It’s true that hard work never killed anybody,
but I figure, why take the chance?
- Ronald Reagan
Have you ever had one of those weeks where your to-do list keeps getting longer and, despite spending late nights at the office, you just can't seem to make any substantial progress? Yep, it's the worst.
Well, I'm about to drop some knowledge on y'all, so grab a pen and write this down...
IT'S TIME FOR YOU TO START WORKING SMARTER, NOT HARDER.
That's right. You heard me correctly!
And I am here to teach you how to get started by sharing five proven techniques to boost your productivity into overdrive without putting in the extra hours.
So, go grab that second cup of coffee and read on, because we're about to make this workweek your b*tch.
GSD aka Getting Sh*t Done
Before we get started, let me share a quick backstory...
I was recently at a coaching retreat in Spain and asked to teach a masterclass focused on my specialty: Execution.
Or what I like to call Getting Sh*t Done.
What does being a pro at GSD consist of, you ask? Well...anything related to process, structure, planning, scaling, systems, focus, etc. Basically, my zone of genius (besides being a productivity nerd) is turning thoughts into actions -- getting someone's big ideas out into the world.
The first few days of the retreat were spent gaining clarity around our vision, uncovering roadblocks, and getting super clear on what we wanted to get done. Then, it was my turn to step in and work my magic.
I love turning the WHAT into the HOW.
Once that I was fully aware of what each person was trying to achieve, I planned on using my masterclass as a live working session by utilizing the discussions from the week to create a clear individualized strategy to launch each person into immediate action. I intended on having each individual walk away from that session with a crystal clear project outline and at least Step 1, if not Steps 1-3, completed.
But just before my mastermind was about to start, an old saying popped into my head...
"Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and you've fed him for a lifetime.”
Rather than jumping into action, I decided to scratch my original plan and take a few steps back by teaching everyone how to work smarter by sharing some of my favorite methods for GSD.
And since this idea went over so well during my masterclass, I've decided to share some of the techniques with you today!
Ok people, who’s ready to learn how to fish?
5 Proven Techniques To Boost Your Productivity:
1. EISENHOWER MATRIX
"What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important." - Dwight D. Eisenhower
Do you often find yourself juggling between putting out fires and answering the demands of others, only to realize it's already 5:00pm and you haven't done anything you originally planned for the day?
This is where the Eisenhower Matrix comes in handy. It's an excellent technique for GSD newbies to start with to make real progress in your productivity. The central focus of the Eisenhower Matrix is to start classifying tasks by their urgency and importance so that you can better allocate your time.
So, what’s the difference between Urgent and Important?
Urgent Tasks: Activities that demand your attention right now and are usually associated with achieving someone else’s goals.
Important Tasks: Activities that have an outcome and contribute to your long-term goals
While it may seem easy to distinguish between the two, we rarely plot our day out with proper balance which can leave us feeling busy instead of productive. In fact, we often get stuck spending most of our time on urgent unimportant tasks when we should really be spending most of our time dedicated to important tasks.
By classifying tasks by their Urgency (Urgent or Not Urgent) and their Importance (Important or Not Important), we are able to overcome our natural instinct to tend to unimportant urgent activities and can, instead, focus on spending time doing what is essential to achieving our long-term success.
Here's how it works:
- Write down a list of everything you do throughout the day, as well as additional tasks that need to get done.
- Next to each item on the list, classify it as either Important or Unimportant, and Urgent or Not Urgent.
- Prioritizing tasks by urgency and importance results in 4 quadrants with different work strategies (as displayed in the picture below). Write each task in the appropriate quadrant to see how you allocate your time.
Important + Urgent = Do Now
- Crises, Deadlines, Emergencies
- These are both urgent and important and therefore should not be ignored. Do them immediately.
- Examples: project due at 5:00pm today; family member in emergency room; upset call from largest client
Important + Not Urgent = Schedule
- Planning, Improvement, Relationships
- These are the things that are important, though not necessarily urgent. According to Stephen R. Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you should seek to spend most of your time in this quadrant as these are the activities that provide lasting happiness, fulfillment, and success. Therefore, you should schedule them to ensure they happen.
- Examples: exercising; project prep; meditating; meet with financial planner; date night; taking a leadership class
Not Important + Urgent = Delegate
- Interruptions, Many Meetings, Phone Calls
- These are things that are urgent but less important and should therefore be delegated to others.
- Examples: ringing phones; booking flights; attending unnecessary meetings; scheduling meetings
Not Important + Not Urgent = Discard
- Time Wasters, Busy Work, Mindless Pleasures
- Neither urgent nor important. Bye Felicia!
- Examples: mindlessly surfing the web; binging on Netflix; busywork; sorting through junk mail
**This is just an intro into the Eisenhower Matrix.
Be sure to check back next week where I'll do a deeper dive into the process and all its game-changing benefits.
By understanding where in these four quadrants our time is being spent, we’re able to make better use of our time.
Work smarter, people, not harder.
2. IVY LEE METHOD
Want the biggest results with the least amount of effort? I got you, boo.
Personally, the Ivy Lee Method is one of my favorites. It's simple, straightforward, and provides immediate results.
Here's how it works:
- Each night, write down the 6 most important things you need to accomplish the next day. Don't write more than 6!
- Prioritize and rewrite those 6 items in order of true importance.
- When you start your day, concentrate ONLY on the 1st task and do not move on to anything else until it's completed. Then move on to the 2nd task until it's completed, working your way down your list one at a time until each individual task is completed.
- At the end of the day, write your list of 6 for the next day, moving any unfinished items from the day to the new list. Be sure to prioritize your list each night.
- Repeat this process every day.
That's it! Pretty simple, huh?
3. POMODORO TECHNIQUE
Are you a member of Procrastinators Anonymous? (uhh, yeah, me neither...)
Do you also love games?
Well then, I have great news: the Pomodoro Technique is your new best friend!
Not only does it kick procrastination to the curb, but it turns working into a game as you race the clock to be as productive as you can possibly be in just 25 minute stints. The prize? Five whole minutes of whatever kind of procrastination that your little heart desires!
Here's how it works:
- Choose a task
- Set the timer to 25 minutes, and start working
- Record progress at the end of the 25 minutes
- Take a 5-minute break (15-20 minutes after 4th work period)
The Pomodoro Technique is so effective because it allows you to break down your work into small chunks, making it much easier to control your urge to procrastinate. Plus, the required five-minute break is like winning a reward each time!
4. WARREN BUFFETT'S "2 LIST" STRATEGY
Who would turn down advice from one of the wealthiest and most successful men of our time? Not this girl!
Warren Buffett's "2 List" Strategy is all about elimination and focus.
Here's how it works:
- Write down the top 25 things you want to do in the next few years or even your lifetime
- Review your list and circle your top 5 goals
- You now have two lists. The 5 items you circled are List A and the remaining 20 you didn't circle are list B.
- Here's the catch...You actually only have ONE list: List A.
When Buffett asked his friend about the 20 he didn't circle, Steve replied confidently,
"Well the top five are my primary focus but the other twenty come in at a close second. They are still important so I'll work on those intermittently as I see fit as I'm getting through my top 5. They are not as urgent but I still plan to give them dedicated effort."
To Steve's surprise, Warren responded sternly, <<This is where it gets good>>
"No. You've got it wrong Steve. Everything you didn't circle just became your 'avoid at all cost list'. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you've succeeded with your top 5."
Even though you care about items 6-25 on your list and can easily justify spending time on them, when you compare them to your top 5 goals these items are actually just distractions. You need to eliminate and focus.
The moral of the story? You can't be a superstar if you focus on everything.
5. INVERSION TECHNIQUE
Are you the kind of person that gets easily stressed when things go wrong or you're unprepared?
Well, the Inversion Technique, also referred to as Negative Visualization, will ease your mind and soothe your soul.
The oldest technique on here, this strategy originated thousands of years ago when ancient Stoic philosophers would regularly conduct an exercise known as premeditatio malorum (translation: "premeditation of evils"), where they would visualize failure in advance.
Now, I’m more of a “think positive!” kind of gal, but these Stoics were onto something…
By imagining potential setbacks, misfortunes, and failures that could happen, you are able to start actively working on addressing and mitigating them in advance.
This is a great approach to try with big projects, especially those that involve a lot of people and/or many complicated steps.
Here’s how it works:
James Clear explains how to use the Inversion Technique for Project Management in his article Inversion: The Crucial Thinking Skill Nobody Ever Taught You:
- Imagine the most important goal or project you are working on right now.
- Fast forward six months and assume the project or goal has failed.
- Tell the story of how it happened. What went wrong? What mistakes did you make? How did it fail?
- Develop a plan to prevent potential problems ahead of time.
*Check out James Clear’s article to read more about the technique, as well as different ways to apply it in your everyday life.
The Inversion Technique is brilliant because it creates higher rates of success by forcing you to prepare for the worst. Furthermore, by showcasing potential problems that could arise ahead of time, you're able to create a conscious plan of action versus the typical stress-induced reaction under pressure. You can eliminate errors and mistakes you might not have otherwise been aware of.
Now you’re prepared for failure in addition to being ready for success.
Guidelines for approach:
Now that you’ve learned these 5 amazing techniques, you’re ready to conquer the world!
Before you get started, just a couple of things to keep in mind…
Mono-task is the new Multitask.
As you introduce each of these techniques into your repertoire, the key is to focus on just one thing at a time -- one technique, one goal, one task. In fact, I want you to throw multitasking out the window because despite popular belief that those who can multitask are more successful, multitasking doesn’t work. Researchers believe that the human brain only has so much processing capacity — so in trying to carry out several different tasks at once, you’re creating a bottleneck, rather than maximizing your efficiency. As the Portuguese proverb goes, "Think of many things; do one."
Dressing Room Theory: try it on, see how it feels, see how it looks.
Just like that LBD doesn't look good on everyone or at any time of day, same goes for these techniques. You have to find the one that looks good on you, fits well, and is appropriate for the event.
Take Baby Steps.
You can't expect change overnight, just try to make small progress along the way. For example, there’s no need to turn your 40-hour workweek into a nonstop Pomodoro, but perhaps you can try introducing it just one morning a week and see how that goes. Which leads me to...
Measure Your Progress.
The best way to know if something is working is to measure it. Once you get done trying a new technique, make note of your progress. What worked well? What didn’t work well? Did the technique seem natural? Were you more or less productive than you usually are? Stick with the techniques that get positive results.
Find An Accountability Partner.
You’re more likely to follow through with a commitment when you’re being observed by others, so ask a friend or coworker join you in testing out these techniques and have some productivity fun!
Be Easy On Yourself.
You know yourself better than anyone, so find a technique that works best for you. It may be one of the above five techniques, none of them, or perhaps a combination of them all! The goal of productivity is to find a flow that is most natural for you.
Don't Forget To Take Breaks!
Just because I've turned you into a GSD Powerhouse (you're welcome), doesn't mean you have to spend your entire day in productivity mode. The brain can only concentrate for so long before it shuts down. (Hello, Friday!) Make sure you take time to refresh and recharge.
One last note...
I am on a constant mission to continually improve myself both professionally and personally, and I totally geek out researching and discovering new approaches, methods, and techniques. What are some of your favorites? Comment below!
I would love to hear about your most productive day and the techniques you use to GSD! You can give me a shout at email@example.com. I respond to each and every email that comes into my inbox.
Alternatively, if this is an area you struggle in, what is currently not working for you?
I LOVE working with clients to get their big ideas into the world and bet I could help! You can learn about my services here or feel free to schedule a discovery call to chat with me directly.
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