Maximize Productivity

What You Need to be Productive

If you are reading this you are acknowledging that you want to be more productive. But before we delve into how you do that, we need to clarify what “being productive” actually means. It does not mean getting a lot of stuff done. That’s being busy. Being productive means getting important things done. The big stuff. The stuff that moves you toward accomplishing your biggest, most important goals.

The Basics of Becoming More Productive

If you want to be productive tomorrow, then set yourself up the night before.

· Prepare for your morning routine: Before I go to bed, I set the coffee pot to go off 10 minutes before I wake up. I also prepare water bottles if I am running in the morning (I rotate between running in the morning and running in the evening, based on my work and travel schedules). I start my day in my office with mindfulness meditation, a journal entry, and writing. I find my writing is better and comes easier first thing in the morning. The only thing I need to get straight to work is a cup of coffee and a blank page with a blinking cursor.

Your morning routine is likely very different than mine. But the more you do to prepare yourself, the faster you can get to work. You are setting the tone for your whole day during your first hours each day.

· Review your calendar: I always review my calendar for the following day the night before. It’s likely that I have already prepared for my meetings, but I like to get a look at the following day so I know what the next day looks like. This only takes a few minutes, but I can’t complete the final action on this list until I review my appointments. I need to know what I am doing and where I have space.

Take a look at your calendar. Make sure that you are fully prepared for the meetings and commitments you have for the following day.

· Write down your priorities or to-do list: I can normally achieve three or four major outcomes in a day. I review and plan my week on Sundays, but I have so many action items that pour in from meetings, phone calls, email, and texts, that I have to make time to reevaluate my priorities and sometimes renegotiate commitments on a daily basis.

After you have looked at your calendar, you can review your task list and schedule the time to do your real work (the proactive, important, intentional, purposeful stuff, not the reactive stuff that tends to crowd out your real work if you let it).

This is winding down work, not winding up work. Doing this work the night before gives your productivity a running start by giving you back time. It also lets you do purposeful work right out of the starting gate and build momentum.

Guarding Against the Enemies of Productivity

Aspartofyourcommitmenttobeinghighlyproductiveyouneedtolaythegroundworktomakeitaseasyas possible to stay the course.

Part of the preparation means being vigilant against the enemies of productivity.


1. No Goals

You need a target. Without a target, there is nothing to aim for. Without goals, you are simply drifting, reacting to whatever acts on you. Goals are what allow you to be proactive and take

initiative. Without goals, you can be very busy without being productive.

2. No Plan

A well thought-out, written plan is the map that guides your actions. Without a plan to reach your goals, the actions you take won’t get you where you want to go.

3. No Master List

A yellow legal pad might be the right tool to track all of the many things that come into your life, but it’s not likely. You need a master list of every project, every task, and every piece of incoming information you need to take action on. Without this list, commitments are lost, and so is your productivity.

4. No Weekly Review

Once a week (at minimum), you have to spend the time evaluating your priorities and adjusting your plans.

Without spending time reviewing your priorities and making adjustments to your calendar, you can’t make progress on your most important priorities. In fact, you won’t even know what your priorities are.

5. No Time Blocking

Part of a good weekly review is blocking the time you need to take action on your most important priorities. If you don’t take time to plan your week, then others will plan your week for you.

6. Over-commitment

Busy people get more done. Over- committed people get the wrong things done. Focus is saying no to all but the few things that really matter. Being over- committed is to pretend that everything matters and all the choices of what to do with your limited time are equal. Commit to doing more work, but only the work that matters.

7. Under-commitment

This isn’t having too little to do, even though that is possible. It’s not being committed enough to your goals, your dreams, and your priorities. If you want to live a productive life, you must have a fire in your belly.

8. Procrastination

Being productive means taking action on what matters most. You procrastinate when you know what you need to do but aren’t inspired enough to take action or aren’t disciplined enough to do the work that is necessary. When you are committed to meaningful goals, even the rote actions get done.

9. Burnout

Being productive is only sustainable when you take time away from doing the work to refresh, reset, and recharge. The more you do, the more you need time to recover. Burnout comes when you don’t take care of the only real asset through which you produce results: You.

10. Inability to Say “no”

Saying no to small things is how you preserve your time for big things.

Without the ability to say no, other people’s priorities will crowd out your real priorities. Being productive requires that you say no far more than you say yes.

There Are No Shortcuts to Productivity

Being productive requires a plan for success.

In the digital culture we inhabit technology is held up as a shortcut to productivity. Of course I’m not anti-technology, but I do draw the line at some of the concepts that have seeped from the tech world into our view of how one gets things accomplished. The idea of “growth hacking,” which Sean Ellis coined in 2010 to describe marketers and engineers focused on growth, has been twisted to imply that there is a faster route to success. The truth is there is no such thing as a “productivity hack.” There are methods and disciplines you can execute, but there is no way to short circuit success.

When asked what he would do if he had only six hours to chop down a tree, President Lincoln replied, “I would spend the first four hours sharpening my axe.”

There is a lot to unpack here, but two things specifically are worth looking at. First is the condition of the asset being deployed against the objective. Second, and equally important, there is power in preparation when it comes to producing results.

“I would spend the first four hours sharpening my axe.”

—Abraham Lincoln

There is also something to be said for preparation. If you spend time deciding what your work is, when you are going to do it, and preparing to do that work, that time is returned to you in insane productivity when you start working. This preparation removes the obstacle of having to do the work of deciding what work you are going to do, and that prevents you from falling into reactive mode.

The time you spend sharpening your axe increases the amount of wood you can chop and the speed at which you can do so.

Productivity is a Practice

Imagine that you have a task to complete. You need to roll a 100-pound boulder up a steep hill. It’s really difficult, but somehow you manage to do it.

Just because you can do something quickly and effectively does not mean it’s the right thing to do.

Now, you have to roll the boulder up the same hill again. You’re going to be smarter this time. You look around and find a path that is less steep. Progress! You roll the boulder up the hill again, and you get to the top faster. Because you were smart, you were more productive, right?

New day, same boulder, same hill. You’re going to be really smart this time. You strap the boulder onto some apparatus and you use a motor to pull the boulder to the top of the hill. All of this takes you half as much time as pushing the boulder, and you aren’t nearly as tired. In fact, you could move the boulder up the hill ten times if you had to. Now you have hacked your way to being super productive, right? You’ve leveraged technology to do your work for you.

But this isn’t productivity. This is doing something efficiently. This is why your productivity hacks don’t work. Just because you can do something quickly and effectively does not mean it’s the right thing to do.

If you want to be productive, the first question you need to ask yourself is, “What is my work?” Unless you find deep meaning in rolling a rock up a hill for no reason, then you shouldn’t be rolling a rock up a hill. Some of the tasks you are doing are just that: tasks.

The second question you need to ask yourself is, “What tasks will produce the results I want and need?” There is a lot of work that shows up in your world that looks very much like rolling a rock up a hill. It takes time and energy, but it doesn’t produce any real, measurable results. It doesn’t move you any closer to your goals.

The real “productivity hack” is sitting down alone to decide what your real work is, what work you can invest yourself in, and how you plan to make a contribution. The best productivity hack is blocking the time to do the work that produces the results you want from your life, a big part of that life being your work, and work being one of the ways you make a contribution.

What is my work?

What tasks will produce the results I want and need?

The Real Work of Being Productive

If you’re committed to becoming seriously productive, now is the time to put the plan into action, and it doesn’t start when your work week starts. It starts before then. Sitting down to plan your week on Monday morning is a poor strategy. It’s a bad way to plan your day, too. It leaves you vulnerable to starting your week in reactive mode. By Tuesday, you’ve lost a day, and you have lost the week.

How to Make Sure You Own Your Week

· Review last week’s calendar and make sure that you have followed up on every commitment that you made or that you have a plan to do so in this coming week.

Do you owe someone a phone call? Do you need to send someone a thank you letter? How about a proposal? Reviewing your prior week will keep you from forgetting the commitments you made and failing to follow up.

· Review the coming week’s calendar to make sure that you are prepared for every call, every meeting, and every project that you need to move forward this week. If you have meetings, write the agendas for these meetings. If you have to make phone call, put it on the calendar. Doing this work gives you a running start into the week.

· Make a list of the three to five things that you absolutely must complete this week. Do it in this exact order. What is the one thing that you must complete that, if completed, would make this week a success if you did nothing else? Block the time you need to complete this task on your calendar. Then, move on to number two. Then move on to number three. Most people aren’t fortunate enough to be able to generate more than five major outcomes during the week. That doesn’t mean that you will only have five major outcomes. You are likely to have many minor outcomes throughout the week. But being productive means moving your big projects and big goals forward.

· Download the podcasts or audiobooks that you are going to listen to while you drive to work, while you drive home from work, while you fly to another city, or while you are working out. You have plenty of time for personal growth and development, you just have to take advantage of that time.

Preparation is part of the formula for success. The few hours you spend planning and preparing your week will buy you back 4 to 5 times those hours and an incalculable increase in your real productivity.

Holding Yourself Accountable

Now you have your productivity plan and you’ve set in motion, but what will guarantee your success? Accountability. And the only person who will hold you accountable to the promises you’ve made yourself is you. For that reason, make sure you review yourself on a daily and weekly basis.


1. Did you make progress on your most important project?

Productivity isn’t how many things you scratch off your to-do list. You can

have days where you complete all kinds of tasks, none of which have anything to do with what was really important. Productivity is doing what’s important.

2. Did you move closer to your most important goal?

If what you did today did not move you closer to your goals, you may not have been as productive as you think. Goals are achieved by taking disciplined action day after day, not all at once. If what you’re doing isn’t aligned with your long- term goals, you may have gotten things done without being productive.

3. Did you do the three most important tasks that needed to be done today?

I like the idea of having three major tasks to get done. It seems like the right number of major tasks. Maybe three 90-minute blocks of time invested in the above projects and goals? You might be able to do more, but if you have a list of twelve major tasks to do, you are kidding yourself.

4. Did you make a difference?

Did the things you do today make a difference? Did they make a difference in your business? Did they make a difference in your personal life? Did they make a difference in someone else’s life, maybe someone who needed your help?

The most important work you do makes a difference. A lot of things we do fail this test, even if it makes you feel busy.

5. Did you invest the appropriate time and energy in one or two of your most important relationships?

There isn’t anything more important in your life than the people you care about and the people who care about you. You might be so busy doing “what” you are doing that you forget “why” you are doing it and for “whom” you are doing it.

6. Did you learn something today that will help you improve your future results?

Productivity isn’t only about doing what needs to be done now. Being productive also requires that you sharpen your saw. You are the saw. You’ll become dull if you don’t take the time to do things to keep sharp.

7. Did you take care of your physical health?

This one should have probably been first on the list. You need physical energy to be productive. You also need mental energy and stamina. You won’t have these things if you don’t eat well, drink water, exercise, and sleep (likely more than you are now, and likely more than you want to). You can’t be productive if you are