Understanding Success – Part Five

Successful people get it. They simply understand some things that less successful people seem to have a hard time grasping. The things they understand are the “it’s” of success. 

This is the fifth post of a who knows how long series on those “it’s.” They will be short posts, each just long enough to give you time to focus on one “it” of success until the next post arrives. I’m not certain just how long this series will go it it’s beginning to look like an eight post series.

Successful people have a bias for action, they seldom procrastinate. But they also understand that all action is not created equal. They know that being busy and doing lots of “stuff” does not necessarily mean that they are productive.

Successful people understand that being productive requires that you act with a purpose and with an end goal in mind.

It’s that “end goal” that will ultimately determine whether or not you were productive. The most successful people in the world have goals, well thought out, plan full, written goals. They also have an executable plan on how they will achieve them.  

They know that unwritten goals are really just dreams and while some dreams may indeed come true, “dreamers” have little control over their future. Goal setters on the other hand have substantial control over their lives and their future. They know what they want and they know that to get it they must have as many productive days as possible. 

Successful people understand that if they didn’t get closer to at least one of their goals at the end of each day then they may have been busy but they were not productive.

That being the case then it stands to reason that if you don’t have goals, true written goals, then you simply cannot be productive….no matter how busy you think you are.

Goals are your roadmap to the life you want. Well thought out goals give you direction and purpose. The goal itself becomes your motivator and helps you push on when “goal-less” individuals have long given up the pursuit of their dreams. Goals give YOU control of YOUR life. 

Decide what you want out of life then set your goals and develop your plan for how you WILL achieve them. The more specific you are the more likely you are to reach your goal so no generalizations are allowed. You need to know exactly what you want out of life or you’re probably going to settle for something less than you could have.

Focus on being productive and leave the busy work to the people in your rear view mirror. 

Are You Truly Productive?

imageAre you truly productive? That’s a question you may want to ask yourself with some regularity. We… you, me and everybody else has the uncanny ability to trick ourselves into believing that we are incredibly productive when in fact we’re merely busy.

Busy and productive are two entirely different things!

Busy is about doing stuff. Productive is about doing stuff for a purpose. Busy is about looking like your accomplishing something. Productive is about actually accomplishing it. Busy is about wondering what happened to the hours in your day. Productive is about knowing exactly how you used your time.

Busy people hope for a productive day. Productive people plan a productive day.

Their plan is based on their goals and objectives. They determine what they will do and when they will do it based on priorities that come straight out of their goals. They strive to be doing the most productive thing possible at any given time.

Here’s they most amazing thing about highly productive people: they have more free time to do as they please. They earn this free time by not wasting time being busy. They simply get more done than very busy people.

The key is effective goal setting. Once you invest the time required to have meaningful goals in specific areas of your life you’re halfway to being productive. To finish the job you must develop a detailed plan around how you will achieve each goal.

Specificity is vital here. If you allow wiggle room you’ll use it to fall into old, busy looking habits.

Share your goals with someone to whom you truly matter, someone who will hold you accountable to your plan. This is where a coach or mentor can really make a difference. People who have a coach or mentor are generally more productive and more successful. That is not a coincidence. Coaches and mentors make a major difference in the lives of those they work with.

So don’t be so busy you never stop to ask yourself if what you’re doing is actually productive. That little gut check can be the difference between getting something accomplished and wondering why you can’t.

Busy Isn’t Always Productive

Are you a busy person? Are you always “on the run” from the time your feet first hit the floor until your head finally returns to the pillow? Is there always “stuff” left to do at the end of the day?

If you answered yes to those questions then there’s no doubt about it; you are indeed a busy person.

Now let me ask you a completely different question. Are you a productive person? Does your busyness lead to a result. Put simply, do you get stuff done? Do you know how you got it done and most importantly, do you know why it should have been done?

If you answered yes to those questions then you are likely a productive person. You are also very likely to be a successful person. Merely busy people are seldom truly successful; productive people almost always are.

Busy people are always working; productive people are always working towards something. That something is usually a goal or at minimum a desired outcome or result.

Here’s the deal with goals, if you don’t have goals, written goals, along with a fairly detailed plan on how you will achieve each one, then you don’t have goals. Not true goals anyway. Not goals you’re likely to achieve.

The most successful people have written goals, goals based on their core values. They work towards their goals every single day. Sometimes they take big steps towards a goal, some days it’s a tiny little step but virtually everyday it’s something.

Successful people know that if they didn’t get closer to a goal then their day may have been incredibly busy but it was not productive.

Goals allow you to have focus and focus is a key to success. That’s why the most successful people don’t buy into the folly of multi-tasking. Multi-tasking makes you busier, and less productive all at once. Few things actually waste more time than multi-tasking and few things save more time than focus.

I know there are multi-tasking people out there who will vehemently disagree with me on this but all the statistics and research are on my side here. Few things waste more time than multi-tasking. We use it when we’re “stuck” on something or there is something else we would rather be doing. We use it to distract ourselves from more important but less enjoyed tasks.

Here’s an interesting question to ask yourself a few times during each day: “Is what I’m doing at this very moment the most productive thing I could be doing?” If you answer honestly you’ll be shocked at how many times your answer is no. You might be doing something you like to do, you might be doing something that’s easier to do, you might even be doing something very productive, but that’s not the question. Is it the most productive thing you could be doing?

Now, take a breath. I understand that no one can answer yes to that question every time. In fact, I’d estimate that even the most successful people can answer yes less than half the time. But asking the question makes you more aware of how you are using your time. You won’t have to wonder “where the day went” anymore. You’ll know why you didn’t get done what really needed to get done.

One more thing, as you ask yourself that question keep in mind the words of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower who said “What is Important is Seldom Urgent and What is Urgent is Seldom Important.”

When deciding if you’re just busy or actually productive it helps to know the difference between merely urgent and truly important. That difference is found in your true goals.

Procrastinators Have Too Much Patience

Successful people know the difference between procrastination and patience. One simply wastes time and one provides the opportunity to think, reflect, plan, and adjust. 

Patience can be productive, procrastination can’t. If procrastination doesn’t kill your chances for success today then it most certainly will tomorrow or perhaps the next day. But it will get you sooner or later.

Despite popular opinion procrastination is not only a lazy person’s problem. Some very busy people struggle with it too. In fact, one of the very reasons they struggle with it is the fact they are too busy. They attempt to do more than is possible and overload their calendars day in and day out. Their calendars  get so full they have no idea where to start, so they frequently don’t actually get started. 

There has never been a time in history when more “tools” were available to help with the scourge of procrastination. You likely have one of those tools in your pocket… or your hand, this very moment. Yes, the very thing that “helps” us procrastinate, our smartphone, can help us stop. 

There are 100’s of apps available to help us be more productive. I’ve tried many of them but my current app of choice is the native “reminders” app on my iphone. It syncs with my laptop and iPad so I have pings and dings and little red numbers popping up all over. It’s annoying but it also has really helped.

I avoid any app that looks like a simple to-do list. I don’t know a single highly productive person that would go near a to-do list. If you use a to-do list and you think you’re highly productive then  I would tell you you’ll be much more productive when you ditch that liar of a tool. 

I call a to-do list a liar because it fools us into thinking that our “busyness” is the same as productivity. We check something off a to-do list and feel good about getting something done. The question is, should we have done it at all. Maybe and maybe not.

I highly recommend any app that allows you to create a Daily Prioritized Task List. This takes your to-do list to a whole new level. You now do things in order of their importance. That requires thought on how you will use your limited hours in a day. You must decide which of the many things you have “to-do” will provide you the biggest payback and force yourself to follow the prioritization. It may even require you to stop doing some less productive things.

Of course there are a couple of problems with all these apps: I can simply turn off my smartphone (highly unlikely) or just choose to ignore it. (highly likely) I’d bet most people reading this are a lot like me.

That’s why the very best tool to help you with your procrastinating tendencies is a tool that’s been around forever. The “tool” is called a mentor. These days some people call it a coach. 

No one climbs a mountain without a climbing partner and for many people climbing a mountain would be easier than overcoming procrastination. So find a coach or mentor and ask them to help you climb the mountain of procrastination. Share your prioritized daily task list and ask them to hold you accountable to tackle each task in order of it’s importance. 

Virtually every person I’ve ever met could accomplish more than they thought they could and virtually every person I’ve met needed someone to help them do it. The right mentor will remind you of the vast difference between procrastination and patience and never allow you to substitute busy for productive. 

Apps are great but they still can’t replace interaction with a human that has the capacity to care enough about you to truly hold you accountable. I hope they never will.