The one resource you can never get back is time.
You have a limited amount of time, and how productive you are with that time is what will ultimately determine whether or not you achieve the success you seek.
Here at Consulting.com, we have a mastermind group comprised of 7-figure earners looking to scale to 8-figures. It's a talented group of smart, successful people, and you might think that we focus on advanced stuff like artificial intelligence or highly technical marketing strategies.
In reality, the first thing we focus on in the mastermind is basic productivity.
Whether you are earning $50,000 per year or $5 Million per year, taking control of your time is the single best way to dramatically move the needle on your life and business.
Doing this isn't actually hard, but most people are going about it in all the wrong ways.
Here's what I mean...
Why Life Hacks Won't Make You More Productive
First, you read an article titled 5 Hacks To Be More Productive.
Excitedly, you try out the hacks. To start, you waste a bunch of time trying to figure out and implement the techniques. Within a few days, you've completely forgotten about four of them and the fifth really hasn't moved the needle on your productivity.
Time to look for more hacks.
Let's ask some people on Quora...
Oof... we're going to be here awhile.
The truth is that hacks, techniques, and shortcuts don't really do much to help you be more productive.
The reason people struggle to be productive is NOT because they are lacking tricks up their sleeve. It's not because they don't have the tools. It's not because they don't know the "secrets" to efficiency.
What really holds people back is that they don't understand their core objective, and they are spending a large majority of their time executing tasks that do nothing to push them toward that objective.
The don't have a framework in place to target and achieve their goals, and this translates to low productivity in every area of life.
But that doesn't have to be your story.
In this guide, we're going to give you a 4-part framework to be more productive in every area of life.
Part 1: Self-Assess To Identify Goals & Pitfalls
The first lesson of achievement is that you will never accidentally achieve a goal. If you want to accomplish something, you need a specific understanding of what it is you are seeking to accomplish.
You also need to identify some of the common pitfalls holding you back from reaching those goals.
This is why we start our framework with self-assessment. Ask yourself the following questions:
"Do I have a 'Polaris Star' goal?"
The number one reason people fail to be productive is that they haven't identified their "Polaris Star" goal.
This is the core goal you use to measure your behavior. If an action, practice, or behavior is getting you closer to your Polaris Star goal, you keep it. If it's not getting you closer, or if it's moving you off course in any way, you change it or eliminate it.
You have a Polaris Star goal by default that is driving you right now. If you never take the time to identify it, you might discover down the road that it isn't what you truly wanted.
We see this all the time with aspiring entrepreneurs who spend hours and hours on social media. They never actually make any money because part of them is trying to build a legit business while the Polaris Star actually driving their behavior is fame and influence. As a result, they never accomplish either.
If these entrepreneurs were to self-assess, they could decide which of those is truly the most important to them. If it's making money, they could eliminate all activity wasted on fame seeking. If it's actually fame, they can stop wasting their time trying to build a business and go all-in toward becoming a household name.
When you know your goal, you can apply your whole self toward achieving it, drastically increasing the speed at which you get there.
"Do I feel tired or worn out?"
Once you know exactly where you're headed, it's time to address some simple, universal pitfalls that get in everyone's way.
Start by looking at your sleep. Research conducted by the US military found that "losing one hour of sleep per night for a week will cause a level of cognitive degradation equivalent to a .10 blood alcohol level". That means losing one hour of sleep per night puts your brain in the condition of a DUI driver!
You may think you're being productive by working late, but the data points to the contrary. Your body needs a certain amount of sleep (usually 7-8 hours per night) in order to function at its best. If you aren't getting enough sleep, you simply aren't going to have the energy required to be productive.
In the same vein, it's important to be mindful of you nutrition and water intake. Your body is a biological machine that needs a complex array of inputs. Just like failing to put oil in your engine will cause it to malfunction, failing to put the right inputs into your body will seriously hamper (if not completely destroy) your performance.
"Do I feel isolated and alone?"
Do you feel alone? Deep down inside, do you think asking for help is bad? That it makes you look weak or needy?
The truth is, humans are inherently social beings. We need human interaction to function at a high level.
Some people need a LOT of social interaction. They get energized from being around people. Others get their energy from being alone, but they still need connection and intimacy with others in order to be in a good mental space.
Don't fight your needs. If you feel isolated or alone, reaching out and building community is as integral to your success as getting the right sleep, nutrition, and water intake.
Treat your need for community as seriously as every other physical need you have.
"Am I doing too much?"
The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say 'no' to almost everything. Warren Buffett
Now, obviously, very successful people CAN say "no" whenever they want. You might not be there yet, but you can probably say "no" to a lot more than you realize, and learning to do so is a big step toward getting to the point where you can say "no" to anything.
There are two things to consider here.
The first and most obvious is that you should say "yes" to things that get you closer to your Polaris Star and "no" to things that don't.
Secondly, the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, tells us that for a typical person, 80% of results will come from 20% of their effort. In other words, only 20% of what you are doing is going to be contributing to the majority of your accomplishments.
That's for the average person... because the average person isn't fully aligned in pursuit of their Polaris Star.
What if you were different? What if you said "no" to the unproductive activities taking up 80% of your effort? What if you focused 100% on your core goal?
Mathematically, you could do half of what you are doing now and still more than double your productivity!
Knowing your limits and optimizing your efforts are key to being more productive. It's not about doing more. It's about being smart and intentional with what you do.
"Is any portion of my time devoted to repetitive tasks?"
Even when it comes to actions getting us closer to our Polaris Star, there are a lot of repetitive tasks that tend to occupy a significant portion of our time:
- Responding to emails
- Entering or transfering data
- Commuting or other repetitive travel
- Chores like cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, etc.
- And SO much more...
Repetitive tasks, particularly those that don't require significant mental focus or unique skills, are prime opportunities for increasing productivity.
Remember that time is your most limited resource. If something you are repeatedly devoting time to could be eliminated, condensed, automated, or done fairly easily by someone else, you shouldn't be doing it.
Now, Rome wasn't built in a day. It's not important that you eliminate, automate, and outsource half your life by the end of this week. What is important is that you identify these areas in your life, so you can begin dealing with them one by one.
Part 2: Focus On Improving One Area At A Time
Now that we know where to focus, it's time to start doing.
The best thing you can do to improve productivity in any area of your life is to build good habits. As James Clear says in his book, Atomic Habits,
Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits. James Clear
Habits don't happen quickly, however, and you aren't going to be able to build all of them at once.
John Berardi, author of The Metabolism Advantage, offers some notable statistics:
- If you focus on one goal, you're 85% likely to achieve it.
- If you focus on two goals, you're 35% likely to achieve them.
The reason people fail at adopting new habits is because they either:
- don't understand the structure of a habit, or
- set up themselves for failure by starting too big.
Once again, a framework will help you get organized for success.
The behavioral psychology expert, Charles Duhigg, author of The Power Of Habit, said that the structure of a habit can be broken down into four components:
- The Cue is the first part of the loop. It's a trigger from your brain that tells you there's a potential reward for learning a new habit.
- The Craving is the motivation behind a behavior. Without motivation, you won't act.
- The Response is the action you take based on your own ability. If you feel that the habit requires a huge effort and is beyond your ability, you won't do it. Your craving must be strong enough to motivate your response.
- The Reward is the end goal - satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.
So, how can you apply these components to form a new habit or drop an existing one? How can you find the strength to break through the craving stage and achieve your goal?
James Clear has the answer. He suggests that you use the four laws of behavior change:
Let's look at an example. Jeff VanderMeer once said:
Position yourself to succeed by doing the other things in your life that rejuvenate you. Exhaustion affects your quality and productivity. Jeff VanderMeer
Following his advice, you decide to create a new habit of rejuvenating by reading for an hour for pleasure, before sleeping.
- The Cue: you believe that relaxing will improve your quality and productivity.
- The Craving: you want to produce better work, reduce stress, and feel less fatigued.
- The Response: you push yourself to go to bed an hour earlier, and spend that time reading for pleasure.
- The Reward: you relax before sleeping, improve your sleep quality, wake up full of energy every morning, and become more productive.
Bear in mind that, according to research, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes an automatic habit, and you ideally want to establish each new habit before moving on.
If you move on to the next goal after only a couple of weeks, you risk losing your focus and undoing all your work. It's going to be tough at first, but remember: It's the small steps that add up, not the big ones.
Don't overdo it. Focus on forming one habit or improving one area of your life at a time.
Part 3: Start With Baby Steps, Then Accelerate
Many people feel like whatever they do, they just can't seem to make progress. They try and they try, and they always seem to fail.
What this usually means is that you are trying to skip to the end result rather than starting with realistic baby steps.
Hiten Shah expresses this well:
As we discussed earlier, if you want to be productive, you have to set goals that motivate you to achieve them. When most people set new goals, they take the wrong approach:
- From tomorrow, I'll write 1,000 words every single day for a whole year.
- By next week, I'll run 10 miles a day, every day.
- Starting today, I'll send 50 connection requests every day on LinkedIn so that I can build a community of targeted prospects who may hire me.
A friend of mine recently told me that he wanted to get back into writing, and he was aiming to write 1,000 words per day. In the last 6 months, he had written maybe 1,000 words total!
As an outside party, and a writer myself, I couldn't help but chuckle inside. I know how difficult it is for even an experienced, practiced writer to write 1,000 words. And I know that while my friend might hit his target the first day... maybe even the 2nd day... within a week or two, he's going to be burnt out.
Zero words per day to 1,000 words per day is simply too much of a jump.
Why not start at 250 words per day and then jump to 500 after a month of successfully hitting 250 per day?
When reaching a goal, you can't simply skip to the end. There's an acceleration that happens, or to use the psychological term, there's a "snowball effect" at play.
You start small, get it rolling, and then it will naturally increase in size and speed at an accelerating rate.
Set easy goals at the start, using the satisfaction and sense of achievement you get from completing them to power you through to the next, harder target... and the next... and the next.
- Write down the main goals you want to achieve and list them from easiest to hardest.
- Start with the easiest goal first.
- Focus solely on that goal until you've mastered it and made it a habit.
- Then, move to the next goal.
Remember, always be realistic with yourself.
To run 10 miles a day, you have to first hit one mile per day. Focus on one goal at a time and remember to celebrate your wins. Reward yourself for achieving your goals: point to specific tasks that highlight your best work and congratulate yourself. Emphasize the impact they had on your productivity.
People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing – that's why we recommend it daily. Zig Ziglar
Part 4: Measure & Track Your Progress
There's a saying on progress... "What can't be measured, can't be improved."
It's one thing to have a goal. It's another thing to pursue that goal. But if you truly want to achieve something, you absolutely have to measure and track your progress.
So how do we do that?
A. Schedule Everything
Sometimes the best way to take something It has a big impact on raising your productivity.
Do you want to publish something on your blog every week? Go to the gym every three days? Increase sales by 10% every month? Put your goals on your calendar and respect your schedule.
Mark each target complete when you hit it.
B. Use Tools
Technology has provided numerous tools to help with productivity. While playing with every tool on the market is a great way to waste time and lower productivity, finding key tools to save time on tasks you are already doing is a great way to increase efficiency.
For example, in order to reach my physical goals, I need to track the caloric and macronutrient breakdown of the foods I eat. Ten years ago, this would have been extremely time consuming, but by using a tracking app with a built-in food database, it only takes about 15 minute per day.
Keep in mind that this tool didn't become an integral part of my fitness progress, because I was playing around with fitness apps or reading an article on fitness hacks.
- I had one goal: gain muscle mass
- I made a plan to reach that goal: eat 220 grams of protein and 2800 calories per day
- I realized that identifying the total calories and macronutrients was a time consuming, repetitive task that needed to be addressed.
- I then looked for a tool specifically suited to automating this task.
The tool is never the point. The tool should always facilitate the goal.
Check out the video above to see our recommended business tools for 2019!
C. Be Accountable
Habits are easy. Habit building, on the other hand, is extremely hard. Forcing yourself to do something you aren't used to doing EVERY single day is a real challenge... especially when you are doing it by yourself.
Bringing in an accountability partner is one of the best things you can do when trying to build a specific habit. They key here is that there needs to be mutual interest in keeping you accountable.
For example, say you are wanting to hit that goal of running 10 miles per day. Imagine trying to motivate yourself to do that alone every morning. Now imagine having your buddy show up at your house in their running gear and say, "Okay, let's do it!"
This is especially powerful if the buddy can already run 10 miles per day... if it's already a habit for them. Finding people who already have the habit built and simply assimilating into their habits might be the single easiest way to reach your goals.
This is part of why people say that "your network is your net worth". It's much easier to take on habits that make us more productive when we are simply following along with the people around us.
But that's not the only way to be held accountable.
Sometimes you have to get out your wallet.
Remember my fitness goals? Well even with the game plan and tools in place, I could only ever manage to hit around one month of tracking before I'd fall off the wagon. I would track, track, track, then something would come up, and I'd miss a week, which would turn into three months.
It was silly, but it was my reality... so I did something about it.
I hired a trainer on the other side of the country to message me every single day and hold me accountable to doing my workouts and tracking my calories. That was over 5 months ago, and I've successfully tracked every day since.
My trainer has a mutual interest in holding me accountable, because I'm paying him to have that interest.
I would have been nice if I had a local friend who tracked religiously and kept me accountable, but that's not how it panned out. Sometimes you just have to do whatever it takes!
Remember, becoming more productive isn't about implementing a handful of life hacks. It's about identifying your core goals and then devoting the vast majority of your effort into reaching those goals, one by one.
- Self-Assess To Identify Goals & Pitfalls
- Focus On Improving One Area At A Time
- Start With Baby Steps Then Accelerate
- Measure & Track Your Progress
This is a framework you can take into any area of life.
- Have a financial goal? Use this framework.
- Have a health goal? Use this framework.
- Have a personal development goal? Use this framework.
- Have a relationship goal? Yes, even here, this framework applies!
Well that's all we have for you today. For more on productivity, check out this exclusive video from our Consulting.com Mastermind:
If you'd also like a framework for starting your own business, click the link below ⇊