Each person has their own definition of personal productivity. For some, it means getting things done in a short time frame. For others, it could mean ticking off goals that they can achieve their long-term objectives.
As someone who works from home most of the time, I soon realized I’d have to change the way I worked. Have you had ever had that sinking experience where you look back at the day and reflect how little you’ve achieved? I can relate.
There would be so many days where I’d go “Hmm. . . so I checked emails, replied to some, researched on the project I am working on, took lunch break, came back and surfed Facebook, answered some more emails, got that piece written, researched some more. . .and that’s pretty much it”.
And I’d have so many of such days where I‘d feel distracted. By the time it was time to leave my home office, I’d be on a treadmill of work and try to get as much as I could done in whatever little time I was left with. What a lame strategy!
Then it clicked. . . I was probably getting more out of distraction than I was out of work! Sounds horrendous but is true. My so-called tasks were not aligned with my values and aspirations for the future. On top of it, I wasn’t taking a proper inventory of time-eating activities.
How I Super-charged my Personal Productivity
So I decided to take a long, hard look at what was working and what was not, and what I wanted to do about it. To get clarity, I applied the following steps and what came up was shocking to say the least.
1. Start a detailed time log
I got this technique from Steve Pavlina. Steve has been my first Internet PD “crushes” if you know what I mean.
This technique is super-simple yet it helps you to shoot up your productivity several times. To better manage your time or get things done more efficiently, you keep a detailed time log and make a note of everything you’re doing during the day. Record whenever you start and stop an activity. If you checked emails for 15 minutes, mention the start and stop times. If you surf the Internet from 2 pm to 2:33 pm, note that down.
By the end of the day, you bring all the activities in relevant categories and basically figure out where you’re spending the most time. When I first started using a detailed time log, I had categories such as Checking emails, Research, Project-related communication with client, Blog posts and so on.
Now that you have your whole time expense laid out, find out how you’d like to change it. When I first tried this exercise, I was surprised to find that I could get a good portion of work in a small amount of time, yet I was “busy” for the whole day. Guess where the remaining time was spent – on irrelevant activities!
Try it out for yourself and take inventory of your time to get a real idea of what’s going on. Only when you’re aware of it you can change it.
2. Check in with yourself
If most of your time is spent not working but trying to work, chances are you tasks are not 100% aligned with your goals. I remember when I was working at this marketing agency in 2011. It was a well-known agency in Melbourne and a very fast-paced one. The company was doing well and we had several clients. I was excited to be working with such a well-known brand.
However, just after a month, I realized I was forcing myself to tick off tasks at work. At work, I would love to grab a break, but my sheer need to be productive kept me going. But once I was home, I was exhausted. I would reflect back on my day and acknowledge I got so much done, but never felt happy or proud of my efforts. Instead, I was exhausted and unhappy dreading to get out of bed the next morning for work.
It didn’t took me long to figure it out – I was getting things done alright, but deep down, I was not passionate about the kind of work I was doing. The projects on my desk didn’t inspire me.
I quit that job after working for 2 months. Many months later, I elicited my values and found two of my top most values are freedom and flexibility which were clearly not met in my agency job. I wasn’t cut out for a 9-5 cubicle gig after all. I had entrepreneurship written all over me. What’s more, my vision and aspirations agreed with this in harmony.
It’s possible that you have a great personal productivity going for you, but it does not feel sustainable. You get a lot done during a day but you don’t have the drive to continue. Perhaps just like me, you thought productivity would motivate you. But being productive alone doesn’t help – you must be inspired with the work you’re doing on a daily basis as well.
And that means there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s likely that you don’t need fixing – your current to do list does!
3. Set meaningful + actionable goals
Write down your vision, mission and purpose in life. If that sounds too much, just begin with where you’d like to see yourself in next 3 years. If that’s overwhelming, visualize the next year. Build it from there.
Or if you’re a detail-oriented person, define your ideal average day. If today were your ideal average day, what sort of tasks would you be doing? What assignments would you enjoy? How and how much money would you make?
Chunk up from there to next year, next 3 years and so on. (Please refrain from answering I’d be on the beach doing nothing – that sounds great to do for a while, but it won’t keep you happy for long because happiness comes from a sense of purpose.)
Once you’ve got an idea of your life vision, break it down into actionable goals. Choose the way of SMART goals – it’s an easy and efficient system that works. Don’t worry about having the perfect vision because you can always change it. The important thing is you start somewhere.
Think about the bigger picture in order to come up with small steps. Evaluate the tasks you get done during your working hours. Ask yourself: Why am I doing this? If your answer is anything but pointing toward your vision, quit doing it.
4. Achieve your goals
Now that you’ve identified your goals, your focus should be getting started on with them. This is where the nitty-gritty comes into play. There are many strategies to achieve your goals. To do lists are one, but they don’t allow you to prioritize. Steven Covey’s time matrix is great for prioritizing and scheduling. Each quadrant in the matrix can consist of tasks with the end date next to it. The quadrant becomes a mini to do list in essence.
Small, steady wins will help you go a long way. Scheduling and prioritizing go hand in hand. But be aware of overflowing to do lists; that could get overwhelming. At any point, keep focus on a few goals that are immediate, not urgent but important and long term.
Personally, I use the app weekplan.net. It’s free and allows you to mark a task as “Important”, “Urgent”, both or none.
5. See how far you’ve come
While you’re busy being productive, don’t forget to stop and acknowledge yourself for how far you’ve come. Slow progress is also progress. Remember that. The small tasks that you get done add toward your personal productivity big time.
Feel free to reward yourself after ticking off an important goal and before you start on the next. Acknowledgement acts as a motivational boost and pushes you further on the right track.
Personal productivity is really not as complex as some people think. It’s a perfectly achievable thing. Follow the steps above or come up with your own to evaluate your time spent, get in touch with your core values, set actionable goals and achieve them and applaud your efforts on the way.
How do you achieve personal productivity? Got more tips to share?
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