Regardless of our background, location, or profession, there is one language that is the same, and that language is the language of progress.
Progress certainly comes from putting in the hard work, but working hard is not enough. To achieve our desired outcome, each one of us needs to find our own ways to work smarter.
Working smarter requires a combination of critical thinking, discipline, and techniques that we can employ for making continual progress.
Here are a few techniques that I find helpful:
1. ASSESS EVERYTHING THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
There is a saying that 80% of our accomplishments come from 20% of our efforts. So what 20% of our work is the most valuable? Once we’ve identified it, focusing the lion’s share of our time and energy in that direction creates progress.
Selecting the right success indicators to drive our activities creates the tasks we can knock out first for greatest impact. Here are three fundamentals for assessing potential for success:
Closely examine your strategy and execution methods from the perspective of your particular situation.
Next, articulate and analyze the impact of your work on yourself, your team, partners, and customers.
Finally, evaluate your own ability to execute, focusing on your assets structure, and capabilities.
2. LIMIT YOUR SHORT-TERM GOALS
Once we have our long-term goal stated as an intention, we need to break it down. Let’s say your intention states a five-year goal. Where do you want to be in one year along the journey?
Let’s say that you want to build a new company. Your new company will offer a unique product. Your year one goal may include developing, commercializing, and market validation of offerings. Your first 30-days goal may solely focus on defining the purpose, audience, and the usage of the product.
Where do you want to be on your journey in the next three months? Perhaps doing market research, positioning, and developing the first version of the product. And so on.
It is very tempting to focus on many goals at once. As we mature our own personal techniques and disciplines, it is very possible to be involved in multiple initiatives. However, limiting goals for each initiative to measureable outcomes is what allows us not to overwhelm ourselves into a state of submission and defeat.
3. WORK TO YOUR OWN CYCLE
Our bodies work in cycles. There are times of the day that are most productive as well as times that are quite the opposite. The most effective way of staying productive is to learn your cycle. Which times of the day do you find that you complete the most tasks as well as those times in which all you can think about is taking a break?
For example, my maximum peak of productivity and efficiency generally occurs between 4:00 am and 11:00 am, so I prefer not setting up meetings during those hours.
Studies show that, on average, our brains are only able to remain focused for 90 minutes; then we need at least 15 minutes rest. This is based on the ultradian rhythm, the body’s “basic rest-activity cycle.”
By taking period breaks roughly every 90 minutes we allow our minds and bodies to refresh and be ready to fire off another 90-minute period of high activity.
4. CREATE, MODIFY, REUSE, AND AUTOMATE
The biggest lesson from my computer science schooling was the concept of reusability. In computer science and software engineering, reusability is the use of existing assets in some form within the software product development process. More than just code, assets are products and by-products of the software development life cycle and include design and implementation technique. Reuse implies the creation of a separately maintained version of the assets.
This notion of reusability can be applied to anything we do. For example, as an author, I first write small blogs, the blogs turns into feature length articles, and articles become the basis of a new book.
Reuse is what gives us speed and efficiency without reinventing the wheel every time we want to create a new asset.
Much has been written about the benefit of automating repeated tasks. Automation can be a great personal and organizational productivity method. For example, you can use a social media scheduling system that posts your content on social media platforms regularly versus you posting repeatedly at different times of the day.
The trick is being conscious enough to connect the dots between our past, present, and future.
5. SUMMON YOUR WILLPOWER
In her book Maximum Willpower, Professor Kelly McGonigal talks about three different aspects of willpower; I will, I won’t, and I want.
Understanding these three areas of willpower is key to reaching our productivity goals.
Having the I won’t willpower is saying no to things that will keep you from achieving your tasks such as getting easily distracted with emails, social media, and lengthy useless conversations with others.
The I will willpower is having the will to focus on productivity. As an example, we can use social media to move our work forward or we can choose to become addicted to self-entertainment.
The I want willpower is to remember the end goal and the reason why we are doing what it is that we are doing. Consistently exercising our willpower keeps us focused—and that takes disciplined practice.