If I had only 30 minutes or so to share the most important productivity tips I know, these 5 principles are what I would share. [Check below for a link to a free printable “inspiration sheet” with reminders you can post to keep yourself focused on these key productivity principles.]
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5 simple principles for living a truly productive life
If you’ve been listening to our show for a while, you know I enjoy keeping things simple. In this episode, I have combined lessons learned from past episodes and resources I’ve mentioned previously to compile a list of the five principles and strategies that help me become and stay productive. These aren’t necessarily rules, but these are the principles that help me get things done in my life.
1. Write everything down.
This is the most important thing I can do to free up my mind so I can think more creative thoughts, and it helps me avoid stress and embarrassment from missed appointments or commitments. If you wanted to focus on just one habit to help you improve your productivity, this would be my pick.
What should be written down?
- Appointments, including the contact information, address, time
- Phone numbers and addresses — these go into my contacts list as soon as I get them, instead of carrying around business cards or pieces of paper
- Projects and tasks I need to do
- Potential projects and tasks I want to do
- Ideas and quotes that inspire me or make me think
- Birthdays. For example, if a client, colleague, or friend mentions their birthday or a child’s birthday, I set them up in my calendar as a recurring annual event with a reminder for a few days ahead
Tools I use for capturing info and ideas
I’ve talked in past episodes about tools I use for writing everything down, and don’t forget you can download my free PDF of some of my favorite apps to help with this.
- Calendar — This is where every time-specific appointment goes, as soon as I know about it. I use BusyCal on my Mac, Calendars 5 on iOS devices, and Outlook’s Calendar on my PC-based computer at work. They all sync with each other, which helps me stay organized wherever I am.
- Task Manager — This is where I keep track of every project or task as soon as I think of it, including ideas I have for a task, even if I don’t necessarily follow through with them. I like to have this to get everything out of my head so I can look at this during my review time and I can decide then what projects and tasks I want to follow through with, and which ones I decide not to do. I primarily use Nozbe, but use whatever works for you–just get these things out of your head and written down.
Remember, you don’t have to do everything you put in your task manager — it’s a tool, it’s not your boss.”
- Ideas and information. Here are some of my favorite task management tools:
- I use an app called Drafts on my iPhone or iPad to capture my ideas to look at later. (I also keep a small notebook in my purse or in my bedside table for when I don’t want to use my phone.)
- I use Evernote as my digital external brain. I keep any information I might want to refer to later: articles I find online; receipts for business expenses; photos of my car's VIN number and license plate. I also keep a running list of ideas for this show or listener suggestions.
2. Know where you’re going and what you want.
In order to be truly productive, it’s important to spend the time living that life we want and maximizing our positive impact on the world around us. To help do that, think about who you are, who you want to be, what kind of life you want to create for yourself and for those you love.
Nobody can do everything, but there's time to do the things that matter most, if you know what those things are for you.Click To Tweet
It’s easy to stay in the mindset of “go-go-go” all the time, but be sure to remember where you want to end up in the end.
I talked about Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism in Episode 32 — I encourage you to read or re-read it. He describes a way of living that’s premised on knowing what matters most to you, then paring everything else (activities, possessions, etc.) in your life down to the true essentials to help achieve that life.
The overwhelming reality is: we live in a world where almost everything is worthless and a very few things are exceptionally valuable.” ~ Greg McKeown, Essentialism
It takes time, but it’s worth the time to create a life based on the values and priorities most important to you. (I encourage you to listen to past episodes where we talk about this, such as Episode 2 where I talk about establishing your guiding principles.) Look at where you want to end up, and make time to review your priorities to make sure you’re using your time, money and energy to reach your end-goals.
- Resource: I recently picked up Michael Hyatt’s new book, Living Forward, which goes in-depth about creating a life plan.
3. Take some action every day toward at least one of your long- or medium-term goals.
Remember, small steps count.
We need to give ourselves permission to take these small steps toward our goals. This goes back to knowing what our guiding principles and main goals are.
One of my goals, for example, is to get back into a fitness routine. So I've added a daily task to get on the elliptical for just 10 minutes. Some days, it doesn’t seem worth it–how can 10 minutes make any difference in my health or fitness? But 10 minutes is easy enough to fit into my schedule and it’s better than not doing it at all. It gets me into the mindset of doing something active each day, and I can add a few minutes to it every few days until I’m up to the 30 to 45 minutes of activity I would eventually like to fit into my day.
A tool I like to use for this is the app Due (iOS only, but I'm told there are plenty of similar apps for Android devices). This app lets me easily set up a one-time or recurring reminder to create and solidify habits. It’ll ping me every so often until I complete the task. You can set the time you want to be reminded of and choose intervals for reminders.
I’ve also created a recurring task in Nozbe to do something every day to remind me to take a small step to maintain a productive and successful law practice. This comes up every morning and it stays until I can check it off, reminding me to think about building and promoting the business side of what I do. It could be as small as sending a client an article I saw they might like, or writing a post for my law blog, or contacting a colleague to share ideas about how our practices might benefit each other's clients. You could do something similar, such as “Do something today to improve my health” or “Do something today to improve my marriage.”
4. “Busy” and “Productive” are not the same thing.
Going 100 miles per hour every day isn't productive if you’re not going in the direction you want to go. Productivity is about doing the things that matter most to you, making progress toward your goals, and living in a way that’s consistent with your values and priorities. Some practices that help me stay focused on productivity rather than busy-ness:
- Regularly reviewing my calendar and to-do lists. Ask yourself questions such as “Am I spending my time actually producing results?” and “Is this helping move me in the direction I want my life to go?”
- Knowing when to say no. Saying no may be difficult, but it helps us stay focused on the things that matter most.
- Say no to perfectionism that paralyzes you.
- Say no to commitments that don’t advance your goals or serve your values and priorities.
- Say no to multitasking. We’ve talked about in past episodes how multitasking doesn’t work and actually damages your brain’s ability to do the kind of focused thinking that’s necessary for innovation and creativity.
- Say no to doing things out of guilt or fear.
- Remembering that less is more; small and simple is good. This can apply to the things we keep in our homes and the tools we may try to use for productivity. For example, use a task manager or tool to help stay focused and keep track of everything, but don’t let it overwhelm you on a daily basis. If the comprehensive list of projects and tasks in your primary task manager overwhelms you, write down on a sticky note or index card your three MITs (Most Important Tasks). Make sure at least one relates to your long- or medium-term goals. Then put your task manager away and just look at that list of 3 tasks. Once those are completed, you can refer to your task manager and add a few more.
5. Who we are matters far, far more than what we do.
What we do matters — the world needs what we do. Your gifts and talents are important, but those are not what define you. Make time in your life to do the things that help you learn and grow as a person.
- Surround yourself with those who support your dreams and encourage you. Find those people and spend your time with them and not those who put you down or don’t inspire you.
- Make time to read books and articles that inspire and challenge you. This may include the Bible or spiritual texts that are important to you, fiction or nonfiction. Choose something that will benefit your mind.
- Some of the books I’ve enjoyed recently or I’m currently reading include:
- I also plan on reading these books in the near future:
What books have you read lately that inspired you or made you think? Please share your recommendations in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.
- Listen to audiobooks or podcasts that challenge you and make you think or encourage you to create a better mindset. I’ve talked in past episodes about Brooke Castillo’s The Life Coach School Podcast, for example. Recently when I was struggling with discouragement, listening to a couple of her episodes helped me get my mindset back on track.
- Make the space in your life for investing in personal growth and encouraging yourself for live a productive physical and mental life. This kind of thinking is necessary for true understanding, meaningful growth, and creative accomplishment.
What do you think?
I’ve love to hear your comments on this episode or principles that have helped you live a meaningful, productive life. Please feel free to ask your questions or share your thoughts with me by emailing me, commenting on our Facebook page, or leaving a comment below.
Keep yourself inspired!
Reminders and Notices
- Julie Sheranosher, Priscille Livenais, and I recently did an International Productivity Blab talking about clutter. You can watch the replay here, and you can be notified of future Blabs by following me on Blab, where my user name is LauraMcMom.
- I’m available to speak at your events — women’s retreats and conferences, productivity workshops, business teams, etc. Reach out to me via email or call me at 972.638.0308 to talk about how I can add value to your event.
- I'm planning to start a mastermind group, which would consist of a small group of women committed to becoming more productive and making lives that matter. We would meet either weekly or bi-weekly via Skype. More information to come, but if this is something you’re interested in, please email me to let me know, and put “Mastermind” in the subject line. For general information on what a mastermind group is, check out “What Is a Mastermind Group?”
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