“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! Also this is important! You need to worry about this! And this and this!’ And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, ‘No. This is what’s important.'”
I often get asked how I get so much done in so little time. This question sometimes surprises me because just like everyone else, I have slow days where things feel tedious and sluggish. I’ll oversleep or spend too much time re-reading an email or find myself having wasted half an hour on Pinterest yet again. There are plenty of days when I am by no means a productivity machine.
That said, I do have some things to say on the topic. Having worked with so many different types of clients and having studied my own work patterns so extensively, I have learned there are a lot of common productivity pitfalls. There are traps we fall into on a regular basis that prevent us from doing our best work. So while “being productive” is by absolutely no means the be-all, end-all goal of life (tell that to my Capricorn moon), if you’re feeling challenged in this department, I got you. There’s a lot we can do to remain focused, keep our eyes on the prize, and stay motivated to get things done. Here are a few of my faves, plus info on where you can learn even more from me on this topic.
1. Design your life
Productivity is often about managing little things (more on that in #3) but the easiest way to do more is to cut back on some of the bigger commitments in your life. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for this, but the truth is that we can free up way more time by looking at our life’s bigger puzzle pieces rather than only the tiny ones. I get a lot done in this season of my life because my lifestyle allows for it. For example: I don’t yet have kids or a partner. As of December 2018, I work entirely for myself and can set my own schedule. During the work week I rarely leave my neighbourhood, so I don’t have any kind of commute (this one is literally huge for my mental & emotional wellbeing). I often work from home, meaning it takes me all of 5 seconds to get from my desk to the kitchen to make lunch or a snack when I need one. And as a general rule, I don’t watch much TV, though I do make exceptions for Stranger Things and Queer Eye.
The point is: I don’t deal with a lot of the common factors that infringe on people’s time and energy. This is by design. I have actively chosen to create a life for myself where I don’t have to deal with long commutes or pointless meetings. While I don’t think that my exact choices would be right for everyone, I do think that the things I choose not to do help me get more done on a daily basis. I just don’t do a lot of things. Period.
Action: What lifestyle change could you make today? You may not be able to redesign your entire life overnight, but you can drop something right now.
2. Control or be controlled
Technology is a good servant, but a bad master. Unfortunately, many of us have not yet mastered technology and its addictive allure. Partly, this is not our fault! Some of the smartest people in the world are literally being paid to make your device and its apps increasingly irresistible. Their whole job is to keep you on a particular app as long as they possibly can. That’s how they sell ads, and hold on to their jobs, and keep their businesses afloat. The bad news is that they don’t care a whit about keeping your job or your business afloat. It is in their best interest to keep you distracted from your life, work, and loved ones, even though that is absolutely not in your best interest.
More bad news: the fight to win back our attention and focus will likely always be unpleasant and feel like going against the grain. Even your brain is working against you! It feels good to be on the apps for hours, getting little hits of dopamine. But the more you know that the best things of life depend on you extricating yourself from your device, the better off you’ll be. So read Digital Minimalism and Solitude. Put all your devices on Do Not Disturb mode. Play around with grayscale mode. Put your phone on Airplane mode before you go to bed, so that you can have at least one hour of your day totally to yourself. When you sit down to work, stash your phone somewhere you can’t see it. Plug it in and leave it in another room while you’re reading. Delete Instagram for a day or two. Turn off allllllll your notifications.
Action: Pick one of the above examples to implement today. You will honestly be shocked at how much more you’ll get done.
3. Be like Goldilocks
This is a concept I learned from Kathryn Hofer of Modern Planner on one of her wonderful Quarterly planning parties. The idea is that if you are working on ten projects at once, you’ll only be able to move each forward a little bit at a time. But if you’re only tackling a handful of things at once, you can make more progress, more quickly. Similar to #1, this means looking at the way our work lives are structured and consciously deciding what to prioritize. Rather than trying to optimize ten projects to eke out a tiny bit more productivity, we can pare our projects down and things will automatically become easier.
Keep in mind that you can complete a project by dropping it. There’s no shame in re-evaluating your projects and priorities if they’re no longer working for you. Yes, even if you’ve made a big public declaration. Yes, even if people are waiting for something. You’re allowed to change your mind, read the writing on the wall, or go with your gut. Nothing is more motivating than only having projects to work on that you’re truly excited about.
Action: Is there a project that you need to put on the backburner or drop completely? What would it take for you to do so?
4. Measure What Matters
Everybody’s fave Stephen Covey once said: “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” Meaning, we never want to do more just for the sake of doing more. We never want to be successfully and productively climbing the wrong ladder. Where’s the fun in that? What’s the point of that?
It’s important to be clear on how each step of your business brings you closer to your ultimate goals. The big, meta-goals, like financial freedom and connecting with others and making a difference. Not the tiny goals like the number of views on your last Instagram story or how many people retweeted your most recent article. The tiny goals may align with your bigger goals, or reflect the progress you’re making, but they’re not the result you’re looking for. They’re not the point. We need to choose our metrics very carefully.
And similarly, we need to track our progress based on the factors that we can control. We can’t control how other people react, but we can control how we show up. When it comes to a project that seems overwhelming, it can be helpful to boil it down into a small action step that you can take repeatedly. For example, “Get a book published” is a goal that is not entirely within your control. But “Write 1000 words a day” is a daily action step that is very much within your control and will help you do more by inching you closer to your goal every day.
Action: What’s one tiny daily action step that would align with one of your bigger goals? Could you start tracking your progress today?
Bonus: Take Operations 101
I love this topic so much that I partnered with Make Lemonade to create an online course all about it! Operations 101 is packed with knowledge you can use in your business right away, so you can stop dreaming about how to do more in less time and start moving the needle in your business. This course is part of their amazing Business 101 program, a series of 4 online classes that give you the tools to start your business with confidence. So if you liked what you read today, I promise you’ll love what’s inside the class. I put in all my best stuff, favourite concepts, and best tips for staying productive and learning to do more in your business. The best part? The courses are 90 minutes or less, and you can get the entire program for less than eighty bucks.
Action: Head over to Make Lemonade and explore Operations 101 and the entire Business 101 program!
Back to Business
As with many things, staying productive is a daily struggle. It requires determination and commitment, not to mention quite a lot of ingenuity. It’s not easy, but it is rewarding! It’s amazing to be able to tick things off your list and move closer to your goals, slowly but surely over time. And it all starts with identifying your own challenges to productivity and finding unique and thoughtful ways to overcome them.
I’d love to know: How do you do more in less time in your own business? What tips or strategies have helped you most with your productivity? What are your particular challenges? Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram @stephpellett.