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How to Be Productive and Effective: 10 Lessons from Great Leaders

How to Be Productive and Effective: 10 Lessons from Great Leaders

Productivity is not about getting things done. Productivity is, in fact, about getting things done efficiently and effectively. Let’s face it, this can be a challenge. Life is complicated and you often have to face challenges that you didn’t expect. At the same time, you can easily get distracted by little things — or big ones, like friends dropping by, Facebook and other fun things.

So, how can you be productive and get things done in a world of distractions? How can we bring our life and work projects to completion? Learn from some of the greatest leaders of all time and apply it to your life in a way that make sense to you. Here are 10 things you can learn from greatest leaders and how you can apply it to your life too.

1. Think Big

The first step in being productive is having your mind on a completely different level. Once you decide what you want, go after it.  Thinking big is the key to setting goals and achieving them.

So, how you get to do this? Start dreaming… Create great dreams and big goals.

It always seem impossible until is done! – Nelson Mandela

2. One Step at a Time

Now, you have great dreams and an objective. You may be thinking big, but you must also know how to take things slowly. The real work in getting things done is not about dreaming but instead about planning every little step that you are going to take in order to be get there. Learn to take small sure steps rather than taking big uncertain steps. This will help you get things done effectively.

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“Great acts are made up of small deeds.” – Lao Tzu

3. Perseverance

Taking small steps still does not give you the assurance that you will be immediately productive. Sometimes you will meet up against obstacles and you’ll have to figure out how to get around them. Even if you come off your path, you must try to find a way back to it.

I have not failed, I have 10,000 other ways that won’t worl – Thomas Edison

4. Do Not Settle

If you have a big dream, don’t settle for less than that dream. But at the same time, remember to savor the journey to achieving it. Each small event, each small task is a step in getting to your dream. If your dream is to be a big-time singer, you’ll have to sing in a lot of small venues, often for no pay. While this may not be the dream in and of itself, you can savor each of these experiences, enjoy them and learn from them.

Experience is the teacher of all things – Julius Caesar

5. Have a Proper Mindset

This seems to take you back to the first key, but if you will have a proper mindset about the idea of having a proper mindset, you will know that it isn’t. Mindset is not about dreaming but looking at things from different perspectives.

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Set your mind toward your task and you can achieve it. Worrying about failure or other problems will only distract you. Try and keep your eyes on the prize.

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right – Henry Ford

6. Change

Sometimes, we have to change in order to pursue our goals. Our own behavior is often counter productive.

Being productive requires flexibility. Obviously, if you are not being productive something is not working and you must change.

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. – Winston Churchill

7. Take Risks

When you change, you will be able to take risks and expand your opportunities and achieve the expected results. Life is about taking chances. Opportunities come only once if you don’t take them someone else will.

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Taking risks is not only about business opportunities or related topics it is in fact about productivity. Being curious and taking the risk of doing that extra task to aim for excellence will in fact show you that you can produce more in the same time span. Challenge yourself. This way, you will not have any regrets about not trying to do more. It’s better to fail than to not try at all.

Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is. – Jimmy Carter

8. Do Not Just Do Something

You may be taking risks, changing and moving, but movement is a lot different than taking action. Do not just do something in order to get it done. Do not just do stuff, do things that matter and are taking you closer to your goals. Once this act became a habit, it will be difficult to change.

If you are doing just stuff you may want to go back to tip six. You must change it!

Never confuse motion with action – Benjamin Franklin

9. Connect with Your People

To be productive, you must know how to effectively communicate with people. Why? Because there is no man that can do it all. Being an effective communicator allows you to delegate tasks that are not your forte and leverage the strengths of others.

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You must learn to let go, but to get there you must communicate effectively the expected outcomes. Focus on your core competencies. Do what you are suppose to be doing not learning what others can do better.

Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out. – Ronald Reagan

10. Aim for Excellence

This may be the last on our list, but it is also ranked as a 10. You must consistently aim for excellence make it a habit. It will also influence other people around you.

I must add that the act of excellence does not mean perfection. It means doing the right thing to get the right results. Do the right things in life, for your business, for your family and focus! Take the steps required to produce excellent outcomes.

Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected. – Steve Jobs

So, there you have it 10 things that great leaders can teach us and how to apply it to your productivity and goals achieving process.

What to do next? Evaluate yourself and not just keep yourself busy, be productive.

Featured photo credit: gothick_matt via farm4.staticflickr.com

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Jorge Gasca

Entrepreneur, Digital Marketing, Project Management, Planning Hacker

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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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