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9 Important Productivity Habits My Parents Taught Me When I Was Small

9 Important Productivity Habits My Parents Taught Me When I Was Small

My mother taught me more about productivity, the power of consistency, and making a positive impact in the world than any other person in my life. Someday, I hope I can be half the person she is. To honor the lessons she and my father introduced to me, I compiled these nine important productivity habits my parents taught me. Enjoy!

1. Stop trusting yourself to remember stuff.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you go to the store and tell yourself, “I don’t need a grocery shopping list! I’ll remember everything I need”, but then within mere moments of getting home, you realize you forgot something so important that you have to go back to the store again (like the toilet paper you just ran out of, or the olive oil you need for dinner preparation). Those return trips to the store can add up, taking time away from the important things, so write it down.

Or, maybe you’re at work and it’s a slow day so you say, “I don’t need a To-Do List! I’ve got plenty of time finish everything I need to do”, but then as soon as you get home, you remember that customer you were supposed to call, or that really important report you told your manager you would complete (but failed to start). Your home should be a place that is free from work-related stress, so write down your top three priorities every day and make sure they get done.

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2. Put things back where they belong.

There are few things more stressful than losing your keys when you’re already running late for work, scrambling to find a misplaced pacifier for your screaming baby or being unable to locate a bottle opener to pop open that delicious craft beer you’re certain will impress the gorgeous lady or handsome gentleman seated on your sofa after a first date that was smooth-sailing until now. I know it’s easy to become absent-minded and put an essential item in a strange place (one time I couldn’t find a box of cereal and ended up finally locating it in my refrigerator; no, I have no idea what I was thinking), but make a conscious effort to keep your phone/keys/purse/wallet/medicine in a single place, because it’s easy to get stressed out when things aren’t where they belong.

3. Get ready for big trips the night before.

Do you really trust yourself to pack for a week(s)-long trip during a single chaotic morning? If you’re going somewhere amazing like Disney, you’re going to be too excited to sleep anyway, so you might as well pack your stuff the night before. Go ahead and get everything ready minus the toothbrush and deodorant that you will (hopefullyuse one more time before you go on your trip. Then all you have to do is perform a final scan to make sure you’re not forgetting something (make sure you have a phone charger, bikini or swim trunks, water bottle, sunscreen if applicable and a few toys to distract your child while you travel!).

Please Note: You could also use this productivity habit to get fit and healthy by packing your gym clothes every night before you go to bed, making it much less likely you’ll “wake up too late” and skip your workouts. For bonus points, lay your gym shoes and socks right next to your bed to make your life super-easy. If you’d like to check out more healthy habits that will save you money, click here.

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4. Expect the unexpected.

Believe it or not, you can’t control every event in your life. Traffic jams, flat tires, wrong turns and car accidents do happen. If you are going to an interview for your dream job, a plane flight to a tropical destination or (insert your major life event here), then you better leave with so much time to spare that nothing is left to chance. Just pack a book for your journey, because if everything goes as planned and you arrive really early, you won’t have to just sit and twiddle your thumbs, but rather can escape into another world and unwind.

5. The only dumb question is the unasked one.

It is absurd to be afraid of asking a “dumb question”. No manager or supervisor or partner worth having will look down on you for asking questions that will help you perform better. Would you rather be humble enough to ask for help if you need clarification; or be arrogant enough to risk doing something incorrectly, which will just waste your time (since you’ll probably have to do it over again), and make you look like you’re unable to deliver as instructed?

6. Sometimes you just need to go outside and play.

Have you ever tried to force yourself to write an essay or prepare a report while you were so exhausted that you couldn’t think straight? If so, you surely know that it takes a lot longer to complete a task when your brain isn’t operating anywhere near its full capacity. This isn’t an excuse to put off something you need to do, because there is no denying that an all-nighter is sometimes a necessary evil when you just have to push through, but you are not the Energizer Bunny. No matter how busy you might be, sometimes you just need to walk away, because life can quickly become a miserable thing without fun and play.

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7. No matter how busy you might be, never forget about the people you care about.

What is the point of achieving success if you don’t celebrate afterwards with the people you care about? Time alone is necessary for your mental health, but we all have social needs, so don’t forget about the people who play the lead roles in the story of your life. Time with them will refresh and energize you, making it easier for you to keep moving forward.

8. If you keep taking small steps to your goal, you will reach your destination.

My mother and I have traveled to most of the fifty states in the U.S. Am I spoiled? Guilty as charged (what can I say, it’s good to be an only child!). But a lot of folks assume this also means I come from a rich family, which is hilarious to me, because it’s just not a part of my reality. We could afford to do these things, because my mom was forward-thinking (and generous) enough to save money for a very long time. A few dollars saved from a single paycheck might not look like a lot, but that same few dollars could turn into a Disney vacation within a year or two if you stick with your savings plan consistently. Would you rather cut out those Starbucks trips and soft drink purchases now, or travel the world later? I don’t know about you, but I’m 100% choosing the latter.

9. All people should be treated with courtesy and respect.

These productivity habits are a great way to boost your efficiency at work, but all of the productivity in the world can’t save you if you are lacking in emotional intelligence. If you can’t respect the people you work with, don’t expect your career to go very far, because success is reserved for team-players only.

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What productivity habits did your parents teach you as a child? Please share in the comments!

Featured photo credit: Leonid Mamchenkov via flickr.com

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Daniel Wallen

Daniel is a writer who focuses on blogging about happiness and motivation at Lifehack.

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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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