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OWNER'S MANUAL

30-Second Strategies for Better Performance and Productivity

You spend countless hours trying to improve your performance, but sometimes the biggest gains can be made in half a minute.
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Half a minute is all it takes to make each day more productive.

1. Take 30 seconds to set the stage for awesome success. Here's how: Before you start doing something, answer the question, "What can I do to make this awesome?"

That's basically what Mike Williams of the David Allen Company (the Getting Things Done folks) asked me. When I started to interview him, he stopped me and said, "What would make this call wildly successful for you?"

At first, it sounded cheesy. Then I realized it was the perfect question to ask dozens of times each day. No matter what you're about to do, stop and think, What would make this wildly successful? Not just for you--for another person, for your business, for your customers.

Keep in mind this applies just as much to your personal life, too. Say you're about to drive your daughter to school. Don't just jump in the car and go; take 30 seconds and think, How can I make the time we're about to spend together awesome?

Don't just move blindly on to the next task. Intend to be awesome, and more often than not, you'll succeed. Consistently take a few seconds to think, How can I make this awesome?

Answer that question, and whatever you do, you will do a lot better.

2. Take 30 seconds to summarize all your meaningful interactions. You talk to someone. You share points of view. You give instructions. You agree on plans. Even if the only outcome of a conversation is the addition of another thin layer to a professional or personal relationship, there is an outcome. Something happened.

Unfortunately, all too often you forget what happened.

Don't. Take 30 seconds to make a few notes. Then you can follow up. Or you can revisit. Or you can build on a previous conversation. Or you can remember something personal, something you can ask about next time.

Then you will remember what's important--and be able to act on what's important. And in time, you'll go into every conversation more focused and present. The habit of summarizing creates a self-reinforcing loop: When you need to take notes later, you'll listen a lot more closely now.

3. Take 30 seconds to prepare before every meeting. I guarantee you've walked into meetings where the first time you really thought about those meetings was after you actually sat down.

That's a shame, because meetings involve people--and that means there's a lot to think about ahead of time. Take 30 seconds to think about who will attend. Consider their agendas, their perspectives, what they're likely to say and do, and create a plan for how you'll not only react but, um, "proact."

Terrible meetings are all talk and no action. Take 30 seconds beforehand to think about your role in the meeting--and how you'll help ensure that the right actions get taken. (Otherwise, you might as well not attend.)

4. Take 30 seconds to supercharge yourself. Feeling insecure, nervous, or intimidated? Standing like Superman with your hands on your hips will dramatically increase your level of confidence.

Feeling stressed? Smiling reduces your level of cortisol, which reduces your feelings of stress.

Need to switch from quiet mode to outgoing and engaging? Do what I do before a keynote: Bounce up and down, take a few deep breaths, and say "Showtime." There's nothing magic about it--other than it's a ritual I've performed hundreds of times that instantly gives me confidence and reminds me that I need to switch on.

Find little rituals that help prepare you for stressful or unusual situations. The results are definitely worth it.

5. Take 30 seconds to write down all your ideas. How many good ideas have you forgotten? How many times have you thought, Oh, yeah, I need to make sure I... and then not remembered to do it? How many times has a thought seemed so powerful you're sure you won't forget it, but you've forgotten it until its timeliness has passed?

If you're like me, the answer to each question is, Hundreds of times. (And that doesn't even count the ideas I've forgotten that I've forgotten.)

As soon as you have an idea, take 30 seconds to write it down. Carry a small notebook, use a Notes app on your phone, keep a Word doc open at all times on your laptop, or do all three.

And if you have a thought but it would be rude to stop what you're doing and write it down, no problem. Simply create a little reminder habit. Say I'm talking to you and something you say sparks an idea; I pull out a pen, hold it in my left hand, and I don't put it down until I've had a chance to write that thought down. Unobtrusive, yet it does the job.

The only thing worse than an idea you don't try is an idea you don't even remember. Take 30 seconds to write down your ideas. Then act on them; otherwise, the word idea remains a noun when it should be a verb.

6. Take 30 seconds to hit tomorrow's ground running. Every day should include two or three most important tasks, or MITs: crucial tasks you definitely need to complete. But don't wait until tomorrow to figure out what those tasks should be. Write them down before you leave work.

And then take one more step. Pick the most important task and take 30 seconds to ensure you do it first. Place that client's folder on the middle of your desk. Gather the materials you need to complete that proposal. Prepare a few notes for that important call.

Take a few seconds to make it really, really easy to jump right on your first MIT. That way you won't get distracted by other stuff, and you'll set the stage for a great day by accomplishing something important first thing.

7. Take 30 seconds to say, "I love you." I know. Saying "I love you" takes only takes two seconds. Use the rest of the time to say why.

And not just once in a while. Every time you feel it. Where expressing your feelings to the people you care about is concerned, too much is never enough.

Want to Get More Done? Try This Unlikely Technique

Last updated: Apr 7, 2014

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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