Progress certainly comes from putting in the hard work, but working hard is not enough.
BY FAISAL HOQUE | March 16, 2015
Regardless of our background, location, or profession, there is one language that is the same, and that language is the language of progress.
Progress certainly comes from putting in the hard work, but working hard is not enough.
To achieve our desired outcome, each one of us needs to find our own ways to work smarter.
Working smarter requires a combination of critical thinking, discipline, and techniques that make us productive everyday.
It’s a matter of making continual progress.
I believe productivity and progress comes from a combination of how we think, our habits, and our surroundings. As Peter Draker so famously said,
“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”
Here are few techniques I find helpful to drive me forward:
1. Assess everything that needs to be done
There is a saying that 80% of our accomplishments come from 20% of our efforts. So what 20% of our work is the most valuable? Once we’ve identified it, focusing the lion’s share of our time and energy in that direction creates progress.
Selecting the right success indicators to drive our activities creates the tasks we can knock out first for greatest impact. Here are three fundamentals for assessing potential for success:
Closely examine your strategy and execution methods from the perspective of your particular situation.
Next, articulate and analyze the impact of your work on yourself, your team, partners, and customers.
Finally, evaluate your own ability to execute, focusing on your assets structure, and capabilities.
2. Limit your short-term goals
Once we have our long-term goal stated as an intention, we need to break it down. Let’s say your intention states a five-year goal. Where do you want to be in one year along the journey?
Let’s say that you want to build a new company. Your new company will offer a unique product. Your year one goal may include developing, commercializing, and market validation of offerings. Your first 30-days goal may solely focus on defining the purpose, audience, and the usage of the product.
Where do you want to be on your journey in the next three months? Perhaps doing market research, positioning, and developing the first version of the product. And so on.
It is very tempting to focus on many goals at once. As we mature our own personal techniques and disciplines, it is very possible to be involved in multiple initiatives. However, limiting goals for each initiative to measurable outcomes is what allows us not to overwhelm ourselves into a state of submission and defeat.
3. Work to your own cycle
Our bodies work in cycles. There are times of the day that are most productive as well as times that are quite the opposite. The most effective way of staying productive is to learn your cycle. Which times of the day do you find that you complete the most tasks as well as those times in which all you can think about is taking a break?
For example, my maximum peak of productivity and efficiency generally occurs between 4:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., so I prefer not setting up meetings during those hours.
Studies show that, on average, our brains are only able to remain focused for 90 minutes; then we need at least 15 minutes rest. This is based on the ultradian rhythm, the body’s “basic rest-activity cycle.”
By taking period breaks roughly every 90 minutes we allow our minds and bodies to refresh and be ready to fire off another 90-minute period of high activity.
4. Achieve small goals every day
I set priorities for the beginning of the day the night before. These priorities are not only based on the importance of the goals but also based on the prospect of completion.
If we want to be productive with our time and manage it well, we need to spend our time working toward achieving smaller goals with a series of small tasks. Setting smaller goals for ourselves offers us positive reinforcement when we achieve them. It feels good to know that I am accomplishing something. It helps keep me motivated and encouraged at working toward my bigger goals and aspirations.
5. Get to know where the time goes
The first step to get better at managing our time is to understand how we spend our time. French Nobel laureate philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson argued that the management of tasks is actually management of time — which is actually management of consciousness.
The most critical question is, “Am I currently using my time in the best possible way?”
There are many activities that can easily take up a large amount of time from our daily schedule. If these activities aren’t producing anything tangible, and they are instead just eating up our time, then perhaps it’s a wise move to consider re-prioritizing the schedule.
By placing hours over results, we distract ourselves from asking if we’re using our minds in the best possible way. Guarding our time comes down to being able to say no and express priorities, which means that we need to be disciplined enough to know when to say, “No, actually, I can’t do that now.”
6. Establish ritualistic habits
Repetition is how we develop good habits in our life, choosing to do the right thing even when we don’t feel like doing it. As an example, waking up at the same time creates predictability, and that predictability helps to release abilities.
Along with clear thinking, being productive requires skills. And mastery comes from enthusiastic and repeated, devoted practice. Sustainable daily productivity comes from structure.
7. More is not indicative of better
On a daily basis, I try not to:
- Accomplish more than three major tasks
- Have more than three meetings
- Focus on multiple projects
For example, it is mostly on Sundays when I write.
Being overwhelmed with too many things to do at once is a choice. I should know; as I have been there. Creating a mile long to-do list makes me less productive. This may sound counterintuitive, but I have found that for me, the fewer number of tasks I try to do, the more productive I become with the tasks at hand.
Working with a small, focused, and competent team also goes a long way. A smaller team means more time for yourself and for your people.
Learning how and what to manage is something that we need to continually work at on a daily basis, and that eventually develops into the habit of being productive every day.
8. Create, modify, reuse, and automate
The biggest lesson from my computer science schooling was the concept of reusability. In computer science and software engineering, reusability is the use of existing assets in some form within the software product development process.
More than just code, assets are products and by-products of the software development life cycle and include design and implementation technique. Reuse implies the creation of a separately maintained version of the assets.
This notion of reusability can be applied to anything we do. For example, as an author, I first write small blogs, the blogs turns into feature length articles, and articles become the basis of a new book.
Reuse is what gives us speed and efficiency without reinventing the wheel every time we want to create a new asset.
Much has been written about the benefit of automating repeated tasks. Automation can be a great personal and organizational productivity method. For example, you can use a social media scheduling system that posts your content on social media platforms regularly versus you posting repeatedly at different times of the day.
The trick is being conscious enough to connect the dots between our past, present, and future.
9. Summon your willpower
In her book “Maximum Willpower,” Professor Kelly McGonigal talks about three different aspects of willpower; I will, I won’t, and I want.
Understanding these three areas of willpower is key to reaching our productivity goals.
Having the “I won’t willpower” is saying no to things that will keep you from achieving your tasks such as getting easily distracted with emails, social media, and lengthy useless conversations with others.
The “I will willpower”is having the will to focus on productivity. As an example, we can use social media to move our work forward or we can choose to become addicted to self-entertainment.
The “I want willpower” is to remember the end goal and the reason why we are doing what it is that we are doing. Consistently exercising our willpower keeps us focused — and that takes disciplined practice.
Serial entrepreneur and author Faisal Hoque is the founder of SHADOKA and other companies. His newest book is “Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability.” His upcoming book is “Survive to Thrive: 27 Practices of Resilient Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Leaders.” Follow him on Twitter @faisal_hoque.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved.
[Featured Image: Flickr/Leo Hidalgo]
Original Article @BusinessInsider.