Monday, January 15, 2007

Productivity: How to Make This Your Most Productive Year Ever

Each year we start the year thinking about our goals, our job, our health, all the ‘new’ routines and commitments we make to ourself to make this our best year yet… but two weeks into January all our planning and resolution goes out the window! You can make this your best year ever by applying some of these simple ideas (and re-reading this article each year to keep you on track).

Make a date. Make time in your schedule to find a quiet, comfortable location to set your goals. I spend a morning at my favourite cafe in January every year to review my goals and set new ones for the year ahead.

No more New Year’s Resolutions! Instead, focus on creating realistic goals for all areas of your life – I call these your top 5.

Take five. Create five categories for which to set goals: physical, educational, spiritual, financial, and relational. By setting goals for each of these areas of your life, you will be taking a balanced approach and not neglecting any important aspects of your life.

Write it. You must write your goals down – it makes them more powerful. Use positive language – words like “I will” and “I am” – this will help you to feel as though you have already achieved your goals and to change your behaviors accordingly, for example, “I am going to the gym three times per week”. Make sure you allocate a specific timeframe for the completion of each goal, for example, “By the beginning of March, I am going to the gym three times per week”. Now, identify a reward for achieving each goal – don’t just make a list of rewards, relate a specific reward to the achievement of a specific goal. This will inspire you even more toward the achievement of your goal. And finally, list the possible obstacles that will get in the way of you achieving each goal, and how you will overcome these. This will help you to pre-empt the things that might go wrong and immediately swing into action with your solution, rather than giving up on your goal.

Review constantly. I have been told that the difference between a millionaire and a billionaire is that a billionaire reads their goals twice a day. Simple really. I keep a copy of my goals in several locations around my house (on the bathroom mirror, on the printer, outside the shower screen, on the fridge, on my bedside table and in my wallet), which makes it easy for me to see my goals and be reminded of what I am working towards several times a day.

Use it or lose it! I recently read – people who spend a thousand dollars or more each year on their personal development will increase their business by 20 percent. Read more books, attend workshops, find a new networking group, listen to tapes or CDs in your car, do online courses or enrol at college or university. Keep your brain active.

Make time. Eliminate time-robbers from your day – make a list of all the things you do that rob you of your time, such as watching too much TV, running errands inefficiently, checking and responding to your email too often, making long phone calls, waiting in traffic and even other people. Focus on controlling your time – organising your day efficiently and getting rid of the things in your life that are not a high priority.

Create a paperless desk. Remove all paperwork from your desk: establish files for your projects; reference folders for information you need to access regularly; a reading file for articles, reports, journals and FYI documents; and a daily-file for administrative, miscellaneous and day-specific tasks, and keep these on shelves or in drawers.

Out of sight, out of mind. Remove your in-tray from your desk or get rid of it all together if you can! Keep it out of sight so the contents don’t distract you and so that people don’t drop new items into it without you noticing.

Hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. If you have an actual office with a door, this one is easy. But many workplaces today are open plan and it’s difficult to alert people to the fact that you don’t wish to be interrupted – but there are ways around it. I know one workplace where each person has an item (in this case, a toy frog) which when placed on top of their computer means that they are not available – that they are trying to concentrate on something. When the frog comes down, everyone knows they are available again. With the agreement of everyone in the team, this system works particularly well for an open plan environment. Another technique is to use headphones – when people see you have headphones on they know you are not tuned-in to what’s happening around you – you don’t even have to be listening to anything if you find that too distracting – just put your headphones on to signal your ‘do not disturb’ request.

Book a daily meeting with yourself. Block-out the first 60-minutes in your diary or calendar every day. Treat it as a standing commitment and protect it from being eaten into by other people’s meeting requests. Overtime, people will learn that you are not available until a certain time (which will vary depending on when you schedule your 60-minutes) and they’ll work around you.

Unplug. Schedule one TV-free night each week. Switch off the set and instead listen to your favourite music, play a board or card game, read a book, enjoy a quiet meal by candle light (alone or with someone whose company you love), go on a date or soak in a bath. Start being aware of your television viewing habits and make a point of only watching programs that you truly enjoy and stop wasting precious time in front of the TV.

Manage your reading. Create a reading file and put it in your briefcase. If you don’t already have one, start a reading file and carry it with you on your way home. You can get through a surprising amount of reading while on public transport to and from work and while waiting in queues.

VIPs Only. Surround yourself with VIPs (Very Inspiring People) and eliminate VDPs (Very Draining People). Spending more time with VIPs will inspire, motivate and invigorate you. Minimise your time with the VDPs in your life. It can be difficult to make the switch – be strict with yourself and you’ll reap the rewards of being among the VIP crowd.

Where are you going next? Plan your next holiday, even if you’re already on one! Block-out your holidays and short breaks at the beginning of each year. By scheduling and planning for your holidays in advance you’ll not only have something to look forward to but you’ll have a much better chance of avoiding the usual pre-holiday stress which comes with trying to complete everything before you go – and much less chance of neglecting to take those much-needed breaks.

Find a mentor. When you identify the person you believe would be a suitable mentor, spend some time watching them in action. Ask around to find out what other people’s opinion of your chosen mentor are and find out all you can about their achievements, beliefs, values and way of operating. This will give you insight into them before you approach them about mentoring you.

Leave a detailed message. Whether it is voicemail or with the person who does answer the phone. Make sure you include the time and date you called, a brief mention of what you are calling about and how and when they can contact you. If you are going to be difficult to catch or have scheduled some time during which you won’t be taking phone calls yourself, by leaving a contact time you can avoid a frustrating game of ‘phone tag’.

Schedule email time. Email messages popping into your inbox all day long can be an enormous distraction, particularly if your email is set to alert you every time new mail arrives. To check in on your emails and respond to them as they arrive not only distracts you from whatever tasks or projects you are working on but can rob you of an entire day, responding to other people’s needs while your own are neglected. Schedule a couple or a few times each day to check and respond to emails rather than constantly looking-in on your inbox or being bounced there by your email program with every new message.

Your signature. Use your email program to create an email signature block that will automatically attach to all of your outgoing messages; it’s a little like an email letterhead. It saves you the effort of including your contact information every time and brings a professional touch to your communications. You might simply include your name, business name, contact details and website or you might also include a sentence or two about your business, a special promotion you are running with a link to your website, or even a favourite funny or inspirational quote.

Spelll chceck. Email makes each one of us an instant author – and, that’s not necessarily a good thing! Always, always re-read your emails before you send them to make sure they make sense and to fix any spelling or grammatical errors. I recommend you set your email to automatically spell-check every message before it is sent. And if you need a second opinion to check for clarity, tone or correctness, ask a colleague to look over it for you. It might be inconsequential to you, but a poorly worded email that conveys the wrong tone and is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors can destroy your creditability and relationships.

Spring clean. Schedule time to clean out your email regularly, once a month should be enough to keep you on top of it. Empty your deleted items and any unnecessary sent items, and go through any completed project or task folders and ensure that anything you are keeping is essential to your records. Cleaning out your email will ensure you are managing your email files and disk space effectively.

Set up systems. When using filing cabinets, decide how you will allocate your space to make it easiest to locate your files: for example, rather than mixing all your files together you might decide to keep current customer files in one drawer and potential customer files and marketing information in a separate drawer, or you might choose to store current projects in one drawer and research and reference information in another, or you might decide to file everything in alphabetical order – you get the idea – look at the type of files you have and decide how to logically divide them into categories. Then, label the front of each drawer with the type of files it contains.

Colour it. Use colour coding to further systemise your files and to enable you to identify different types of files at a glance. Choose a range of coloured manila folders and allocate a different colour to use for different file types: for example, blue for customer files, purple for staff files, pink for project files and so on. Make a reference list of what each colour represents until you are familiar with your system.

Create a confidence journal. We don’t all feel confident every day and sometimes it helps to take note of our feelings and how situations affect us. By writing down how you feel each day in a confidence journal you can track your responses to situations and also identify areas of your like you might need some help with. Just do this for 30 days and then spend an hour at the end of the month assessing where you find your confidence gets shaken and then determine strategies to help you overcome that in future.

Choose to be amazing!
It’s as simple as making a commitment to yourself every morning that you will have an amazing day. Remember, life is not a dress rehearsal – we only get one performance, so let’s give it our best!

Neen is an International Productivity Expert: by looking at how they spend their time and energy – and where they focus their attention – Neen helps people to rocket-charge their productivity and networking performance. A dynamic speaker, author and corporate educator, Neen demonstrates how boosting your productivity can help you achieve amazing things. With her unique voice, sense of fun and uncommon common-sense, Neen delivers a powerful lesson in productivity. Find out more and subscribe to Neen’s free monthly ezine at

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