10 Unusual ways to be Exceptionally Productive
Whatever your definition of success (each person’s definition of “success” is and should be different), one thing is true for everyone: Success means getting things done.
Highly successful people are able to get a lot more things done, and here are simple ways you can too.
1. Eliminate every “ego” commitment.
We all do things that have more to do with ego than results.
Maybe you serve on a committee because you like how it looks on your CV. Maybe you teach at a local college because you like the words “adjunct professor.” Or maybe, like me, you do radio interviews just because it seems cool to be on the radio, though it in no way benefits me professionally. (There are a few I would do no matter what just because I like the hosts.)
Anything you do solely for ego is a waste of time. Think about things you do mainly because they make you look important, smart, or cool. If it provides no other “value,” drop it.
Anything you do that serves the greater glory of you is a waste of time; besides, the best glory is reflected, not projected.
2. Don’t struggle for that extra 5 percent.
I’m fairly competitive so when I start to do something I soon start wanting to do it better than other people.
(OK, I’m overly competitive.)
Take cycling. I’m faster, fitter, etc., than the average person. But compared with the fast guys, I’m nothing. They can drop me within a few miles. Drives me crazy. Makes me ride more and train more and spend tons of hours on a bike–and for what? So I can hang with them for a couple more miles? So my time up a certain mountain is only 30 percent slower than theirs instead of 40 percent?
The kind of improvement has no real importance.
Sure, I may get in better shape, but at that point the improvement to my overall health is incremental at best. And in the meantime I have to spend hours on cycling I could spend working toward more important goals.
Or I could just spend more time with my family, the most important goal of all.
Think about something you already do well but are trying hard to do even better. Then weigh the input with the outcome.
Sometimes “good” truly is good enough, especially if that 5 percent gain is hugely disproportionate to the pain required to reach it.
3. Find the perfect way to say no.
Most of us default to saying yes because we don’t want to seem rude or unfriendly or unhelpful. Unfortunately, that also means we default to taking on more than we want or can handle.
It’s important to know how, with grace and tact, to say no.
Maybe your response will be as simple as, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have time.”
Develop your own way of saying no and then rehearse so it comes naturally. That way you won’t say yes simply because you think you should–you’ll say yes because you know it’s right for you.
4. Eliminate useless “me time” commitments.
I used to play fantasy baseball and football. But when I thought about it, I had no idea why. Sure, I could rationalize it created a nice break in the week. I could rationalize it was a “mental health” activity that let me step aside from the stress and strain of business life.
I could, but that wasn’t true. I just did it because I had always done it, and once I start every year I don’t want to quit because, um, I’m not a quitter. (I know that sounds stupid, but I’m willing to bet you do at least one thing for the same reasons.)
Look at the things you do because you’ve always done them and decide if it’s time to stop.
Here’s an easy test: If you wouldn’t do something while you were on vacation, there’s no good reason to do it when you’re not.
5. Set hard limits.
Deadlines and time frames establish parameters, but typically not in a good way. We instinctively adjust our effort so our activities take whatever time we let them take.
Tasks should take only as long as they need to take–or as long as you decide they should take.
Try this: Decide you’ll only spend 10 minutes a day on social media. Just 10.
The first day you’ll get frustrated because you won’t get everything done you “need” to get done. The second day you’ll instinctively skip a few feeds because they’re not as important. The third day you’ll re-prioritize and maybe use a tool like Buffer to get better organized.
By the fifth day you’ll realize 10 minutes is plenty of time to do what you need to do; all that other time you used to spend was just fluff.
Pick a task, set a time limit, and stick to that time limit. Necessity, even artificial necessity, is the mother of creativity. I promise you’ll figure out how to make it work.
6. Establish a nighttime routine …
The first thing you do is the most important thing you do, because it sets the tone for the rest of the day.
So be smart and prepare for that “first thing” the night before. Make a list. Make a few notes. Review information. Prime yourself to hit the ground at an all-out sprint the next day; a body in super-fast motion tends to stay in super-fast motion.
7. … And a morning routine.
Then make sure you can get to that task as smoothly as possible. Pretend you’re an Olympic sprinter and your morning routine is like the warm-up for a race. Don’t dawdle, don’t ease your way into your morning, and don’t make sure you get some “me” time (hey, sleep time is me time). Get up, get cleaned up, get fueled up–and start rolling.
My elapsed time from bed to desk is about 15 minutes (easy since my commute is two flights of stairs), so there’s not much I can improve. So I do something else; I get my most important task done before I check email.
Think about it this way: Sprinters don’t do cool-down laps before they race. Neither should you.
8. Outsource the right tasks.
I was raised to think that any job I could do myself was a job I should do myself.
That’s why it took me a long time to decide the kid down the street should cut my grass. He can use the money. I can use the time.
But that’s a simple example. Here’s an even better approach: Write down the two or three things you do that generate the most tangible return. Maybe it’s selling. Maybe it’s developing your employees. Maybe it’s building long-term customer relationships.
Me? I make the most money when I’m writing; anything else I do that takes me away from writing limits my ability to generate revenue.
Figure out the two or three things that you do best–and that generate the best return on your time–and then strip away all the other “stuff” by outsourcing those tasks. (Or, oftentimes, simply by eliminating those tasks.)
Your bottom line will thank you for it.
9. Fix what you often break.
I used to be terrible about putting meetings and phone calls on my calendar. I figured I’d get to it later, and then I never did. Then I spent way too much time, often in a panic, trying to figure out when and where and who …
All that time was wasted time. So I finally decided I would immediately enter every appointment into my calendar the moment I made it — no matter what.
You probably have at least one thing you tend to mess up. Maybe you don’t file stuff properly. Maybe you put off dealing with certain emails and then forget them. Maybe you regularly find you’re unprepared for a call or meeting.
Whatever your “things” are, fix them. You’ll save time and aggravation.
10. Don’t multitask.
Plenty of research says multitasking doesn’t work. Some research says multitasking actually makes you stupid.
Maybe you agree. Maybe you don’t. Either way, I feel sure there is at least one thing you do that is so important, you should never allow a distraction or a loss of focus.
Choose one important task and commit to turning away everything else when you tackle it. Focus solely on that task. See if you do it better.
I bet you will — and I bet that will make you decide to stop multitasking when you perform many other tasks.
First published at linkedin.com.