PILLAR #5 - THE GET THINGS DONE FORMULA
Ready to dive into tactics for getting things done?
At this point, we have gone over the steps to setup your body and mind to be capable of high performance.
I purposely did this, BEFORE we dive into specific tactics because I feel many miss this critical step.
If your body and mind are only operating at 70%, you will only be able to output 70%. It’s as simple as that.
I learned this the hard way. Like many, when I started looking into how to get more done each day, I did it backward. I investigated the best tools or best checklists but I was never able to stick to them.
Trying to add MORE tasks to your day (like filling out a productivity journal) is torture when you're already exhausted and overwhelmed.
It becomes much easier to use these once you make the space and energy for them.
That’s why we had to address that first before we get into the following.
HOW TO MEASURE PRODUCTIVITY AND GET THINGS DONE
This question came up a lot when talking with people and my readers.
Honestly... I had no idea how to answer it at first.
Is it counting up how many tasks you completed at the end of the week?
Is it measuring the results at the end of each week on what you did?
Is it how fast you got things done?
These may or may not work, as tasks will vary each week on what they are, how long they take to do and how important they are.
Crushing 30 “easy and quick” tasks in a week doesn't necessarily mean it progressed you toward some underlying goal in any way.
Results are definitely something critical to measure but can be harder to quantify when you're in the building stage of something.
Is there a true single way to measure productivity in yourself or others?
...I don’t really think so.
Here is what I found to be the most effective though.
I find at any point I can work towards 3 big goals at once. Three “strategic objectives” that I am working towards that are considered Tier 1 goals - or one's that would have a big impact. (Richard Branson also follows the same amount).
The reason is that any more than that becomes far too overwhelming and leads to burnout.
In the last Pillar, we spoke on how taking on too many projects at once just doesn't work.
Challenge - Right now, think about and pick 3 things most important for you to work on.
These goals could be building this online course, studying for a certification or test, learning a new skill, expanding on my Quora readership etc.
Outsource or put the rest on hold for now until you complete these.
They should be goals that take some time to accomplish and have a lot of underlying tasks to complete them.
I measure productivity as the amount of completely focused and undistracted time I put towards these goals each week.
What does that mean?
Break down your tasks into intervals of work (25-minute jam sessions or power sessions) where you work exclusively on one task at a time.
After the 25 minutes, you take a 5 or 10-minute break.
This is based on the Pomodoro technique by Francesco Cirillo. At the end of each week, you would add up how many of these power sessions or Pomodoro's you did for each of your 3 big goals.
For example, my week end tally could look like:
Total Focused Time
Build EverProductive Course
Reach 1 million views on Quora
You could modify the 25-minute time frame if you want but I would stick to it. It's quite effective for ensuring your mind does not start to wander.
Set a timer for 25 minutes, then once done take a quick break. This works well for keeping energy levels high and ensuring you stay focused. If you do decide to increase it, I would not make it any higher than 45 to 60 minutes without a break.
As backwards as it seems, regularly taking breaks is critical to ensure you stay focused in these productivity time blocks.
Get up, move around, go get some sun and air, a tea or coffee, feel free look at your phone notifications for 5 to 10 minutes, then get back to it.
WHY THIS WORKS
How often do you actually sit down and do completely focused work on only one task without distraction?
Without looking at your phone, without the TV on in the background, without checking for emails…
Probably almost never.
I'm still guilty of this as well and it’s not totally our fault. As we learned, we live in the most distracting era in all of human history.
Constantly switching our attention to different things is incredibly detrimental to both getting things done and our overall mental performance.
Though it’s not our fault that we live in a world full of distractions, it is our responsibility to ensure we don’t let it impact our potential for greater productivity and results.
The more we succumb to distraction the harder it is to break out of it.
Real, focused work is incredibly powerful. You will be amazed at how much more you can accomplish with your time when you put 100% of your focus and energy into it.
The more you are able to do it, the easier it gets and the more results you can get done.
I spoke with Sol Orwell in Toronto not too long ago and here is his response when I asked him how he approaches his day to day work upon building Examine.com into a 7 figure business.
BALANCING WORK AND PERSONAL LIFE
The beauty of the approach above is it becomes far easier to balance work and pleasure.
When you operate with a model of being 100% focused on thing at a time you know exactly what you're working on. (Or not working on).
The majority of us go through our days partially focused on one task while at the same time being focused on others. We take this same approach even when we are not working.
We may be on vacation or out with friends but simultaneously still diving into emails and thinking about the tasks that need to get done. Or perhaps we are watching Netflix but working at the same time. We are only half invested into each task so we never are truly focused on working or on resting, which makes us exhausted.
By following the method above and mapping it out into a schedule, we pick the exact times to be really productive and the times to completely switch off and re-charge.
Because we have the times mapped out where we are 100% focused and productive on tasks, it also makes us feel far less guilty for when we do take time to rest and recharge.
Let's dive into an effective way to schedule out your day to day tasks.
TACTICS FOR SCHEDULING YOUR TASKS AND GETTING THINGS DONE
How To Schedule Your Tasks
Above, we learned how to plan 3 strategic objectives your working on and map out tasks for each of them.
Here's how it looks in action.
I use Evernote to map out my 3 big objectives and all the tasks needed to complete them. Evernote let's you implement a bullet list with a simple checkbox so you can check off tasks as you complete them (very satisfying).
For example, here was my 3 objectives while I was building this course.
Each day when I start my time blocks to work on each objective, I check what tasks need to be done and then start my 25 minute pomodoro productivity sessions on them.
Some tasks may take only one Pomodoro (25min) to complete, some may take 5 or 6.
Mapping things out this way though provides incredible clarity and focus as there never is a question of what needs to get done.
You know what needs to get done and what's next as it's all right in front of you. As you keep going you will eventually start to be able to predict how many pomodoros tasks take to complete. You'll get far better at being able to estimate completion dates.
The next question is, how do you schedule your times of when to work on things? Let's find out.
How to Plan Your Days
The most common way to plan your day is to pick certain times of the day when you want to do things, put them on your calendar and hopefully proceed with it at that time.
This is OK, but we can probably take it one step further to maximize our effectiveness.
I challenge you to plan your day and the times you work on tasks based on your energy levels.
Everyone has times of the day where they are at their peak mental performance and energy levels.
This will be different for everyone. For myself, I find around 10 AM to 2 PM is where I am at my strongest.
After that it is between 4 PM to 7 PM which is right after I finish a workout and get a good boost.
If I know that these are the times I perform best, it makes sense to schedule in my most challenging to do items at these times.
The tasks that require the most cognitive thought, the most creativity and the most energy to do should go in here. I save these times for writing, problem-solving, deep analytical work, leading meetings, learning a new skill etc.
When we have more energy, we can have more focus.
Outside of these “optimal energy zones”, I do the tasks that don’t really require much thought or energy to do. Things like basic admin tasks, house hold items, checking and responding to emails, booking reservations etc.
It would be much more wasteful to do these easy, simple tasks when you and your brain have the most energy.
Is it possible to always have your day go this way?
No, things will always come up that may be urgent that you need to pay attention to. It’s an ideal state to strive for most of the time.
The idea is to really get you thinking differently about how you schedule your day and to find your times when you perform the strongest. Once you found your peak performance times, do your best to tackle your most difficult tasks in that time.
Plan your day based on your energy, try to do all your Pomodoro or productivity power sessions in those times for your big 3 goals.
Leave the easy stuff for the other times when you don’t necessarily need to be running at 100% for it.
If you know these times, map them out in Google calendar and try to consistently do them at the same time each week.
If you already have planned out exactly when and for how long you are going to work on something each week, you will make far greater progress towards it.
A common saying I've heard from many entrepreneurs and high performance workers is the following:
"If it's not on your schedule it doesn't exist."
Meaning that if you don't actively schedule in time to work on something, it's never going to get done.
Just waiting to try and fit it in when you can means chances are it won't happen and you probably already know that.
Cloud based note taking tool I use to keep track of all my goals, tasks and essentially life.
An app that runs in the background and secretly records how much time you spend and where.
An awesome Pomodoro based planner to track your daily tasks. I use it daily.
StopWatch / Airplane Mode
Every phone comes with these. Put your phone on airplane mode and start the timer for 25 minutes.
YOUR ACTION STEPS
- Create 3 high level goals that you are working towards. Then, break these down into smaller tasks you need to do in order to make them happen.
- Use the 25 minute pomodoro technique to start creating powerful focused time for these tasks. During these sessions, ONLY work on the one task you had planned.
- Create a weekly calendar and put in the exact time blocks you will work on certain things. Remember, if it's not on your calendar, it doesn't exist.
- Try the tools mentioned to make all of the above much easier.
- Time to start getting things done quicker and more effectively then ever before.
Congratulations, you've completed all 5 pillars! How are you feeling? I hope excited, charged and ready to take your results to the next level. You've learned how to build a solid foundation to getting more done each day.
What's next? I have a special bonus interview below on the productivity habits of some successful entrepreneurs. Along with my exact morning routine and night time habits to recharge.
How did you like the course?
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I interviewed 15 startup founders and entrepreneurs on how they stay productive. Find out what they said here along with the daily startup and shutdown habits I use to prepare myself for each day.