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.

How to Hold a Productive Meeting

If you attend a lot of meetings throughout the year you are not alone. You are most certainly not alone!

In the United States alone businesses hold 11 million formal meetings a DAY. That’s over 3 billion, yes billon, meetings a year. Many, maybe most, of those meetings produce no tangible result, with the possible exception of more meetings.

I’m not saying that all meetings are bad, managed well, great things can and do come out of meetings. It’s just that so few meetings are well managed. Holding a meeting should be a serious decision. I wonder how many times a hallway conversation has led to “let’s get the team together and talk about this” with no additional planning or thought as to the cost of the meeting. Way too many companies hold meetings because that is just what companies have always done. Poorly managed meetings cost businesses billions of dollars a year. Yes COST! Meetings are not free; there are real costs associated with every meeting.

If everyone involved in a meeting is “local” the expenses can be limited to “opportunity” losses and a simple loss of productively. If it’s a big meeting with people traveling to a central location the expense can be enormous.

Either way, big or small, productive meetings don’t just happen; they need to be planned. If a meeting isn’t worth planning then the meeting isn’t worth holding.

If you are the person calling a meeting then it is your responsibility to make certain there is an agenda for the meeting. BEFORE you begin developing the agenda you MUST determine the objective for the meeting. If you can’t think of an objective for the meeting then don’t think about having the meeting either.

As the “caller” of the meeting you are not required to personally develop the agenda; you are required to ensure that an agenda is developed and disseminated. If there is no time to develop at least a limited agenda then there is certainly no time for a meeting either. If the meeting requires any preparation and thinking on the part of the attendees then the agenda should be provided at least 24 hours in advance. The more preparation and thinking that are required the earlier the agenda should be provided. By the way, if no preparation and thinking are required on the part of the attendees then no meeting is required either.

The agenda must include start and end times. Every meeting should start and end on time and if it will take 25 minutes for the objective to be achieved then don’t schedule a 30 minute meeting just because it’s easier in Outlook. Staying on time, staying on topic and focusing on the objective of the meeting demonstrates to all attendees that meetings matter and so does their time. Your meetings may not be as “fun” but they will be a heck of a lot more productive.

Carefully consider who will be invited to the meeting. If a person won’t or can’t help with the objective of the meeting then that person doesn’t need to be at the meeting. They can be more productive doing almost anything else.

The meeting must end with a clear, specific statement as to the next steps. If the only “next step” is another meeting then the meeting you just finished either wasn’t long enough or more likely, didn’t need to be held at all.

Holding meetings is easy, holding productive meetings isn’t. Productive meetings require preparation and disciple but that preparation can make a huge difference in the productivity of your entire organization.

Here’s another thought on meetings… ban them! Not altogether, maybe just one day a month, no meetings, none, nada, zip, zero meetings one day a month. No meetings anywhere in your organization, every conference room completely empty! Call it your “Super Productivity Day,” the day when every member of your organization only works on the absolutely most productive thing possible. Maybe it’s something unpleasant they have been putting off, maybe it’s something that really means a lot to them. Great things will happen on that day and it will send a message that you know meetings matter and you know that having less meetings matters too.

Good meetings won’t guarantee success, but enough bad meetings will almost certainly guarantee something less than success.

Get your team together and talk about it! Oh, geez, here we go again…..

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.

When Nothing is Something

Of all the things I do nothing is what I do best. I don’t get to do nothing very often but when I do I’m as committed to it as anything else I do. I’m a pretty serious nothing doer, it’s one of the most important things I do.

Many people feel that to be successful you always have to be doing something but I think doing nothing is every bit as important as doing something. As a matter of fact, I think doing nothing is doing something very special.

Confused? Let’s see if I can help with that.

A couple of times a year, spring and fall, the call comes. I glance at the phone and see my Dad is calling. I know by the time of year exactly why he is calling. It’s time to either put the dock in or take the dock out. The call has been known to go something like this:

Dad: “Hey, what are you doing this weekend?” Me: “Nothing.” Dad: “Good, I need help at the lake, time to take the dock out.” Me: “I can’t, I’m busy.” Dad: “You just said you weren’t busy.” Me: “No, I said I’m doing nothing.” Dad: “Well then, why can’t you help?” Me: “Cause I’m doing nothing this weekend, nothing is the something that I’m planning to do.”

It’s at this point that I feel like I’m in a Laurel and Hardy comedy skit trying to explain that nothing is something and it’s the something that I’ve been planning to do that particular weekend.

You may well feel as if you’re super human and that you can keep burning the candle at both ends indefinitely but the reality is that no one can. At least not while trying to remain effective. You need time to do nothing. The research is pretty clear, you are less productive if you never take some time for yourself. Everyone, yes everyone, even you, needs time to recharge, reenergize and just reflect. I think it’s important enough that I have even occasionally put appointments on my calendar to do nothing.

Now, truth be told something almost always fills the “nothing void” but it’s something that I didn’t intend to do, it’s almost always non work related and it’s stress free. In other words… FUN.

So relax, plan some nothing time soon. You’ll see just how easy it is to turn nothing into something truly special.

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.

Should You be Reading This?

20120812-185949.jpgYes this, should you be reading this blog? I wish more people would read my blog. I wish more people would read my tweets. But that’s just me.

In reality, it’s possible that this or any other blog just might be a complete waste of your time. In fact, it’s possible that the whole “Social Media” thing might be one gigantic waste of time.

It might be, but it doesn’t have to be. Social Media is like everything else in your life, it’s more productive if you have a plan and an objective for using it.

Here’s an idea for you, I’ll tell you right now you’re likely not going to like it, but it will be very informative for you. Keep a time-log for a week or even just a few days. Log how many minutes or heaven forbid, how many hours, you spend each day on various forms of social media. BE HONEST!

You are the only judge as to what is the “right” amount of time. Once you have an honest answer as to how much time you’re spending on Social Media then recall your life before Social Media. What did you do with that time then?

Was it a better use of your time? Did you spend the time in real conversations with people face-to-face? Did you procrastinate less? Did you accomplish more at work? Did you worry less about “having so much to do?”

No one but you can answer those questions. I can however, encourage you to answer those questions honestly for yourself. Keeping a time-log for a few days will help you do that. It’s so easy to burn an hour or two on Facebook or Twitter that a whole morning can get away from you. Your time-log will prove to you how often that happens.

Once you really know how much time your spending on Social Media then and only then can you begin to determine if it’s worth the time you’re committing to it. Once again, be honest with yourself. What do YOU get from it? How does it help YOU?

This is YOUR call, only you can say for sure if it’s worth your time. Only you can measure your Social Media ROI. Your ROI (return in investment) will be determined by your plan and objective for Social Media. If your objective is to just burn several hours a day then you should be able to reach your objective rather easily.

If you use Social Media to learn from other people then you must be able to state what you learn and how you USE it. Somehow I feel the need to mention that honesty thing again here…

If you’re using Social Media to sell then you should be able to measure what you’ve sold that you wouldn’t have sold if you weren’t online. Honestly?

There are many uses for Social Media and I could go an and on but I think you get my drift.

Social Media can add value to your life or dilute the fullness of your life. It depends on how you use it. I’d be a knucklehead to think I have any idea of the “right” way for you to use it, it’s a very individual decision. I can however, tell you there is a right way and that means there must be a wrong way too.

You need to know the difference.


Your 2013 To-Do List

images 2I’m a big fan of to-do lists. There is no better tool to use when you’re looking to fool yourself into thinking that you’ve been productive.

I still like to-do lists but I simply can’t afford the time to use them anymore, I have to be productive. You see, I used to put all kinds of stuff on my to-do list: wash the car, pay the bills, make a tee time, call back an unhappy customer, you know, all the stuff that takes up our day.

Each morning I’d look over my list and get “busy.” What do you suppose I did first? Yep, I got that tee time set up and I felt plenty good about it. I’d get the car washed and almost felt like celebrating cause half my to-do list was already complete.

However there was a little something else on my to-do list. It was apparently important because I wrote it down but it wasn’t any more important than my tee time, it was just another task on my list. That’s the best thing about a to-do list, it allows us to avoid doing the things we don’t like to do (calling back an unhappy customer, for instance) in favor of doing the things we do like. The bonus is that at the end of the day we can look at our list and “see” how busy we have really been. It can be very fulfilling. It can also be very misleading.

The most successful people understand the vast difference between being merely busy and being truly productive.

Productive people rarely use to-do lists, instead they use a tool called a Prioritized Daily Task List. A Prioritized Daily Task List is simple to develop but a serious challenge to use. It will take discipline and more discipline to use it well. If you have the willpower to make it work for you then you’ll accomplish more in a day than you ever thought possible.

Here’s how it works; write down all the tasks that you must accomplish for any given day. Next, prioritize them in order of importance. You can use number one through whatever or use letters instead, the important thing is to be honest and realistic. Understand the difference between what must be done and what would be nice to get done.

Now, here’s the hard part: don’t allow yourself to move to letter “b” until letter “a” is complete. Don’t even think about “b” until “a” is complete. Nothing relating to “b” should be in site until “a” is complete. No matter how much you don’t want to do “a” and how much you do want to do “b” finish “a” before starting “b.”

Some tasks will take multiple days to complete and in those cases simply break the larger tasks into smaller pieces and do parts of it each day and do it first if it’s the most important task to accomplish that day.

A Prioritized Daily Task List will make a difference for you in 2013, I’m certain of it. I’m also pretty certain what should be “1” or “A” on your very first Prioritized Task List of 2013.

Develop a Prioritized DO NOT DO Task List for 2013. Your success in 2013 will be influenced by two factors, one of course is what you do. They other, and equally important factor is what you don’t do.

We all have “time wasters” in our lives; stuff, and maybe people, that just suck our time away. They usually add nothing or very little to our lives, all they do is decrease our productivity and maybe our enjoyment of life.

Invest some time determining what the “time wasters” are in your life and make a Prioritized List (the biggest time waster should be your top priority) and eliminate them in order of importance.

Keep your Prioritized DO NOT DO List close by throughout 2013, some of those “time wasters” may try to creep their way back into our day and you might need to remind yourself from time to time how they made your list in the first place.

One more thought… these are YOUR lists, they should help you reach YOUR goals. What someone else sees as unimportant you may decide for YOUR reasons is very important. In cases like that always remember this: YOU win! It’s your list, they are your goals and it’s your life.

Live it the way you want! To heck with the naysayers!