Productivity has become an industry in it’s own right.
It’s one of the most popular App-store categories on your smart phone. Everyone and their dog is touting a new, improved software system for managing to-do lists and ensuring you follow through on all your best intentions.
There’s just one big problem with all these new fangled systems: They’re too complex.
Have you tried forcing yourself to commit to a new methodology for tracking your tasks and business goals… only to inevitably fall off the bandwagon?
You’re not alone. The majority of productivity tools out there are bloated with unnecessary complexity. This article breaks down the tried and true – simple – methods that actually work.
And the best part? You can put all of these tactics into action immediately.
1. Pen and Paper still can’t be beat
The problem with any form of software is the learning curve required to use it. Even the most tech savvy members of Generation Y are burning valuable time figuring out how to categorize their to-dos on their smartphones.
Don’t bother. All the technology just gets in the way. So do it like the ancients did and bust out a piece of paper. Post-it Notes are ideal.
2. Separate Today’s todo list from your bigger list
If you’re like the thousands of entrepreneurial clients I work with, you keep a bucket list of hundreds of items you should someday get around to. This is normal. We all have a list – mental or physical – where we file away all our brilliant ideas, odd job reminders and everything in between.
The mistake most business owners make is to try to use that list day-to-day. Your brain cannot work from that list on a daily basis without becoming seriously overwhelmed. Overwhelm is the enemy of productivity.
That’s why I recommend spending a little time each Sunday night decanting your giant, never ending to-do list. Select a small handful of specific and precise actions for the week ahead.
3. Understand the difference between Important and Urgent
When you’re decanting your big list into something more specific – and more doable – you need to be aware of one psychological principal: “Important vs Urgent.”
Our brain reacts to demands made on our time in different ways. Urgency, particularly when it’s created by other people (staff, colleagues etc) is very motivating. Most business owners have no problem responding to urgency. When a fire happens, they put it out.
The tricky part is getting things done that are Important but not Urgent. Truly important tasks are things that’ll massively move your business goals forward, but which no one is relying on you for or pressuring you to immediately do. Important tasks have no external motivational driver – you have to do them for your own reasons.
When you decant your giant to-do list, try to focus on committing to the tasks that are Important and not Urgent. The urgency always finds a way of getting done, but the Important things will require some of your willpower and focus.
4. Use the magic number three
Time and time again – in thousands of real-life entrepreneur examples – I’ve proven that the number three is almost magical. It’s the perfect number of tasks to be focusing on and as such, it’s become the basis of my entire productivity system.
When I select my “important” tasks for the day – writing them down on real paper and all – I limit myself to just three. Why? There are so many reasons…
Set too many tasks and you’ll likely be overwhelmed. Three is the perfect number to realistically finish in a day – so you can feel good about it afterwards. A huge problem with other productivity systems is the side effect of lowered self esteem – which you experience when you fail to make a dent on a list that is hundreds of items long.
The number three has been used by the US Marines Corps as the optimal training integer. The Marines found that training soldiers to perform maneuvers in squads of three lead to optimum results, minimal overwhelm and less confusion.
Do what the Marines do. Focus on just three things at a time.
5. Keep a log book
Finally, try keeping a “done list”. At the end of your work day, record a simple bullet point list – again, paper is your friend – of everything you’ve accomplished.
This builds the positive habit of self-awareness. You want to be aware of where your time has actually GONE – most productivity systems are all about planning where you’d like it to go and not much else. A log book will keep you self aware and honest.
The greatest advantage of a log book is the boost you’ll feel when you do start checking off important tasks. You’ll feel gratitude when you list your accomplishments for the day and get sweet brain chemistry hit of feeling as though you’ve “done enough”.
Such feelings are rare for the self employed, who often complain that their job is never done. If you sometimes feel like no matter how much you accomplish you always have more to do… a log book is the answer.
Productivity doesn’t require anything complex. It’s a simple set of habits and psychological best practices. Anyone can do it, and there’s nothing to prevent YOU starting immediately.
Go get some stuff done!
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