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7 Not So Obvious Habits To Maximize Your Productivity

7 Not So Obvious Habits To Maximize Your Productivity

    I was a big fan of productivity, and, in some respects, I still am. I’ve been a very early adopter of GTD, and, for years, I did my weekly reviews with the discipline of a zen monk. But, eventually, I hit a roadblock. GTD is about getting things “done”, but in life we have much more to experience than “doing”. We feel. We dream. We enjoy stuff without the pressure of an empty inbox. And, most of the time, we simply are. We’re existing. And that’s ok.

    So, I confess I fell out from the GTD wagon. Gradually, I developed my own framework, which evolved from a productivity-based approach, to a life management based approach. I’m using it for about a year now and, as much as I can tell, so far, so good. If I compare what I accomplish now with what I used to accomplish a year ago, I’m stunned. Not only because I “do” much more than before, but because I actually live more.

    But enough with all this shameless self-promotion intro. I understand that my framework may work perfectly for me, but may be of little, if any, importance for you.

    So, instead of doing a presentation of the Assess – Decide – Do framework, I chose to isolate only 7 simple tips for today’s post. They don’t need any framework to be integrated with and they can be implemented by anyone, with a little bit of awareness. Try them for a week, one for each day of the week.

    As a matter of fact, they’re even organized as such. As you will see, there’s a reason why each tip is assigned to a specific day, but then again, if you feel this isn’t really your Monday cup of tea, for instance, feel free to rotate them as you see fit.

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    1. Monday – Ignore The Unimportant

    I firmly believe that the art of ignorance should be taught in schools. We live in such an information-rich society, our focus is so deeply challenged by dozens or hundreds of stimuli each and every second, that we have a really hard time focusing on what really matters.

    Especially on Mondays, when all the previous week unprocessed stuff seems to crash on us, try to apply this. Focus only on what matters. If you have a presentation to finish in one hour, cut out everything – and I mean: EVERYTHING – that is not connected to it.

    Slash out Twitter, Facebook, email. Turn off the music. Close the door after putting a big sign with “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” on the other side. In time, you’ll become better at this. The hidden frustration that “you’re missing something” will fade away.

    2. Tuesday – Reward Yourself Constantly

    Each tiny task that you finish is an achievement. We forget too often that our big successes are in fact big chains of small tasks performed on a daily basis. So, in order to keep this chaining process running, put a little reward at the end of each small task.

    Tuesdays are great for this habit, because they’re the first link after the week hast started. Just do something nice at the end of each task. Listen to your favorite tune or read your favorite blog (and that would be, of course, Stepcase Lifehack) for the next five minutes.

    As much as we won’t want to admit it, that Pavlov guy was right. And I’m not talking about the dogs here. I’m talking about you. Because you gotta be your own Pavlov and the dogs will be your productivity habits. Train them constantly. And, if need will be, feed them some sugar every now and then.

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    3. Wednesday – Negotiate The Expendable

    It’s the middle of the week, and, by now, there must be some garbage accumulated. Some stuff that you don’t really need to do, but, somehow, it’s still in your to do list. It’s a perfect time to negotiate that stuff. Does it really need to be on your to do list?

    The pressure of constantly doing, delivering, accomplishing made us forget that we do have this option too in our arsenal. I’m talking about negotiation. “Talk” with the task. Or with the person at the other end of the task. Does it really need to be done right now?

    I compare this negotiation process with taking out the water from a gulf. If you’re lucky, you will see an ancient shipwreck. That’s your task. It’s not a yacht anymore, it’s a shipwreck. You will start to realize that what you thought is important, may not even be there anymore. It’s just the ghost of the task.

    4. Thursday – Reuse Past Approaches

    This comes from a long history of programming. I’m still doing it, this programming thing, by the way, because I enjoy it so much. Just try to look at what you have to do and compare it with previous experiences. Like “Have I done this before?. How did I do it?”

    Thursdays are perfect for that, because you now must have a consistent “week work history” to dig through. And, allegedly, you’re also pretty much at the top of your potential. From now on, it will start to go downhill, somehow.

    So, try to identify similarities in your work before you will do the same thing twice, just because you don’t remember doing it before. Pay attention to the circumstances, because they’re never the same, but isolate what you can repeat.

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    5. Friday – Ask For Help

    If I would have a dollar for each time I didn’t ask for help when I should have, I would certainly be a millionaire. Seriously. Being “productive” has this aura of “I’m doing all the stuff by myself. I’m so cool.” Well, maybe you’re cool, but you don’t have to do anything by yourself.

    You have a unique set of skills. Other people have their own unique set of skills. If you combine your set with their set, it’s absolutely obvious that you will get far better results than by using only yours. It’s just simple mathematics here.

    And Fridays are perfect to test this habit, because, admit it, you’re a little bit tired. And it’s also a good pretext for some social interaction. Isolate some task that you know somebody else may be doing better than you and ask for their help.

    6. Saturday – Switch Workplaces

    Ok, we don’t have to work on Saturdays. As I told you, you can just put this tip on any other day of the week. But I chose Saturdays because they are perfect for traveling. Short trips around the town, seeing some new places, meeting some new people.

    Try to do the same with your workplace. See if you can work for a day somewhere else. From home, or from a coffee shop. Or even in another office. Or, if you can’t live your office, on a different chair. Just change something in your surroundings.

    All our habits are shaped by our surroundings. The more you’ll change the surroundings, the better and more consistent your habits will become. This constant stimulation will summon energy resources that you didn’t even know you have.

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    7. Sunday – Change Deadlines Into Livelines

    I kept this from my GTD routine, you know, the weekly review. I did this on Sundays, trying to project the next week. I still try to have a look at the week just before it starts.  And now, a little bit of explanation about the word “liveline”.

    I stopped use the word “deadline” long time ago, because it has “death” in it. The “task slasher” approach. I don’t do this anymore. Because crossing off tasks from your to do lists will eventually end up with crossing off your entire life from your to do lists. Rushing straight to your own death, one crossed task at a time. Change this perspective. A deadline is not the end. Make it a liveline. Make it a beginning.

    And by that I mean something connected with something else. A new start. Think in terms of new beginnings not in term of endings. If you really need to reach the end of something, use the word “milestone”. And replace “deadline” with “liveline” every time you can.

    It will be enlightening, believe me. :)

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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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