In early 2017, I stumbled upon The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The stress of a busy work and home life was catching up with me and I was looking for some divine intervention. Over the years, I have not exactly been prolific when it comes to reading. I limited my reading intake to musical biographies and The Da Vinci Code. Reading the 7 Habits put me on a path to personal and professional growth I didn’t see coming at the start of 2017.
Here are the top 10 productivity tips I learned in 2017 that I didn’t know were even ‘a thing’ in 2016.
1. Focus on the important, but not urgent tasks.
I am now able to categorise all my daily tasks and ensure I have time during my day to focus on the important, but not urgent matters. My health, relationships, future planning and improving myself. These matters don’t have a deadline but need to take the front seat to phone calls, emails and other people’s agendas. “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
2. Get things out of your head and written down.
David Allen’s Getting Things Done book and its methodology has become my bible. When I read and implemented this system, I felt like I had discovered the secret of the universe. Put simply, its all about getting things out of your head and into a trusted system. In effect, I have built an external brain (in this case, Wunderlist) that I add to constantly, and review on a weekly basis. Doing so has wonderful benefits as it clears space in my head of all the little things for more creative and critical thinking.
3. Power of focus.
My staff must be sick of hearing me talk focus. Keeping your eye on one specific task, especially a cognitively challenging one. In the world of social media, emails and smartphones, it is more important than ever. I have started blocking out specific scheduled times for ‘deep work’. My email is logged out, my phone is off, my door is closed. Zero distractions mean total focus at the task at hand. I work faster and have better outcomes.
4. Emails & phones… handle with care.
The enemy of focus, the nemesis of full engagement. I have discovered email and phone notifications make you work to other people’s agendas and not your own. Do I have something important to do? A report, a business plan? I shut them all down. The world won’t end if I don’t check my email before 10am. Be it a report, a business plan or playing with my kids.
Especially playing with my kids. On your deathbed, will you wish you had spent more time engaged with your loved ones, or more time on Facebook?
5. Multitasking is a bad habit and its worth breaking.
I learned that I was being tricked. Tricked into thinking my multitasking was serving me well. Tricked into thinking that the fact I saw my staff doing this was a good thing. In fact, all we were doing was giving partial attention to each task and using most of our mental energy switching between the two (or 3, or 4!). I was doing a less than stellar job at both things, instead of a great job on one.
6. My willpower is a finite resource
I have learned that my willpower is a limited resource that I need to manage throughout the day. Each day, we make 1000s of decisions (some big, some small) each one withdraws a little from our willpower bank. Being aware of this, I pack the start of my day with those important matters whilst my willpower is at its peak.
7. Journaling keeps you on straight and narrow.
I am not Adrian Mole. This isn’t some kind of ‘Dear Diary’ teenage thing. I do not keep my diary locked under my bed. I use it to keep track of what is important, what I am making progress on and what I am thankful for. I also use it to point out areas that need improvement. Does something keep popping up? Is there a pattern? I now have the data to guide me to make that change.
8. Meditation (I can’t believe I am doing this and neither can anyone else).
I discovered this isn’t some kind of cosmic voodoo BS reserved for Gwyneth Paltrow. It relaxes the mind, enhances your ability to focus and have control when you need it. I even found a no-nonsense, ‘normal’ guy who does guided meditations on my iPhone for simple people like me.
Check out: https://www.headspace.com/
9. The early bird catches the worm.
Much to my wife’s dismay, my day now starts between 4:00 & 4:30am. I soon discovered that 4:01am, 5:01am, 6:01am all feel exactly the same. What do I do at that ungodly hour? I use it wisely! Meditation, journaling, reading and exercise all form part of a great morning routine which sets me up for the day ahead. After the first month, it just became a habit. I became addicted to it and now I wouldn’t have it any other way.
10. Eating frogs isn’t as bad as it seems.
I asked our digital printer Steve to make me a laminated poster in my office that reads ‘Eat That Frog’. He thought it was for my 5-year-old. When I said it was for me, he thought I was crazy! There is a method to my madness I told him.
At the end of the day, I write my ‘frog’ for the following day onto the poster.
What is my frog? My frog is the one thing I should do that will make my life better and push me towards my goals. Or the one thing I really need to do but keep putting off.
The next day when I get into work, my frog is decided for me. No emails, no phone calls. DND time is switched on. I get to work on my frog before the inevitable interruptions, phone calls and requests that come my way during the day.
10.1. Sharpen the Saw (Okay I couldn’t keep it to 10)
Like I said, pre-2017 Jonathan wasn’t exactly an avid reader. This year I have read (or at least listened to) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Getting Things Done, The 12 Week Year, Power of Full Engagement, Eat that Frog, How to be F*king Awesome, Power of Habit, Deep Work & How to Win Friends and Influence People. By no means prolific. But considering I hadn’t read even 10 books in the previous 20 years, it’s a milestone!
All this ensures I am constantly learning and open to new things, new experiences and new perspectives. I can continue to learn to become the best version of myself for my family, friends, work colleagues and most of all, for me.
Self-Indulgent Rant Over.