How many times have you thought “I wish there were more hours in the day”?
Since we seem stuck at twenty-four, the only answer is to make better use of the hours we have. My research team and I have been going deep on personal productivity, and we’ve found some fascinating resources and have put together several highly actionable pieces of content for you. Note that all links to books in this article are Amazon affiliate links.
One of the three pillars of StrongStart.fm is developing your expertise: the core talent, skill, and value you bring to the business world, either in your career or your business. In the book Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin’s summary of research on great performance, he finds that to be an expert, or truly great in a field (sports, science, art, etc.) requires 10,000 hours or more of “deliberate practice.”
“The factor that seems to explain the most about great performance is something the researchers call deliberate practice” – Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin
10,000 hours is a LOT of time. Deliberate practice is not just participation or being “in” the industry or field. It is hard work toward learning or improving. If you are not already an expert in a field, or well on your way, that is a significant hill to climb. One of the reasons I’m selecting productivity for the first topic deep dive on StrongStart.fm is the positive ripple effect and feedback loop that improving your productivity can have in all aspects of your life.
If you can find a couple of extra hours a day, you can be well on your way to developing or improving your expertise. So let’s dive right into the five steps that will quickly get you analyzing your current productivity and exploring ways to improve it.
What are you wasting time on?
The most important first step you can take in improving your productivity is to analyze how productive you are right now. Time logging or time tracking over the course of a normal week for you can pay huge dividends. In an article on PerformanceCritical.com, David Irvine outlines a quick and easy process for logging your time and why you should do so.
The reason? He found that while he spent 60 hours in the office in a given week, only 15 of those hours were productive, “real work.” In another article on the same site, the notion of your efficiency ratio (time spent doing “real work” divided by time spent “at work”) can be telling. If you are not productive more hours isn't the answer. Improve productivity and every hour after is higher impact.
If you are not productive more hours isn’t the answer. Improve productivity and every hour after is higher impactClick to tweet
Keeping a paper time log for a week is a free and easy first step to see where you are losing time. If you spend a lot of your time on a computer through the week, then using an app such as RescueTime (https://www.rescuetime.com/) can be very eye opening. It tracks the amount of time you spend in various applications, websites, and activity on your computer and mobile devices. It will show you how much time your are spending on Facebook, email, web surfing, etc. Most people are shocked by their results…
A better way to look at this is to imagine the payoff from flipping all of that wasted time to productive time toward the goals that currently seem beyond your reach.
What is your Productivity Style?
In the article “Your Personal Productivity Style and How to Ace It”, Christopher Isak discusses the importance of identifying your productivity style. Examples cited from research by Ned Herrmann include “the Prioritizer”, “the Planner”, “the Arranger”, and “the Visionary”. Each has characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to change your core productivity style. It is effectively a component of your personality. So rather than change it, take a page from the book StengthsFinder, by Tom Rath and focus on your strengths. Amplify the positives of that style. A deeper dive, as well as a more detailed personal assessment process, can be found in the book Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style, by Cason Tate.
The goal here is to identify, embrace, and maximize your productivity style. If you are simply not a hierarchical or list oriented productivity type, trying to force yourself into that mold or adopting systems where that is the focus will never work for you. Once you have identified your style, you can now start filtering tips, tactics, and tools to those that work with that style.
The are thousands of articles, books, and papers about productivity tactics. You can kill your productivity by reading too many of those or bouncing from one source or system to another (hint: see the end of this post for what you SHOULD do next). I’m adding one example here on tactics though because they are valuable. Once you have analyzed where you have room for improvement and your productivity style, then you should look for a couple of quick win tactics to implement.
The article 12 Rules For Increasing Your Personal Productivity is similar to many you will find out there. It describes valuable tactics like “set a goal each day”, “batch similar tasks together”, “set a timer”, and so on. Similar to nutrition where there are thousands of “eat this but not that” tactics, you need an organizing system or strategy to evaluate tactics to decide which ones to adopt. We will discuss that shortly.
Very quickly once you start looking at all the resources out there on productivity tips and tactics, you will become overwhelmed. One technique that can help you organize your thoughts, as well as your productivity tactics, is mind mapping. In 6 Mind Mapping Uses for Personal Productivity, Jamie MacDonald outlines some key areas of productivity where mind mapping can be useful. This is an area I am planning to try to focus on more. I naturally lean toward outlining and hierarchical structures, but those can be very limiting. As you start reviewing both my tips and programs here as well as all the resources I link to, consider using a mind map to curate and organize the ones that you think will fit with your productivity style.
Can productivity tools help?
Since I just mentioned one tool, how about we discuss productivity tools in general? Too many people (myself included sometimes) feel that if they could just find the right productivity tool or application, it would make them much more efficient. Sadly this is almost never the case. Tools can enhance a great system, but tools themselves are not the system. I suggest NOT investing in or spending much time evaluating tools just yet.
So where does this leave us? We’ve talked about measuring our current productivity, identifying our productivity style, and whether tools can help us. But like most productivity articles or posts, I think you are left wanting more. HOW do you get more productive?
Get started right away by downloading my free guide: 7 steps to improve your personal productivity within 24 hours! These will set the stage for adopting my five step productivity system that I will introduce in the next post.