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Each year I look forward to the process of planning my goals for the upcoming year, and I always aim high. There was one year where I set my goals lower so I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t meet them all. Oh, how I regretted that decision! What I learned was that I’m highly motivated when I challenge myself to do more. So, now my goals are always set beyond what I think is reasonable, and I celebrate whatever the results may be. And let me tell you, it’s incredibly fun to celebrate exceeding goals like these!
Like you, I’m busy. I write books, articles, reports and content, develop presentations, run a multi-faceted business, and on top of it all, I’m a single mom. (And by the way I REFUSE to work 50+ hours per week. In reality, I work around 30 to 36 hours per week because my life priorities are so clear to me).
Anyway, here are my secrets to actually accomplishing goals and increasing productivity:
1. Say No. This was a big one that took me a couple of years to grasp, and ultimately learn to stop feeling bad about letting people down. Just remember this: you aren’t serving yourself or your family by saying yes to everything you’re asked to do.
2. Manage meeting times. If you meet with clients or peers in person, set those meetings either first thing in the morning, at the end of the day, or on one or two specific days of the week. I used to take meetings at all different times, including lunches and mid-day coffees, and ultimately realized that middle-of-the-day events left me running all over town, destroying my productivity and creativity in the process.
While I don’t take many in-person meetings anymore, I do still like to meet up with friends and business associates periodically so I make sure the schedule works for me—either early in the morning or late in the day.
3. Carve out project time. Just as I manage when I schedule in-person meetings, I manage every detail of my calendar carefully. I try to schedule most work-related phone calls on Mondays and Tuesdays, and keep Thursdays and Fridays open as much as possible so that I have focused project time. I also set appointments in my calendar to work on projects and get things done. If you want to write a book or start building a business plan, begin by carving out time in your calendar—an hour a day or a few hours on a specific day each week.
4. Get up earlier. There are numerous books out about how highly successful people wake up early and get more done before breakfast than most of us accomplish in a day. As a life-long night owl, this advice used to piss me off. But I found that when I let that hostility go, those early morning hours can be enjoyable for a bunch of reasons.
If you give this a go, you can make it time just for you and your goals—not for your family or any other obligations. Many famous authors have written manuscripts early in the mornings. And if the trade-off is that you watch less T.V. and go to bed earlier, the upside seems quite clear to me. (Hint: Set a timer so that a light turns on in your bedroom a few minutes before your alarm clock. This is a much gentler way to begin the day, and makes it hard to fall back asleep.)
5. Stop reading email. Seriously, it will still be there in an hour or a day or even a week. When I decided that I would begin checking email just a couple of times per day, I learned that the world didn’t stop spinning, and my productivity increased dramatically.
6. Wait to read email. Because email is such a time-sucker, I avoid reading it first thing in the morning. I prefer to get several tasks accomplished first, especially creative activities like writing blog posts. Once I achieve a sense of accomplishment, I feel ready to tackle email.
7. Manage the to do list like a boss. I have always kept a running to do list on my desk—a list that will probably never be complete because I’ll always have more ideas than I can handle. But each morning I choose three to five items from the list that I absolutely commit to completing that day. If there’s extra time available, I’ll choose more. But at least I assure myself that the list is being handled.
8. Avoid the social media rabbit hole. Do I really need to tell you how time consuming it can be to troll through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all day? Social media is fun and it’s important in business, but that time should be managed, too. If you have a few free minutes before your next call, for example, that’s a great time to quickly login and check on things, and then leave as fast as you arrived.
9. Silence your phone. Last year the ringer broke on my cell phone and for a couple of weeks, I found it rather irritating. Then I discovered something amazing: I realized I loved how peaceful my life had become! Now I keep my ringer on vibrate about 95% of the time, and the truth is that I let a lot of calls go to voice mail. In fact, sometimes if I need to focus on a project, I will leave the phone in another room so I’m not even tempted to break the creative trance. And guess what? Just like with email, the world doesn’t stop spinning because you don’t answer your phone every second of the day.
10. Create tasks for your goals. When I set my goals, I break them down into actionable steps, otherwise they can feel too big and lofty.
For example, when I decide to develop a new course, the task list looks something like this:
- Outline course
- Write course description (doing this before tackling the course or a book manuscript helps ensure you know your ultimate goal and who your audience will be)
- Write PowerPoint slides
- Add images to slides
- Add speaker notes to slides to ensure proper flow and talking points
- Print out and practice for timing and flow
- Record lecture
- Have videos edited
- Upload videos to hosting service
- Develop handouts
- Write course sales copy
- Add copy to website
- Add shopping cart buttons to website
- Add copy to email promotion
- Schedule social media posts
If I simply had a goal on my list to “create a new course,” it might never happen because the process sounds HUGE. But when I break it down like this, I can tackle it bit-by-bit and before I know it, it’s complete! (By the way, this same strategy works for writing a book. It can sound like a herculean task until you actually break it down and begin to tackle it, bit-by-bit.)
And while these strategies have been essential in improving my productivity dramatically, please don’t take this to mean that I strap on some kind of cape that turns me into an efficiency machine. Like everyone else, my plans occasionally get derailed. My goals aren’t always met and my to-do list is never-ending. We are still human, after all. As I tell my 10-year old on a regular basis: “As long as you did your best, that’s what really counts.”
BONUS TIP: If you can find a way to afford it, outsource, outsource, outsource. You can hire a virtual assistant for as few as five hours per month, and that adds up to five hours of potential productivity you can reclaim.
Now, go make your goals a reality!