time we’ve allotted for it

  • Giving two hours for a 30-minute task will slow us down considerably
  • At the same time, we expend extra energy if we have to work on an overly tight deadline
  • An effective system in place allows you to take higher risks and earn greater rewards, all in less time

Improving productivity is about making the time you have more useful, not using more time to do more things

  • Instead of measuring time or measuring production, measure results
    • Even if it takes some searching, every task has something measurable
  • Micromanaging your time is as rewarding as micromanaging your money
  • Improving productivity by as little as five minutes a day creates significant long-term benefits

Focus on what to finish instead of what to start

  • We don’t get the feeling of reward until we have finished a task

Setting time for personal tasks and relaxation is necessary

We are all human, which means we can’t work repetitively forever

  • Energy management is vital due to how much it changes throughout a day
  • Leave extra time in your schedule to think about what to work on
  • Read books, hang out with interesting people, spend time in new places

Without intentionally making “personal” time, all of it will be commingled together

  • Work/life balance is less a “balance” and more separating work from personal
    • Being perpetually busy is a sign of failure
  • Both multitasking and distractions destroy productivity, and not resting guarantees a feeling of hastiness and rushing
  • Work to be done will never “finish”, and there’s no true end to it

There’s a vast difference between stress and pressure

A state of constant activity only feels more productive

Stress is a psychological state that comes from our environment

  • Eustress motivates you to work more
  • Distress prompts panic or counterproductive performance

Pressure is the psychological state of being “pushed” toward something, influenced by four dimensions

  • Skill level – includes how familiar you are with the work and your education about it
  • Personality – typically the more extroverted, the better to handle high-pressure work
  • Confidence level – the more confidence, the better to handle higher pressure
  • The complexity of the work – the more complex the work, the more it suffers from high pressure

Productivity is the balance between challenge and skill


It’s much better to experiment and learn through starting and failing a few times than to find the “perfect system”

Start with smaller things

  • If someone can’t take the time to floss their teeth, they won’t be capable of managing a massive project
  • Small bits of happiness from completing small tasks make larger ones easier as we grow more confident

Be very specific about how much time you plan to use, even though you’ll be wildly inaccurate at first

  • If it helps, write down a daily journal of productivity to see your progress over time
  • Many times telling a story about what happened or what you want to happen can boost productivity

Everything in your life can benefit from setting goals

If you don’t set your goals, circumstances and other people will set the goals for you

  • Aiming for nothing in particular guarantees that you will devote energy to nothing in particular

Make a 5-year plan for what you want to see changed in your life

  1. Write down at least ten answers for each of the questions:
    • What will your job be like?
    • What will your family be like?
    • What will your physical appearance be like?
    • What will your home be like?
    • What will a typical day be like?
    • What will you be looking forward to?
    • What will your social circle look like?
  2. Keep changing and updating these goals periodically as life changes
    • You won’t likely get to all of your goals, but it’s better to attain 5% of your goals than to achieve nothing and keep hoping to one day succeed
  3. With that in mind, work backward to what the next year needs and what your current steps are

Set professional goals

You should be setting your goals, not your boss

  • Your boss’ job is to give you boundaries about your goals, not the motivation for attaining them
  • In many cases, your boss may cause your unproductivity, and you need to rise above it

Set aside time for professional development

  • Look at continuing education or certifications that align with your career path
  • If you work on a billable rate set aside time for restructuring, planning, and recuperation
  • If you’re self-employed or run a business, it’s vital to separate your professional and personal lives

Make goals about your family & friends

Whatever expectations your family may have of you, your time is your decision and nobody else’s

If you do not insert family time, your professional time can quickly take over or will inspire you to make decisions based on guilt

As you become more productive, you may lose touch with some of your less productive friends

Make personal/leisure goals

It may sound counterintuitive, but planning for personal time allows for more opportunity to recuperate and recharge

  • Create time every day for exercise and meditation
  • Most religions believe in a dedicated day of rest, and science has proven that it makes people 150% more productive
  • Set aside time to learn and grow in your hobbies and pastimes
  • Eliminate the useless “me time” commitments built to waste time

Cut any ego-boosting activities

  • An ego-boosting activity is anything that doesn’t directly inspire you or others to grow or develop
  • Some ego-boosting activities can include being on a volunteer board, church activities, or being in a club
  • The time needs to be focused solely on something you want to do, not on something you feel compelled to do or will necessarily be “productive”

Along with your days, plan out your evenings and weekends

  • Plan for time to relax and for “flex time” to allow for odd things that will come up
  • If you’re doing work that you love, leisure time can easily be mixed with professional time, but it’s wise to separate them as much as possible

Every good productivity system shares a few components

Productivity has 3 distinct and important steps

  1. Brainstorm about what to do
    • This is not unproductive and is the only way to align desire with action
    • This often happens while relaxing or doing something unrelated to the matter at hand
    • Depending on the circumstances, this can persist for days, weeks or months
  2. Plan on what to do
    • Without brainstorming first, plans will be driven by fears and other undesirable motivations
    • Planning takes more time than it appears, and is the first part where anything is committed to paper
    • Great planning focuses on what creates the greatest results instead of the greatest feeling of accomplishment
    • Most of the time, a complex plan can be broken into smaller and more manageable pieces
    • Try to find ways to remove unnecessary steps to the plan
      • Learn to say “no” to anything unnecessary to your desired goals
    • The more planning you do, the more time it takes
      • Some people don’t start out of a fear of starting, so consider how much time is really worth planning versus starting
  3. Do what needs to be done
    • Skipping planning or brainstorming will make you feel “enslaved” to the task
    • Overly committing resources a little bit helps to get you started
      • A commitment creates a “forcing function”, which makes it necessary for you to perform what you want to do
      • At the same time, watch for over-commitment that you can’t back out of if things start looking unattainable!

Make a system that works naturally for you

  • Whatever your system is, it needs to create a natural flow from Brainstorm to Plan to Do
  • You can combine any other existing system that adds value to you
  • You aren’t married to one system, and every system needs to be adaptable to the one using it

We should track the limited amount of resources we have faithfully


  • Ask how much time tasks will take
    • We often underestimate this from expecting perfect conditions
  • Look at when tasks are due
    • Set personal deadlines before the official deadlines to allow comfort and error
    • See if there’s any room to delay it
  • Check for room to act on it later
    • Consider postponing non-work considerations like personal responsibilities or dedicated leisure time

Energy and motivation

  • We often have time for tasks but have no energy or motivation to complete them
  • Learn personal limits and limits of others through self-reflection
  • Consider if the work is genuinely gratifying and start considering making long-term changes to accommodate that new realization

Money, manpower, and other physical resources

  • Use the SCHEMES acronym
    • Space – is there room for it?
    • Cash – can you afford it?
    • Helpers/people – are the right people able to assist?
    • Equipment – do you have the right tools?
    • Materials – do you have enough to finish?
    • Expertise – have you researched and understand enough?
    • Systems – do you have something in place to carry it out or continue carrying it out?

Commitments might need to change

Renegotiate commitments as you discover their need to be changed

We often make commitments without realizing how much they’ll cost us

Rethink them and adjust them to reality instead of killing yourself over it

Change commitments that weigh you down the most as soon as possible

All your goals need to be in one unified system

Capture everything that you’re planning or thinking about in a hybrid of paper and digital

  • Paper is sometimes better
    • It’s faster and simpler
    • Brainstorming is easier with paper
    • It cuts down on distractions
    • It is easier to learn and remember with
    • It’s less of a strain on your health
    • Sticky notes can be placed anywhere you need them to be
    • It doesn’t require electricity
  • Digital is sometimes better
    • It can be backed up
    • It’s more readily available at multiple locations and simpler to share with others
    • It can be reorganized more easily
    • Reminders can be automated
    • It can be easily searched
    • There are many options to choose from, including Evernote,, and

Bigger goals need ambition, but smaller ones must be as practical and straightforward as possible

Little goals need to line up with your big goals

  • Set priorities on the goals based on how important they are to what you want

Any goal that seems too big must get divided into multiple smaller ones

  • Every goal will drill down into a specific task that you can do right now
    • Start every task with an “action” verb
    • That task will be a single-step or multi-step verb
      • Single-step verbs take minutes to complete
        • Book, brainstorm, buy, call, copy, discuss, draft, edit, email, fill out, find, gather, load, outline, print, purge, read, record, register, research, review, schedule, verify, wait for, write
      • Multi-step verbs can take hours or even days
        • Analyze, build, complete, decide, design, ensure, finalize, finish, handle, implement, install, launch, look into, maximize, organize, research, resolve, roll out, set up
  • If done correctly, you will have a list of tasks that should point to every single goal you have
  • Every task needs to have a deadline for it, even if that deadline keeps getting postponed
    • We naturally postpone tasks without deadlines indefinitely

Plan out your day and week before that day or week starts

Estimate how much time each of the tasks will take

Apply the 2-minute rule: if it takes 2 minutes or less to do it, do it right now if you have time for it

  • If you don’t have time for it, create a “2-minute list” for when you are waiting for something else

Daily and weekly items need to adhere to specific rules

  • You must be able to visualize doing the task
  • You can reasonably accomplish the task during that time
  • Never create more than eight tasks for any given day
    • Science has shown that we never finish more than 6-8 tasks for any given day
    • List fewer items you can confidently complete instead of more items you may or may not finish

Group the tasks together based on where they will be performed (office, home, errands, etc.)

  • Arrange reference items with tags, titles, highlights and categories to make it easy to access what you need
  • Include time for later to plan for the future and improve the planning process

After breaking up the plan into manageable tasks, dive headlong into it

  • Be flexible to any changes that may arise as you work

As you finish them, cross off or delete completed tasks

  • Aim for To Do List Zero every day, where there is nothing left on your list
  • Move everything you couldn’t finish to next period’s list or reconsider its value

Learn to say “no” to tasks with confidence

Accomplishing goals requires saying “no”

  • Saying “no” is much harder than it sounds, but is the only way to create more time in your schedule
    • It takes practice to say “no”, so don’t expect to say it confidently and tactfully at first
  • You have a right to graciously and firmly say “no” to anything
    • Evasively responding builds false expectations
    • To say “no” is not impolite, but some people with poor social skills will be offended by it
  • There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything you want and also stay healthy and balanced
  • Work with your own best interests in mind

If you know your priorities, you will naturally and easily decline tasks

  • Think about the worst that will happen if you don’t do the task
  • Systematically purge anything no longer relevant
  • Make calculated decisions to say “no” instead of reactions that say “no” when you are overwhelmed

There are many ways to say “no” politely

  • I have so much on my plate right now, I don’t know when I can get to it, but I do know someone else who can help you right now
  • I can’t help you until tomorrow, but I can give you some resources that might help you do it today
  • I would have to drop (task) to do it
  • I can’t fit anything else in/I’m swamped right now
  • I’m sorry, but I’m not able to/I wish I had time
  • Ask me in a week/month/year
  • Not now/Can we talk about this later?/Could you please ask me later?
  • I wish I could help, but I’m trying to cut back
  • I want to help, but I want to be fully focused on it

Habits or lifestyle decisions often have to change

  • Make the focus on the behavior itself, not the consequences
  • Instead of trying to stop the current habit, redirect that habit’s energy into a new habit

You have many productivity systems to choose from

Agile Results – if you’re goal-oriented or have to keep a complex timeline

  1. Set 3 outcomes you want to see for the upcoming year
  2. Set 3 outcomes you want to see for the upcoming month that line up with that year’s goals
  3. Set 3 outcomes you want to see for the upcoming week that line up with that month’s goals
  4. Set 3 outcomes you want to see for the upcoming day that line up with that week’s goals
  5. Perform the tasks for the day or week
  6. Adjust at the end of the respective periods for the next periods

Biological Prime Time – if you are nerdy enough to measure literally everything

  • Track your biological rhythms to find the best times for different kinds of productivity
  1. Eliminate any factors that may mess with your energy, such as caffeine
  2. Record what you’re accomplishing once an hour, every hour that you are awake
  3. Look for patterns in the data once you’ve collected it

Don’t Break The Chain – if you’re trying to change a daily habit

  1. Set out a small but intentional habit you want to routinely do or stop
  2. Have a paper wall calendar that you cross off every day you do the task
  3. Do the task every day and make a “chain” of a daily task

Eating Live Frogs – if you procrastinate to where you miss deadlines or rush your work

  1. Order your tasks from hardest to easiest
    1. Things you don’t want to do, but need to do
    2. Things you want to do and need to do
    3. Things you want to do and don’t need to do
    4. Things you don’t want to do and don’t need to do
  2. Work on the hardest task first
    • The most important
    • The most uncomfortable
    • The most mind-numbing
    • The most difficult to do

Eisenhower Method Matrix – if you feel controlled by urgent things that keep coming up


Only do what is important (i.e., “above the line”), and disregard whether or not it is urgent

  • After finishing Quadrant I, most people naturally move to Quadrant III, but productive people move to Quadrant II
  • To live inside Quadrant II is extremely hard because there is no instant gratification and there is no reason to panic about it
  • What’s urgent is seldom important, and what’s important is rarely urgent

Getting Things Done (GTD) – if you have a lot of loose ends that need clarifying and tidying up

  1. Collect every single thought, scrap, idea or process that you have into one big area
  2. Process everything through a specific filter
  1. Organize the results by working backward from your life’s purposes
    1. Define your ultimate purposes and principles
    2. Visualize the outcome you want to see based on your purposes and principles
    3. Brainstorm how to accomplish that outcome
    4. Organize what to do to achieve that outcome
    5. Identify the next actions to achieve your ultimate purposes and principles
  2. Review what to do regularly
    • Have a “Tickler File” of 43 folders, 31 for each day and 12 for each month
      • The Tickler File will remind you about something you either want to or need to get done
    • Routinely purge tasks and clear out old or obsolete concepts
  3. Do tasks based on context, time/energy available and priority

Must, Should, Want – for when you want prioritized lists more than graphs

  1. Make categories of MUST, SHOULD, COULD and WOULD
  2. Group the tasks based on their overall importance
    • MUST is non-negotiable
    • SHOULD needs to be done, but not necessarily today
    • COULD are things you want to do, but they’re in no way necessary
    • WOULD are things that may make sense, but are too much of a drain on resources to be currently feasible

Personal Kanban – for when you start many projects but rarely seem to finish them and feel the concept of planning is a waste of time

  1. Set up “boards” as columns from left to right
  2. Label the boards at the top
    • Not Started
    • In Process
    • Completed
  3. Add all of the tasks
  4. Break out more boards as needed to capture all of the phases of completion
  5. Move all of the tasks across the boards as they are completed
    • Subdivide and separate the tasks if you partially complete any of the tasks
  6. If you need to, arrange the board into a grid by placing Priority or Members on a board near the left side and allowing a second vertical dimension for the tasks

The Action Method – for tidying up the messier aspects of creative brainstorming

Action Items – steps to get the project done

Backburner Items – interesting ideas that don’t directly fit into the project plan

Reference Items – resources and information needed to complete the project

The Paper Clip Strategy – for staying on task when you want to automate your work

  1. Designate a task you want to be done more than a few times in a day, then put that many paper clips in one container
  2. Place one paper clip in a second container as you finish the task
  3. You finish your task when you’ve emptied the paper clips from the first container

The Pomodoro Method – for getting things done when you tend to be distracted

  1. Break down tasks
    • Measure out how much time it takes to do a task
    • If it takes more than 25 minutes, break the task into more tasks until all tasks take less than 25 minutes
  2. Schedule breaks
    1. Spend 25 minutes focused exclusively on that task, then take a 5-minute break (a Pomodoro)
    2. Do 4 Pomodoros
    3. Take a 30-minute break or call it a day

The SMART system – for brainstorming and planning before starting big projects by forcing every task to be actionable

Specific – details, details, details

Measurable – how much and how long?

Attainable/Assignable – who can do it, and when?

Realistic – can this be done?

Timely – when?

The To-Done List & To-Don’t List – for when you are concerned about what you’re not finishing or getting to doing

Start with a To-Done List

  1. Keep track of what you’ve accomplished during the day
  2. Focus solely on your progress and ignore what you haven’t completed
  3. Review the To-Done List at the end of every day

When tasks keep showing up that aren’t getting done, create a To-Don’t List

  1. Make a list of activities, bad habits and distractions you want to avoid and write them down
  2. Check them off as you avoid each of them

 Timeboxing – for when interruptions and distractions take over your whole day

  1. Instead of thinking of tasks to be done, group them by the type of work they’re made of
  2. Estimate the amount of time that each item will take
  3. Block off specific times of the day for work on specific types of work
    • One variation of timeboxing is day-theming, where each weekday is dedicated to a type of work
  4. Set a timer for each block and do the relevant work

Keep polishing and reviewing your system

Ask intentional questions to keep improving your system

What’s the next action?

How do I make others feel and respond?

What are my assumptions?

What habits am I developing?

What do I spend my time most thinking about and doing?

Learn skills to improve your productivity

Increase your touch typing speed

Learn speed reading

Implement cloud storage into your system

Practice mind puzzles, brain games, and chess

Learn computer programming to automate your tasks

Learning to make and use a great productivity system requires patience

You’ll never have a “perfect” productivity system since they all fail to capture every detail

Routinely review your goals and tasks

  • Track your progress
  • Put everything you can’t do until the unplanned future into a someday/maybe group

If you keep procrastinating until the last minute

  • Set tighter deadlines to avoid giving yourself room to slack off
  • Make your goals smaller
  • Ask if you’ve brainstormed enough on the matter
  • If you have many tasks, start with the easier tasks first

If you’re having a hard time finishing your list

  • Analyze what your obstacles are ahead of time and plan countermeasures
  • Break down your largest tasks even further
    • Disassemble the item into its smaller parts
    • Do a horrible first draft, and then revise as another task
  • Set reasonable goals that are attainable

Pay attention to the 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle), where most of the work is coming from a small percentage of the causes

  • You have a limited amount of time, energy, and resources
    • Don’t waste time on stupid stuff and focus on the most important tasks
  • Not all your investments will give the same results
    • Look at the results of your time and look for the greatest value for your work
    • Drop the more time-consuming clients and less effective projects

Avoid “productivity porn”, where you’re optimizing your productivity and wasting time while doing it

  • Consider how much time it will take to improve it, then how much time per period it saves
  • Spending 2 hours to gain 5 minutes every day is worth it, but probably not from gaining 5 seconds

Finally, once you have your goals, make the environment you’re working in more productive

Next: Productivity 102: A Great Working Environment