Productivity 101: Setting Out Goals

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Happiness 104: How To Forgive & Release

Being productive is being in a state of mind that is producing

  • Productive people have to be happy enough to change habits and self-aware enough to know precisely what to change
  • Productivity covers anything that can make someone successful
    • Improving productivity is about making the time you have more useful, not using more time to do more things
      • Our work will expand itself to fit the time we have allotted for it
        • Conversely, our energy towards our work will increase when we cut down the time on it
      • Instead of measuring time or measuring production, measure results
        • Focus on what can be finished instead of what can be started
        • Sometimes it is hard to find something measurable, but you will find it if you look hard enough
    • You will need to have a vision of what you’re aspiring for in order to succeed at it
      • This is not a life’s calling, it is just knowing what you want your end result to look like
        • You don’t need to know your life’s calling to do meaningful work, just what the project looks like
      • Learn to be decisive, since self-doubt is unproductive while decisiveness always creates productivity
    • Understand the difference between stress and pressure
      • Stress has two parts
        • Stressor – the cause of the stress, usually from your environment
        • Stress – a psychological state, which has two types
          • Eustress – motivates you to work more
          • Distress – motivates you to panic or do something counterproductive
      • Pressure – the psychological state of being “pushed” toward something
        • There are four major things that can influence how much pressure you’re feeling
          • Skill level – includes how familiar you are with the work and your education about it
          • Personality – typically, the more extroverted the easier to handle high-pressure work
          • Confidence level – the more confident, the higher the pressure can be handled
          • Complexity of the work – the more complex the work the more it will suffer from higher pressure
      • The work to be done is never truly “finished”, and our instinct for laziness refuses to believe it
    • Productivity is the balance between challenge and skill
      • flow
  • Productivity is similar to budgeting, without making plans you are guaranteed to misuse your time
    • Instead of managing your time, it is better to manage your energy
      • The gains from a better system will not make you as productive as simply learning to be happy
      • An effective system in place allows you to take greater risks and earn greater rewards
    • Without blocking aside time for doing things or relaxing, most of it will be commingled together
      • Work/life balance is less a balance and more a separation of work and personal
        • Being constantly busy is a sign of failure
      • Have a state of perpetual rush runs the risk of multitasking and distractions, which both destroy productivity
    • Micromanaging your time is as rewarding as micromanaging your money
  • Instead of focusing on being perfectly productive, it’s much better to start and learn from failing a few times to figure out what works best
    • Start small, since if a person cannot take the time to floss their teeth they won’t be able to manage a large project
      • The most important thing to stay motivated to be productive is to feel the small bits of happiness from accomplishing tasks
    • Be specific about your time usage, 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 the act of telling a story can boost productivity

When setting goals, cover the full range of your life

  • If you don’t set your goals, circumstances and other people will set the goals for you
  • Make a 5-year plan for what you want to see changed in your life
    • Writing down at least 10 traits 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?
    • Keep changing and updating these goals periodically as life changes
      • You won’t necessarily get to all of these goals, but it’s better to try for many goals and attain some than not attain anything
    • With that in mind, work backwards to what the next year will need and what the next steps will be
  • Set professional goals
    • You need to be the one 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 actually be the cause of your unproductivity, and you need to rise above it
    • Set aside time for professional development, such as continuing education or certifications
    • 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 extremely vital to keep your professional life separate from your personal life
  • Make goals about your family & friends
    • Whatever expectations your family may have of you, your time is your decision and not anyone else’s
    • If you do not insert family time, your professional time may easily take over or you may make guilt-based decisions
    • When you start becoming more productive, you may lose some of your less productive friends
  • Make personal/leisure goals
    • It may sound counterintuitive, but planning for personal time allows for a chance to recuperate and recharge
      • Many things that you do to boost your ego can be cut, such as being on a volunteer board or church activities
      • 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”
      • Create time in every day for exercising and/or meditation
    • Plan out your weekends as well as your evenings
      • Most religions believe in a dedicated day of rest, and it has been proven to work in making people more productive
      • Set aside time to learn and grow in your hobbies and pastimes
      • Eliminate the useless “me time” commitments built to waste time
    • You will need to 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 get easily mixed with professional time, but it’s wise to keep them separate as much as possible

There are universal guidelines that every good productivity system needs

  • Productivity involves 3 distinct and important steps
    1. Brainstorm about what to do
      • This can go on for a long time, depending on the circumstance
      • Many times this can happen while relaxing or doing something unrelated to the item in question
      • Brainstorming is necessary to align desire with action
    2. Plan on what to do
      • Planning takes more time than it seems, and is the first time any sort of purposing is committed to paper
      • If planning is done without brainstorming, plans will be driven by fears and other undesirable motivations
      • Planning also focuses on what creates the greatest results instead of the greatest feeling of accomplishment
      • Think about ways to remove unnecessary steps to the plan, if possible
      • Many times a very complex plan can be broken down into smaller and more manageable pieces
    3. Do what needs to be done
      • Without brainstorming actions become tedious, frustrating and can become counterproductive to ultimate goals
      • Simply doing without planning or brainstorming guarantees a feeling of being “enslaved” to the task
  • Keep track of the burden of resources your tasks will take
    • Time
      • How much time it will take, which is often underestimated by using perfect conditions
      • When it is due
        • Personal deadlines set before official deadlines for comfort
        • If there is room to delay it
      • If there is room to not act immediately on it
        • Non-work considerations like personal responsibilities or dedicated leisure time
    • Energy and motivation
      • It is very common to have time for many things, but have no energy or present initiative to complete them
      • Self-awareness is necessary to understanding personal limits and ultimately the limits of others
    • Money, manpower and other resources that fall under 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?
    • Renegotiate commitments as you discover them
      • This is especially true for the ones that weigh you down the most
      • We often make commitments without realizing its cost
      • Rethink them and adjust them to reality instead of killing yourself over it
  • Put all of your goals into one system
    • Capture literally everything that you’re planning or thinking about
      • To capture everything, it needs to be 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 for learning and remembering
          • It’s less of a strain on your health
          • Sticky notes can be placed anywhere you need them to be
        • Digital is sometimes better
          • It can be backed up
          • It’s more readily available and easier to share
          • It can be reorganized more easily
          • Reminders can be automated
          • It can be easily searched
          • There are many options to choose from
    • 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 create a combination of any 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
  • While ambition drives the bigger goals, the smaller goals need to be as practical and straightforward as possible
    • Your 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
    • Make your goals into smaller ones when they seem to be too big
      • When a goal is tied to habits or lifestyle decisions
        • 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
    • Every goal needs to finally drill down into some sort of specific task that you can technically do right now
      • Have every task start with an “action” verb, and be sure whether it’s a single-step or multi-step verb
        • Single-step verbs take only minutes to do
          • 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 some sort of deadline to it, even if that deadline has to keep being put off
    • Learn to confidently say “no” to some tasks
      • Saying “no” is absolutely necessary to accomplish your goals
        • You have a right to say “no” to anything, graciously and firmly
          • Responding evasively will build false expectations
        • There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything you want and also stay healthy
        • You need to work for the best interests of yourself in mind
        • To say “no” is not inherently impolite, but some people who cross your boundaries will be offended by it
      • Knowing your priorities will create a natural ability to decline tasks
        • Think about the worst that will happen if you don’t do the task
        • Systematically purge whatever is no longer relevant
        • Make calculated decisions to say “no” instead of reactions that say “no” when you are overwhelmed
          • Saying no takes practice, so don’t expect to say it confidently and tactfully at first
        • This is a lot harder than it sounds, but it’s the only way to create more time in your schedule
      • There are many ways to say it without bluntness
        • 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 extremely busy
        • 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?/Can 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
  • Plan out your day and week separately before that day or week actually starts
    • Only list items that can be reasonably accomplished within that time frame that you visualize actually doing
      • It’s better to list less things than more things, since it gives a feeling of completion
      • Never create more than 8 things in any given day
    • Estimate time for each of the tasks
      • Apply the 2 minute rule: if it takes 2 minutes or less to do it, just do it right now if you have the time for it
        • If you don’t have time for it, create a “2 minute list” for when you are waiting for something else
    • 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
    • Save time for later to plan for the future and improve the planning process
  • After breaking up the plan into manageable tasks, dive headfirst into it
    • Be flexible to any changes that may arise as you work
  • Cross off or delete completed tasks as they are finished
    • Aim for To Do List Zero every day, where there is nothing left on your list
    • Put everything you couldn’t do into the next period’s list

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
    • eisenhower-matrix
    • Only doing 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 only endeavor for Quadrant II
      • To live inside Quadrant II is extremely hard because there is no reason to panic about it and there is no instant gratification
      • What’s urgent is seldom important, and what’s important is seldom 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
      • gtd
    3. Organize the results by working backwards 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
    4. 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
    5. Do things 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 own 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. Your task is done when the paper clips are emptied 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 hasn’t been 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 manage to avoid each of them
  •  Timeboxing – for when interruptions and distractions take over your whole day
    1. Instead of thinking of tasks that need to be done, group the tasks 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
      • A variation of timeboxing is day-theming, where each day of the week is dedicated to a type of work
    4. Set a timer for each block and do the 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
  • You will need to learn to be patient to develop and use a great productivity system
    • You’ll never have a “perfect” productivity system, since they all fail at fully capturing all of the details of what needs to be done
    • 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 procrastinate 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
      • Sometimes, the number of tasks may mean it’s easier to start with the easiest 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 biggest 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
    • Not all investments yield the same results
      • Look at your investments’ yield and look for the greatest value for your work
      • Have a willingness to drop the more time-consuming clients or the less effective projects
Next: Productivity 102: A Great Working Environment