With 2013 just around the corner it’s traditionally the time of year we all start looking back on the year gone by, and planning for the upcoming one. I like to review annually what I’ve achieved and areas which need focus, and I think for most people the end of the year presents a good opportunity to do that. This year one of the major focuses for me has been increased productivity, and I think I’ve achieved a lot in that respect. However there’s always room for improvement, and increasing productivity is one of the best possible ways to improve your life, by means of freeing up time for positive activities.
Ever since the advent of Tim Ferriss’ establishment-shaking bestseller The Four Hour Work Week there’s been a perceptable shift in business thinking surrounding time management. Perhaps Tim’s book wasn’t the turning point, but it seems the points he made – that time is our most precious commodity and that you don’t have to work hard for decades in order to enjoy the fruits of your labor – have since become part of the psyche of many business people and entrepreneurs.
And whether it was Tim’s book or not that was the catalyst, there has been a huge shift towards thinking like this. In decades past, perceived business wisdom tended to follow the lines of those who worked the hardest, the longest hours, climbed the corporate ladder and played the corporate game the most effectively, were the winners in the end: Able to retire in luxury to enjoy the spoils of their labours.
Lifestyle Design – Efficiency with Powerful Purpose
With the demise of secure retirement funds, the rise of the internet, and the catalyst of The Four Hour Work Week and other productivity masterpieces such as Leo Babauta’s Zen to Done, it seems a massive shift in thinking has begun to occur. People are now asking themselves: what changes can I make in order to enjoy my life now? How can I work less time for more freedom? That change is a key one, as previously the idea of freedom was a monetary one…how can I be a millionaire? Or loaded enough to retire early? Actually now the idea is evolving that depending on how you run your life, your lifestyle can be that of a millionaire no matter what you earn. Ferriss calls it lifestyle design.
More and more, the people I talk to who are seriously successful are using techniques like Tim’s to work smarter not harder, with the focus on enjoying life and achieving a work-life balance rather than a bank balance to write home about. As the saying goes: “You can’t take it with you – he who dies richest doesn’t win”. While that’s not to advocate spending sprees you can’t afford, it is something to think about. Would you rather miss out on life now to be what society defines as successful, and then enjoy a few years of ideal living at retirement age? Or would you rather live your dream life now?
The Upside of the Economic Downturn
It seems more and more of us are hoping to choose the latter – and seizing the bull by the horns to start achieving exactly that aim. If there’s one thing the recent global economic problems have done it’s forced or encouraged many of us to take control of our own destinies, financial futures, and outcomes. Tim’s book is one in a vast toolkit provided by the internet, which can help you revolutionise the way you work, where you work, and how much you work. Now.
One of the best ways you can achieve radical change in your daily life is through streamlining, taking laser focus and creating intense productivity periods which get your work done in a ridiculously short amount of time, allowing you to enjoy the rest of your life. I’ve put together my top seven tips which will help you achieve this on a daily basis.
1. Morning routine & Non Negotiable Practice
All the super-successful people I talk to are big believers in this first step. From Will Smith, to Oprah to Bob Shapiro and others of the world’s top CEOs. For many the most grounding and effective morning routine involves meditation. Connecting and centring yourself before the day begins so you can perform your absolute best, and are in line with your core goals.
The above article on the world’s top CEOs who meditate quotes William George, who sits on the supervisory boards of Exxon Mobil and Novaris AG, and is a professor of management practices at Harvard Business School.
“Meditation has been integral in my career; it is the single best thing that happened to me in terms of my leadership,” Meditation enables one to focus on what is really important; and I haven’t had high blood pressure since the 1970s.”
Whether you’re a meditator or not, commit to a practice in the morning that grounds your day, whether it be meditation, a run, or singing in the shower. Something that you do without fail which anchors you in the present, calms your central nervous system and clears your mind.
An addition to this concept which I like to incorporate is Non Negotiable Time, which is a concept espoused by the brilliant Marie Forleo – she explains in this video the self-care and self-support practices she builds in to her week, and how they increase her productivity ten fold.
2) Automatic Personal Routines
One of Tim’s best suggestions is to create automatic routines. Don’t put energy and thought into the small things you need to do each day to survive and function, have your choices automated by your personal routine. Investing mental energy in what to have for breakfast or what food choice to make is using mental energy you don’t need to expend on choices.
3) Planning and Automating
So many high achievers and productivity mavens swear by staving off the inevitability of your inbox for an hour each morning to make sure that your goal setting and priorities for the day are focused. An initial hour of focused goal-setting, intention setting, and prioritising can make sure your day begins right and powers towards your desired outcome of more output in less time. Writing down to-do lists and action plans decisively reduces the amount of time they spend cycling through your mind, another waste of mental energy.
Inbox mania is one of the main productivity-sucking culprits these days which can be avoided – there is now so much you can do to stay away from your inbox, you can even get programs such as AwayFind which will let you know when a critical email comes in. The natural extension of this is hiring a VA to respond to all non-urgent email and to pare down your inbox to just the critical. This is outsourcing which most highly successful people consider non-negotiable.
This great infographic shows the main ways people lose time at work:
4) Productivity Havens During Most productive Times
For most people who want to operate extremely efficiently during a set period of time, productivity havens are critical. I would advise achieving this by turning off all distractions – email, facebook etc – during your peak hours of productivity so you can focus with laserlike precision on getting the job done with efficiency, speed and focus. Removing the distractions enables you to operate in your zone of excellence and stay in your zone of excellence for as long as is necessary to get the job done.
In this Business Insider article which examines the theory that many successful people only work four hours per day, Aimee Groth describes the results of a study into work habits saying:
“Famous authors tend to write only for 4 hours during the morning, leaving the rest of the day for rest and recuperation. Hence successful authors, who can control their work habits and are motivated to optimize their productivity, limit their most important intellectual activity to a fixed daily amount when working on projects requiring long periods of time to complete.”
So make like Hemingway and aim to only work four hours a day, just make sure you stay away from the amount of booze he favoured: not helpful for productivity in most people!
5) Rescue Time/Time Management
Another of Tim Feriss’ recommendations is accounting for every minute of your day by using a program such as Rescue Time. This clever software will ensure that you know exactly how you spend your time and where your time goes. Then using the data you collect you can analyse how best to streamline and improve where you’re spending your time. This is critical to getting real about achieving your aims in time management.
Setting time limits for achieving things like shopping or web surfing is a useful tool too. If you allow yourself half an hour to find the best deal on your holiday then you will make a decision and book, ultimately saving you time which means saving you money, rather than allowing yourself endless time browsing and searching for the best deals.
6) Follow a Reward-for-completion Model
This is critical to achieving a massive increase in productivity and a freeing up of your time. Most of us have been trained to work between nine to five, and according to Parkinson’s Law most tasks will expand to fill the time allocated to them. This isn’t good for productivity as people knowing they have a certain amount of time to work will work slowly and less efficiently. A good way to combat this is by creating task lists for the day, with the promise of free time at the end as motivation to get you through them quickly.
Once you have your list of aims for the day, set yourself the task of cranking through them. This is hugely motivating if you stick firmly to the mantra that once your list is done your work is done. You will hustle through a ridiculous amount when it’s the only thing which stands between you and quality time.
On thinksimple now, Scott Young writes:
“The solution is to stop paying yourself by the hour. Sure, you may continue to bill your clients by the hour. Or, your boss may continue to pay you a wage, and expect you to stay in the office until 5pm. But, that doesn’t mean you need to pay yourself that way. If you reward completion over input time, you will have a lean schedule.”
Keeping a list of daily goals puts only your work between you and relaxation, instead of some arbitrary amount of time for the day. Not a minimum amount of effort, just your most important tasks separate you and the finish line. This creates an incredible amount of motivation to cut distractions and keep the focus.
Don’t fall into the trap of then giving yourself more work – this negates the motivational power of the strategy. Stick to your plan for the day and the week, and when your work’s done your day ends. A super simple concept which will increase your productivity by double I’d be prepared to wager.
7) Mind Control Techniques
Ever heard that saying “it’s all in the mind?” Well when it comes to business success I’m a firm believer that it is all in the mind. If you can get your brain functioning and trained to behave in a certain way then you can achieve anything. A big part of this is replacing the negative mantra which is drummed into us from when we’re young whereby busyness equals importance, which goes something like: “I’m so busy” “I don’t have time for that” etc etc.
As soon as you catch yourself having an internal dialogue which goes along these lines stop yourself and flip the conversation to a positive one such as: “I’m super efficient, I’m gaining efficiency every single day, I”m using my skills to hurtle towards my goals.” If you can build gratitude into this then you’re streets ahead of the game. As all the great gurus, spiritual leaders, and many many successful people have reiterated over centuries, gratitude for what you have is the strongest factor determining what you achieve. Mentally make sure you’re practicing gratitude every day, rather than focusing on negatives. My suggestion would be something like this: “I’m grateful for this work, grateful to be able to do this. Grateful for the freedom I’m creating.”
The Next Big Question?
So on New Year’s Eve as the clock chimes midnight and we tick over into the next wonderful year of our lives, what changes will you promise to make? What will be the critical improvements you make this coming year? And if they’re productivity goals, what will you do with all that glorious, healthful free time you’re creating for yourself?
Leave a comment and let me know…