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Published on January 28, 2019

Utilizing The Productivity Improvement Plan: 7 Rules To Never Forget

Utilizing The Productivity Improvement Plan: 7 Rules To Never Forget

How effectively we use our time can make a significant difference to our personal and professional productivity. Working smarter, not harder, is the key to effective productivity, and in turn, to better results and an improved life.

When I worked in a corporate environment, I used to work for about 14 hours a day. Working these long hours gave me the opportunity to advance my career and work with many global brands.

As I moved into more leadership positions, I started to think and work differently. I realized that I was missing out on valuable time with my family. One too many missed family dinners, bath nights and reading with my children changed my thinking.

Rather than just taking these long hours as the norm, I decided there must be a better path to success.

I created some tools and systems that allowed me to be more effective and productive at work, but gave me more time freedom to spend with the people that mattered most. I began to understand that working less could actually deliver improved results.

When I started my coaching business, working with successful entrepreneurs, I realized that many of them were also working long hours, but not seeing the results they wanted.

Rather than leveraging their time to achieve the most productive result, they were stuck in an endless cycle of long hours and busyness.

We all have the same 24 hours a day. Some of us can get a tremendous amount of productive work accomplished each day and still have time to enjoy life and do more of the things we love.

Yet others, have no time and spend most of their day with no energy feeling frustrated and overwhelmed with what they have on their plate.

Everyone wants to make the best possible use of their time and be as productive as possible. How effectively we manage our time can make a significant difference to the success of our career or business.

What if you had a strategy for maximizing your time and improving your productivity?

If you could spend more time focusing on your highest value activities; have time to plan for the future; have time to set goals; be able to create a plan to make them happen; have more time to spend with your loved ones; and have time to do more of the things you love how would it feel?

The key to improving your productivity is to understand why you want to do it and have clarity on the difference it will make in your personal and business life.

We all want to work a bit less, do more of the work we love and make more money, but how can we do it?

During my work with entrepreneurs and leaders, I’ve developed 7 Productivity Rules that help people achieve their most productive working day, no matter what the day involves.

1. Get Clarity up Front

To create a Productivity Improvement Plan, we must first understand and measure where we are right now before developing plans to improve. We need to look at both internal and external factors when we think about measuring and improving our productivity.

The best way to measure is to review our performance from the present moment back to when we started. This gives us a true sense of the improvements we’ve made, what we’re doing really well and the things we’d like to get better at. It focuses on our strengths initially, giving us the confidence to make the productivity improvements we want to make.

Focus on Specifics

Have a clear purpose around the productivity improvements you wish to make. Do you have clarity on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what your ideal outcome looks like?

Once you are clear about this, you can create more ‘intentional productivity’ and set specific, measurable improvements you wish to make.

The more clarity you have around any given situation or project, the better and faster you are able to achieve your desired result.

When you are clear on the result you want and are motivated to achieve that result, you will start working more effectively to achieve that result.

Understand the Big Difference It Will Make

It is important to understand how making specific improvements will make a difference in your business and life.

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Without that future focused motivation, you may make changes for a short period and then fall back into your old ways.

  • Will you be happier?
  • Do you want to work less hours and spend more time with your family? If so, what will you do with that time?
  • Is building an effective team a priority? If so, what could you achieve with a better team?
  • Are you focused on career progression?
  • Do you want more time off to travel?
  • Are you focused on freeing yourself up?
  • Is this about achieving higher levels of revenue?

2. Focus on Strengths

When we spend more time using our unique strengths, we experience more happiness, are more productive and deliver greater value.

Doing more of the things we love to do delivers better results whilst increasing energy, confidence and creativity.

Identify Your Productivity Strengths

Start by focusing on your strengths:

Get a sheet of paper and just write down all of the things you do well, where you felt on top of your game, where you felt confident and you produced results you were happy with.

Rather than look to develop weaknesses, instead focus on your personal strengths and those of your team if you have one.

When I worked for a marketing agency and we had an important pitch, we brought together the best people with complementary strengths and skills to respond to the brief.

I understood that each person had specific talents, that when brought together with other complementary talents, created a much more powerful result.

Look to focus on your strengths and bring together other strengths to create a multiplier effect.

3. Delegate and Outsource

To maximize our productivity and leverage our time, we need to understand we can’t do everything ourselves.

We must determine what’s important, both personally and professionally, and eliminate activities that are low value.

The Pareto Principle (80:20) rule[1] states that 80% of the results come from 20% of actions, yet busyness often keeps us away from the high value activities there our most productive energy lies.

If we are spending large amounts of time doing things we simply aren’t very good at and don’t enjoy, it’s far more productive to let someone, or a team take on the work.

When we simply need help to complete a project, rather than increasing stress by trying to do everything, simply ask for help when you need it.

Instead of wasting time and energy overloading yourself, let others help so you can focus your time on your most important and valuable tasks. Other people have skills and strengths as well, so it is important to identify who can help and where they can add value.

To make this part of your long-term productivity improvement plan look to remove, delegate or outsource 3 projects or tasks every 90 days to free up your time and improve productivity even more.

4. Manage Yourself

You can choose to constantly react to external triggers or strategically create your day from the inside out.

When you’re clear on your priorities and how your unique strengths can deliver the results you want, you will feel more energized, more focused, more productive and achieve high performance results every day.

Create Your Version of a Productive Day

The key to a productive day is your intention to have a productive day, rather than just reacting to your day and working through your to-do list set your day up in advance.

Instead of working on things you think you “should” do, choose what you want to do, have the intentional mindset to do it and then follow through and do it.

Pick Just Three Things to Do Each Day

Increased productivity comes through prioritization. Many people use a daily planner or keep lists of the things they are going to work on each day. This helps them eliminate distractions and removes some of the complexities in their life.

Learn how to get rid of all distractions in this guide:

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Easily Distracted? Here’s Your Solution

But the problem for many is that this task list is simply a list of things they want to get done or feel they need to get done. When there is no clarity, there is no focus about the tasks to be worked on and why they are important in the first place.

A simple way to increase your productivity is to get more clarity about your priorities. I recommend picking and working only on 3 Key Tasks or Projects each day, with the most important being first.

Focus on One Task at a Time

Despite what you may think, you simply can’t multitask effectively. Instead, focus on just one thing at a time.

Starting one thing, stopping, and switching tasks reduces your energy and productivity.

Unfinished tasks can create an environment of self-doubt and self-blame. Choose the most important from your top 3 and work on it until finished.

Work in Blocks of Time

To support your focused, productive work on just one thing, start working in blocks of time.

Look at the task you’re working on and decide how much time you need to invest in its completion.

If it will take you four hours to do, and it’s a big priority block out those four hours.

I suggest using the 60-60-30 method. Work for 50 minutes, take a take minute break.  Follow the same process again and then take a 30-minute break.

Follow the same process again until the project has been completed to increase your productivity.

Take More Breaks

To make the above strategy work, you need to ensure you are strict about taking those breaks.

You can use the Pomodoro technique or just set a timer on your watch (not your phone, too many distractions).

You’ll find this actually increases your focus, concentration and productivity. It ensures that your energy is always high.

I recommend going for a walk, having a healthy lunch or doing something that rejuvenates during your breaks. If you feel yourself getting really tired and losing focus, you can always take a quick nap.

5. Manage Your Energy

It’s essential to preserve and nurture your physical and mental strength to ensure you are energised, focused and productive every day.

Below are some tips you can use to set yourself up for peak performance:

Get Enough Sleep

It’s important to get plenty of sleep so you set yourself up for as productive a day as possible. I have written before about the benefits of sleep.

If you’re struggling to get enough sleep and want to wake up productive try this night routine from Lifehack’s CEO:

The Ultimate Night Routine Guide: Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

Take More Time Off

Strategic Coach Founder Dan Sullivan believes there are two ways of looking at the world: through the lens of time and effort, or through the lens of results.

For him, it’s all about maximizing results while minimizing the time and effort involved to produce them. His time system is about focusing your time, energy and creativity to produce your best results.

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He suggests taking regular ‘Free Days’ (a 24-hour day, from midnight to midnight, during which there are no work-related activities) to set yourself up for periods of high productivity and creativity.[2]

“Instead of seeing time off work as a reward, see it as a necessary precondition for success.” — Dan Sullivan

This time off helps to ensure you are well rested, rejuvenated and ready to take on your biggest challenges.

Create a Morning Power Hour

Creating a morning routine can give you the intentional motivation to have a productive day. Rather than reacting to your day, you strategically set up your day to be one of inspired high performance.

Take an hour or 90 minutes to focus on yourself and your most important tasks. This could be a mix of meditation, exercise, reading, eating a healthy breakfast, expressing gratitude and laying our your Most Important Tasks for the day.

Find a routine that works for you. Mix and mix a few different things until you find the meaning, motivation and purpose that feels right.

For tips on creating your morning routine read The Ultimate Morning Routine to Make You Happy And Productive All Day

Start Saying No More Often

Instead of working longer and harder, we should focus our time and energy on the activities that deliver the biggest results and bring us more happiness.

Stop saying yes to people, projects and things that lower your energy and bring little or no results.

“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.” – Warren Buffett

Stop Worrying About Perfection

Many people are continually gearing up to get started. They are waiting for the perfect moment to take action.

If you wait for the perfect moment, you may never get started. Perfectionism is made up in our minds. It is an unattainable goal.[3]

It’s much more satisfying to simply get started and complete a project simply by doing great work.

If you live in a world of ‘Should Do,’ you may never really be sold on the project and be emotionally engaged enough to complete it in the first place.

However, if you come from a place of ‘Want To’ you have chosen to make this project an area of focus for you.

If you want more advice on avoiding perfectionism, take a look at this article: How Perfectionism Secretly Screws You Up

6. Continually Measure and Review

The foundation of any productivity improvement plan has to include progress you can measure.

When we’re making progress towards our goals and making improvements, we feel a lot happier and more confident.

Vague or general goals won’t give us the same feeling of accomplishment as something specific.

If you set up your productivity improvement plan in terms of specific, measurable progress, you will feel more grounded and less overwhelmed.

Measuring your own personal productivity progress also ensures you don’t compare your performance with others.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Set Productivity Goals

To build up your goal setting muscles, write down 5 specific personal and professional productivity improvements you wish to make in the next 90 days.

Make them measurable so they can be tracked, and review on a monthly and weekly basis.

This may include cutting down your work hours by a specific number or committing to try a morning routine for the next 14 days.

Decide what is the most important and what could make the biggest difference.

Review Project Performance

Your productivity goals and action plan will create a tangible difference to the projects you’re working on.

Before you start, set up a number of success criteria and then review the finished project based on that criteria.

Note down the improvements that have been made through your productivity changes and any further things to work on with your next project.

7. Simplify

The key to improving your productivity is to simplify and then simplify further as much as possible.

We all have so much complexity in our lives, it is difficult to stay in control and focused on our most important activities, both personally and professionally.

This might be an out of control calendar, a bulging inbox, a massive to-do list, mental clutter too many demands on your time or too many deadlines to meet.

This causes a feeling of being stuck or overwhelmed and can lead to ongoing fatigue and stress. I wrote about this in my article How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out.

Keep trying to simplify your life by focusing on the activities that deliver the biggest results and bring you the most joy and satisfaction.

If you can keep freeing yourself up from low value, energy draining activities you can create a bigger impact on the things, people and projects that really matter.

This is an ongoing process but think about how much better your life would be if it keeps getting simpler and simpler.

Any and all, improvements will further bolster your confidence.

The Bottom Line

These 7 Rules and supporting strategies can be put in place to help you take that first step towards increased effectiveness, confidence and productivity.

Why not pick one or two and see how they can make a difference in your business and life?

Every bit of progress and improvement in your productivity and happiness could make your life more enjoyable and ensure your results keep improving.

The most important thing is just to get started on your productivity improvement plan.

Featured photo credit: Damian Patkowski via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Mark Pettit

Mark Pettit is a Business Coach for ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners who want to achieve more by working less.

7 Most Common Distractions at Work (And How to Tackle Them) How to Lead Team Meetings in the Most Productive Way 11 Tactics on Increasing Brain Power, Memory, and Motivation 8 Time Management Strategies for Busy People Utilizing The Productivity Improvement Plan: 7 Rules To Never Forget

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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