How to Become Your Most Productive
This blog is available in an audio version, as a 3 Part Series on my High Performance Living Podcast:
Why do we all put off big tasks or projects?
It all comes down to procrastination, that finds its way into all corners of our lives, from our jobs to eating better and exercising smarter. We want to achieve great things, we want to be productive, but then we put it off, and it doesn’t happen. Procrastination can affect us in many ways, but it’s usually disguised as excuses.
- I’m too busy and don’t have time for that
- It’s too difficult and uncomfortable for me
- I’m bored with this and it’s not much fun
- I can’t do this or don’t think I can complete it
But more importantly, procrastination is a sign that we fear this task or change. It’s our natural instinct kicking in, and consciously we don’t realise it’s taking a hold over us. There are 2 key areas that you will need to focus on to start crushing procrastination.
1. Develop a Plan
It’s hard to argue against the value of planning. Planning enables you to allocate your time and resources to your most-important-tasks (MIT’s). In spite of the proven benefit of working from a plan, not everyone does. Again this is procrastination at work.
Creating an effective plan takes time and requires some work. It may seem counterintuitive, but by taking time to plan upfront, the overall time and effort to complete the task can be significantly reduced.
The problem with planning is that it’s not exciting and people don’t feel they need a written plan. The magic thing about a plan is that it provides that very first critical step from knowing what you need to do, to actually executing it.
That’s why the first stage of crushing procrastination is to create, and work from a written plan.
2. Establish Your Vision
A good plan isn’t enough to get you started. You must also establish your vision.
Vision, when engaged properly, is the ignition switch to getting to work on your plan. It is the all important ‘why’ behind the things that you do. When you notice yourself avoiding a difficult task, take a moment to pause, and ask yourself why you’re avoiding it. Then ask yourself why you even have this on your ‘to-do’ list in the first place. Why is this important enough to be a part of your big vision?
When you spend time connecting with and establishing your vision, you can stop procrastination in its tracks, while freeing yourself from the self-imposed limitations that have held you back.
Your action steps now are to establish a vision that creates a clear picture of the future. Then you must create an effective plan that will outline the actions needed to achieve the vision.
Getting Started with Epic Stuff
When you're avoiding something difficult, the best solution is to make it easier. Simplify it.
Whenever I decide I want to create a new course or project, I stop thinking in the big terms of “I need to create a course”. Creating a course doesn’t happen in a day, or perhaps even a week. Instead, I decide what I can do right now to get it started.
Perhaps that’s doing some research or maybe simply establishing my vision of it. Or it could be developing its key lessons or even writing the intro paragraph.
Basically, I begin with something much smaller than trying to envisage a complete course right at the start – that’s difficult and how get a full project kicked off can then just seem too big a task. Instead, focus on the small, easy steps right in front of you. Don’t worry about any of the other steps. When developing a course, I don’t focus on video recording, slide creation or website hosting, I just write. Once you’ve finished that first small step, which will now feel easy, you can move onto the next one.
Another problem you could face is that, despite breaking your project down to simple ‘one-item’ tasks, you could fail to even get started with those. Again, this is procrastination at work.
To combat this you should use a daily ‘unprocrastination’ session. This is a short 5-10 minute session when you’ll focus on doing just the one thing. Ideally this is something you’ve been putting off, something you’ve been procrastinating about.
At first limit it to 5 minutes long so it won’t feel too difficult. Aim to make this a daily habit. Even if you only manage 5 minutes a day, you’ll start to see some progress. But if you want to go for longer on certain days, then by all means keep going when you are focused. This is a great way to develop this habit.
Maybe you find that you can’t stay focused on your one thing for more than 5-10 minutes at a time. You could then try adding more ‘unprocrastination sessions’ a day, which could eventually add up to 20-30 minutes a day of good productivity.
Just by mastering this easy system you will really begin to see how productive you can be when you want to be.
To take this a step further, I recommend that you always work on your Most Important Tasks during your daily unprocrastination sessions. This means you are doing significant work each day. Work that is truly going to make a difference, over time, in reaching your goals.
It might be easy for you to spend 5 minutes on tasks working towards your goals or projects, but are they truly the most important? Basically, are you going to get the biggest return on your time and effort by focusing on these tasks?
If not, then it’s essential to map out what’s truly important and take action on those tasks. Otherwise you are still procrastinating. This is why creating a good plan is one of your first steps to crushing procrastination. Using this plan you can essentially ‘pull-out’ your most important tasks (MIT’s) that really need to be completed.
Then you must decide what MIT is of most priority for that day. Then you get to work on it, focusing 100%, for at least 5 minutes. It’s likely you’ll have a number of MIT’s for a given day, so it is best to select a small number that you most want to achieve. If you have the focus and time to work on some others too, then that’s fine.
An important task is something that will significantly move you towards your goals quicker, or have the biggest impact on your life.
When creating a course for my Masterclass members, one of my MIT’s is to write down each of the lessons. This takes me some time to complete. At this point I put 100% focus for my daily allocated time to just writing.
It's an MIT because producing written material has one of the biggest impacts on my life. It strengthens and extends my relationships, enhances both my programmes and therefore my lifestyle too. Browsing social media, tweaking my website or chatting with friends during that time does very little in helping me achieve my goals.
Of course, I’d be lying if I said I don’t do any of those smaller tasks, I do. But never before or during my MIT’s.
So every morning I create a list of 1-2 MIT’s that I’d like to work on with full focus and zero distraction. Then later on in the day I’ll have some time for those smaller tasks that I can complete quickly and easily. This ensures I keep a good balance and don’t neglect other tasks that still need completed.
How to be awesome every day
So far you’ve mapped out a master plan, discovered your big vision and are smashing your MIT’s for at least 5 minutes a day. So far so good. Or is it?
Perhaps you got off to a good start, yet because you’re tired, something disturbed your routine or the lure of the internet is just too much, you’ve fallen off the track. Truth is, this can affect us all, and if we don’t quickly realize that this has happened, we become unproductive in no time at all.
Unfortunately, in this hyper-connected society we all live in, fighting procrastination can become almost a daily battle for some people. That’s because we all get the urge. The urge to check email, post on facebook or text a friend, so we fail. That’s why I want you to be aware of this urge to ensure you stay consistent to being a productive person.
When you feel this urge, it’s important to pay attention to it, pause on it, and learn as much as you can about it. Because it’s this urge, whether it’s to make another cup of coffee, or check facebook, that will derail you from your purpose of being productive.
Once you can understand and notice the particular urges YOU get, you will be in a better position to control them. They will never go away, but you will be able to successfully work through them and not allow them to become a distraction.
Unprocrastination Top Tip: Make It a Routine
The best consistency tip is to work on being productive every day. By doing so you can make it a habit, one that with time will become part of your daily routine.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Commit to ‘unprocrastination sessions’ every day.
- Set a reminder every day for when you’d like to be at your most focused and productive. Then complete your session.
- Decide on your MIT’s first thing in the morning or last thing at night. This will ensure you start each day with a focus and can get stuck into key tasks from the word go.
- Complete your sessions for at least 5-10 minutes per day with zero distractions or interruptions. Become 100% focused on the task.
- Pay attention, listen to and take notice of any urges to switch tasks that you get. Then return to your MIT.