What you’ll read in this Article:
- Steve’s struggles with Productivity
- What’s getting in our way of Getting Stuff Done
- Six Tips to Taking Back Control
- Time-Chunking – Examples in how to architect your Perfect Work Day, Work Week and
- How to Action Plan like a Pro – Simple as 1-2-3
Setting The Scene – We’ve All Been There
How often have you had the best intentions at heart, but end up achieving very little of what you had planned?
Maybe you were busy and got lots of stuff done, but the day didn’t feel like a success, as the important things to progress were left unaddressed… again. Or, maybe the day just ran away from you and you ended up not getting much done at all.
Look, I’m not judging… other than judging myself! This has and does happen to me a fair bit!
My Personal Struggle With Productivity
I can be very productive and am naturally a hard worker, but I tend to not be very efficient and prefer psychologically to have as much flexibility as possible. My prior colleagues would attest to my less-than-ideal punctuality to team meetings and resistance to regimented schedules. Come to think of it, I think the missus would concur also… 😬
That said, I do get shit done. I’ve had a career and work life full of success and proud achievements, but that’s been in spite of my prior lack of structure and sometimes unrealistic short-term plans.
But here’s the problem. Having someone breathe down your neck to get a project done, achieve forecasts, close deals, complete actions, finish reports etc is not enjoyable, nor will it serve you long term.
To own your life – to make material progress in career, life ‘operations’ and your deeper aspirations (be it passion projects or evolving what work means to you) – there is no one breathing down your neck. No one is asking you to own your shit, make things happen and truly reach your potential. Oh, and do so in a way that makes you happy. It just doesn’t happen.
That – unfortunately – is all YOU. You need to summon the internal accountability to hold your own feet to the fire, but do it in a way where you are not punishing yourself into action and submission. Instead, you need tools and approaches that get the best out of you, your effort, and create the most enjoyment in the process.
This has been my personal journey in 2018, as I’ve transitioned from long-term employment to single-handedly setting up and running AdapNation. I’ve by no means worked it all out – I still have days of disappointing personal performance.
But, the calm, productivity, structure and outcomes are flowing more freely than ever, as I willingly commit myself to ever increasing demanding projects, with surprising levels of eagerness.
A Reality Check – Some Facts
Here’s the evidence-backed and generally universally experienced reality we have to contend with when it comes to having a fulfilling productive day:
- The Day / Other People can quickly own you, versus you owning your own day. We live in a world of almost unlimited potential distractions, and everyone wants a piece. It all starts in the morning, where there is a general industrial need for earlier and earlier starts, so any ‘you time’ is squeezed out.
- Decision & Willpower Fatigue – Our ability to decide and demonstrate willpower is strongest at the beginning of the day, and drops in accordance to how many decisions and actions of restraint you need to take. Quite often, it’s the menial things, such as the ~200 food related choices the average person makes a day, deciding what to act on (versus how), and all the little decisions around communication, travel and dealing with incoming info that depletes our stores.
- Most of us are suffering with Sleep Deprivation – The science is clear, even a minor lack of sleep below the recommended 7-9h per night has a number of cognitive, emotional and physical impairments. Not least, when under slept we are more likely to choose easy tasks versus jump into demanding projects, over rely on others in the team and not pull our weight, and communicate less effectively.
- Things almost always take longer than we expect, and we think we can do more than is realistic. This is a biggie, and one I struggle with. It can be a truly negative feedback loop when you keep disappointing yourself at the end of the day by having the majority of your actions for the day incomplete, because you assumed you could/should get them all done.
- Simply being awake is taxing. That’s why, after you shake off the morning grogginess, and you don’t let the world own you, the mornings are where your mental capabilities are strongest. The problem is, for many, our days are not structured to take advantage of this peak potential performance and output.
- Our natural Circadian Rhythm favours biphasic sleep. As in, two sleeping periods a day, with a short nap /siesta between 1-2pm. Other than in some Central European countries, napping is considered lazy and/or odd, and our work schedules do not allow or promote a quick daytime nap. However, the net effect of a nap is that it creates two ‘morning’ bouts of peak productivity.
- Focus requires mindfulness and a calm mind. We’re quickly losing our ability to stay on task and really zero in on something wholeheartedly. In part it’s the distraction potential, it’s the social media addictions and the lack of sleep, but it’s also to do with having a racing cluttered mind that is over burdened with so many mini thoughts and worry explosions. Mindfulness practices are desperately needed today to create space and clarity.
You Absolutely Can Take Back Control
As we spell out the issues above, it can sometimes feel like a losing battle, where only the super disciplined and highly capable can navigate todays’ insane Information Age and get important stuff done, day after day.
In part, there is some truth in that. A strong character and resolve goes a long way. So does having favourable circumstances, where for example you generally have more control of your waking day diary.
That said, so much more fulfilment and progress towards things we value and consider important can be achieved for everybody. It does however require a personal commitment, a contract of sorts with yourself, to more deeply value your time and available resources.
This really is a must for us all, especially our kids, as the world of information, data, distraction and instant gratification is not slowing down. It’s exponentially exploding. The question is, can we leverage the innovation, insights and inter-connectedness as a society and individuals, as opposed to getting taken by the wave of ones and zeros?
What Does Taking Control Back Look Like?
I absolutely don’t claim to have all the answers, nor am I executing perfectly. But as time goes on, my acceptance and mastery for the below is improving linearly, with the sporadic step-changes here and there as one of the below gets embedded into my automatic habits and mindset.
#1 – Sleep is The Elixir of Life
Mother Nature took 3.6 million years to perfect it for humans to thrive, and over the last 100 years we’ve massively screwed with the system. For me, and many many other scientists and leaders, getting adequate good quality sleep seems to have a transformative effect on our productivity, efficiency, social capabilities and focus.
Take a read of the below article, that offers a little more insight, as well as the Top 10 things you can do to claim back your birthright – a restorative and enabling sleep.
#2 – Set An Achievable Objective For The Day Ahead
It sounds cliche, but it’s repeated again and again for good reason. As decision and willpower are finite resources, don’t waste critical brainpower on deciding on your action list in the morning. Spend a few minutes at some point in the evening, either before leaving work, or before retiring to the bedroom, to assess what progress needs to be made against the important aspects of work and life.
The mistake is to have an ongoing list of actions, or weighing down your tomorrow to-do list with an unreasonable set of independently taxing tasks. Instead, less is more. Based on your priorities, what is the minimum action that can be taken to make material progress, and commit to that. There are many ways to action plan, but I’ll share with you my approach in the next section.
#3 – Have A Morning Ritual
Call it a routine if that sounds less spiritual and kooky. The idea is to design, as a minimum, the first 30-60mins of your waking day around activities that nourish your body, mind and soul, and in turn setting you up to give from an overflowing cup for the rest of the day.
I can’t express how much of a game changer this has been for me personally. My productivity and mindset has gone through the roof once I pieced this together – the need for a consistent approach that has high probability to get me in the right frame of mind to perform and give.
The article below goes into the idea of a Morning Ritual in more detail, as well as offering up by way of example what I do, as well as tips on managing the social media distraction epidemic.
#4 – Work With & Maximise Your Circadian Rhythm
Your hormones and available energy have a natural rhythm. Maximise them with sleep, as well as nutrition and restorative activities. But when is all said and done, whether you are naturally a morning lark or a night owl, it’s the first few hours of your waking day where you have maximum testosterone, cortisol and other pro-action chemical messengers peaking.
For that reason, getting into the habit of doing the most valuable, and perhaps the most creatively demanding at the beginning of your day, is a predictor of your productivity output, and hence personal satisfaction.
#5 – PRO TIP – Nap like a genius for multiple ‘morning’ blocks of creativity!
Einstein, Edison, Dali, Tesla and Churchill were famous nappers, who leveraged napping as a way to encourage creativity and solving complex problems.
Dmitri Mendeleev, the creator of the Periodic Table – a means of visually structuring all of worlds matter into a logical map, visualised the solution whilst dreaming! He couldn’t figure it out whilst awake, but when asleep he was able to see things in new and creative ways.
The science also backs this up. The uptick in cognitive capability after a midday nap is material. Plus, you get the opportunity to have two productive ‘morning’ blocks, so to speak, by performing a mini-reset.
And you don’t need a lot. Take a read of 2018 W21 Body & Mind Progress Journal, that describes a short 30min Nap straight after lunch with some binaural beats for extra restorative brainwave stimulation. 30mins is not enough to wipe you out, but just enough time to power down the overwhelming information processing of the brain, and reassimilate what you have learnt into potential novel ways.
Just one word of caution, do not nap after (or close to) say 3pm, as you can have a detrimental impact on your ability to fall asleep at night. I’ve experienced this personally, with the sweet spot being between 1:00-2:00pm. The body biochemically has a natural low around about this time.
#6 – Construct The ‘Perfect’ Day & Week
To be clear, assuming 100% control over any given day is lunacy.
There are far too many variables, just within our own psyche and physiology, let alone those around us and the wider world. However, we’ve all had those days where we have felt on fire. We all have an idea of what great would look like, if we could just follow through and not let life get in the way.
We all have a sense of the recurrent obligations we have during the day or week that are non-negotiables and must be planned around. We all have a sense of the maximum available time we have in a given day or week, albeit we maybe poorly utilising some of it today.
So, the idea here is to be your own architect, designing your day and week from the perspective of what would make you feel great at the end of the day/week. But critically, it’s wasteful and idealistic to plan to the nth degree.
I call it Time-Chunking. Be realistic, add some padding, and identify the Time-Chunks you have during the day and week, and then consider the TYPE of tasks that you can/must do within those slots.
Once you’ve drafted your Perfect Day, then zoom out further and draft your Perfect Week, you then have a blueprint or template that expresses what productivity and fulfilment looks like for you.
In part it may be aspirational, but mostly, if you allow it, this blueprint can become your target for the day and week. Just knowing what good / great looks like is a huge weight off your shoulders. You’ve taken more decisions off the table, and you can get one step closer to running on automatic.
You won’t meet this ideal every day, but that’s not the point. You’ll have one-off day and evening commitments that will significantly challenge the blueprint – and that’s absolutely fine. Instead, you have a guide that can keep you honest. You’ll refine it through time to make it more realistic, but that’s great as it’s you taking increasing ownership of how you wish to own the day, week… and your life.
Time-Chunking & To-Do Lists – This is How I Do It
Exclusively by way of example, this is my attempt to construct my Perfect Work Day, my Perfect Work Week, and how I like to set out my actions for the following day.
As I say, I’m still learning and will definitely refine this through time – especially as my responsibilities and goals change. Furthermore, we’re all different, and what works for one person may not gel with another.
So, take a peek at what I do, and pinch from it what you think you could realistically leverage. And if it’s a complete misfit for you… well, at least you know what doesn’t work!
Steve’s Morning Ritual
Check out this Article for more info – Steve’s Morning Ritual – Own Your Morning, Own The Day!
Steve’s Perfect Day
- Whilst it looks regimented, the times are there simply as a guide for me, but working towards this gold standard generally produces the best outcomes.
- I’ve recognised three Productivity Blocks within the day, and will look to work on the most cognitively challenging in the morning.
- There is a lot of Social Media time scheduled. It looks overboard, but it literally is my job. I’d rather be honest with myself, to see where my times goes, versus pretending I’m only on my phone for 5mins a day.
- The downtime is scheduled too, not just work time. This is important, as I need to encourage myself to value and prioritise this time as much as working. This has made a big difference.
- Not everyday looks like this – and that is not the point. Instead, this represents an ideal day of productivity and ‘me’ time. Ideal is not expected, but it does help think about the following day differently, and helps evaluate why today may have been below my expectations.
Steve’s Perfect Work Week
- In addition to ‘Perfect Work Day’ notes,
- This weekly schedule accounts for regular weekly scheduled activities, my training programme, my weekly output schedule and my observed capability variations throughout the week.
- It’s pragmatic in terms of expectations. A lesson learnt from previously being too demanding or expectant, and how that often leads to avoidable dissapointment.
- The times are indicative and flexible, albeit the flow of any given day is considered ideal.
- Of course, when things come up that challenge the blueprint, such as travel, meetings, talks, working around podcast guest schedules, or issues, that’s fine. The goal here is to describe what good looks like, and use it as a guide and yard stick.
Steve’s 1-2-3 Approach to Action Planning
- Through trial and error, I’ve realised that less is absolutely more in terms of action items for any given day.
- I use the evening before to flesh out, based on my backlog and schedule, what things need to get worked on tomorrow.
- I typically pick 1x Big/Important thing to progress, 2x Medium things and about 3x Small Things. I can do more on certain days, and sometimes it can be just 1x Big Thing. The idea is to be pragmatic and reasonable, yet expectant that the smaller list will get actioned.
- The Overflow will call out a couple of small extras I might be able to act on, only if time allows.
- I run a Backlog of activities and projects, that has some additional structure in terms of types of activities, however in simple terms it is my catch-all list to pick from when planning tomorrow and next few days.
- The good thing with this approach of a Backlog, is quite often items that get added to this ‘out-of-sight’ list then get dropped off, as the idea was not needed or of low impact in the bigger scheme of things.
- Beyond my calendar for scheduled meetings etc, and the ‘Perfect Work-Week’ Blueprint, I look to run a dynamic 3-5 day rolling action list, where I will push back or forward activities based on progress and changing priorities.
There Is Always Better – But Rome Was Not Built In A Day!
So, there you have it. A look into how I attempt to claim control of my time and work productivity. It’s not perfect, and I sometimes fail to live up to the gold standard. But, in retrospect, that’s fine – the important thing is I have a Gold Standard to aim for, and I have means for planning and evaluating my actions.
Maybe you have a superior system that works for you. If so – congrats! Perhaps you could share it with us on the AdapNation Facebook page, so we could all takes notes and perhaps upgrade our organisation and ownership skills. 👍🏻
Here’s the point – having a perfect system or planning process is not the goal, nor is it by itself particularly rewarding psychically or financially. What matters most is that you’ve found a way to get shit done. Day after day.
Even more importantly, you are getting things done that actually matter. Your actions are in support of the bigger mission or plan, and the work you do adds real value to your customer base. It’s in performing valued and important work, that matches your view of purpose, that makes for a truly fulfilled and at times ‘effortless’ commitment to getting work done.
Now, go own the day already! 😉
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