Some years ago, knowing that in business, the numbers always tell the real story – indeed numbers can provide clarity in most areas of life – I decided to calculate my “off” days. I calculated over a period of 6 months. Hmm, the results certainly gave me enough clarity for me to actually do something about it. Indeed I was shocked into making the changes necessary to – sort this out.
During that 6 month period, there were 15 Tuesday’s, 2 Monday’s, 3 Wednesday afternoons, 4 Thursday afternoons and 3 Friday mornings where I just didn’t do enough with my time to be as productive as I needed to be. That was 22 full days in that particular period where I didn’t focus enough to do my best. That extrapolated to 44 off-days in a year – 20% of available productive time!That couldn't continue. The numbers shocked me. This was during a time where I really felt over-worked. I was overworked – yet not working as effectively as I needed to.
In business the numbers always tell the story. At this time, our goal was to grow sales by 10% whilst maintaining margins – how could I help deliver that if my own productivity needed improving by so much. It was my business after all. I had to be 100% focused if I was to reasonably expect my team to deliver.
The other interesting discovery was the pattern – what was with those unproductive Tuesday’s? I almost always started Monday being positive, had exercised over the weekend and felt positive about my goals. However, most Monday’s were spent at my desk where I snacked my way through the day, drank too much caffeine which ended up disturbing my Monday night’s sleep. Result – tired Tuesday’s.
The very moment that those numbers shocked me was the moment my focus became more consistent. I had already known the theory of what should be done – I had read lots of self-help books, time-management and other business books but just hadn’t yet taken the decision yet, to sort out my consistent focus issue. My research to date and implementation of the following changed my habits for the better.
1. Control your mood – don’t let it control you On the days where your brain is telling you to do the opposite of what you need – take a short break, walk outside for 20 minutes (this is the absolute best solution as exercise releases those feel-good endorphins in your brain), go sit in the sun (if it’s sunny), call or meet someone you know motivates you, do anything different for up to an hour that will result in you being more productive for the rest of the day.
2. Get enough sleep We’re all better after a good night’s sleep – we have more energy, think more clearly, are more positive. Do whatever it takes to give yourself the best chance of a great night’s sleep – drink less caffeine, less alcohol, exercise more, go to bed earlier – whatever it takes.
3. Design a routine I have spoken to a lot of very productive, successful people and each one of them has designed a routine that works for them – that delivers success. Big businesses work because their processes are automated, they don’t rely on willpower to succeed. Diary in your most important tasks and projects – including exercise, massage, peer group meetings or whatever other well-being support you need to get you to your most productive state. How do you design your own personal process? Back to the numbers again – apply some “80/20” thinking. Ask yourself: a. What few activities are responsible for the highest number of my successes? b. What handful of activities completely diminish my productivity? c. Re-organise your to-do-list to do more of #1 and to eliminate #2 as much as possible.
4. Prepare the evening before This makes sense – starting your day using your brainpower to move you towards your goals instead of having to rush around deciding what to wear or wondering how you’ll spend your day means you’re starting in a much better frame of mind to focus. Decide your one to three most important to-do’s the evening before. Studies show you’re more likely to follow through if you’re specific and if you write your goals down. Research confirms that this has another benefit: writing down what you need to do tomorrow eases anxiety to help you enjoy your evening and to sleep better – multiple benefits.
5. Eliminate distractions & Delete unnecessary to do’s I love Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism. He recommends doing less, but doing it better, so you can make the highest possible contribution. The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s not about getting less done. It’s about getting only the right things done. It’s about challenging the core assumption of ‘we can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time’. It’s about regaining control of our own choices about where to spend our time and energies. Sounds great to me.