To start off this brave new year, the last thing you need is another big list of impossible resolutions. As David DeSteno writes in The New York Times, "by January 8, some 25 percent of resolutions have fallen by the wayside. And by the time the year ends, fewer than 10 percent have been fully kept."
The problem, says DeSteno, is that "in choosing to rely on rational analysis and willpower to stick to our goals, we're disadvantaging ourselves."
If one of your objectives is to become more productive, here's what you need instead of resolutions: small, tangible steps that not only make you feel better immediately (because the actions are gratifying) but also carry meaningful results.
That's why I've compiled these 18 practical tips for becoming more productive in 2018:
- Start your day the night before. Craig Jarrow, creator of Time Management Ninja, advises that first thing in the morning is too late to plan your day. Jarrow writes you should "use your calendar to look into the future. When you do your planning, don't only look at today; look a week or even a month forward. This gives you the opportunity to prepare or adapt calendar activities before they're upon you."
- Get enough sleep. I know you've heard this a million times already. But countless studies have proved that sufficient sleep helps you recover more quickly from distractions, prevent burnout, make better decisions, improve your memory, and make fewer mistakes. So why aren't you making sleep a priority?
- Wake up 15 minutes earlier. Because you went to bed at a decent hour, 15 minutes earlier is doable. (An hour earlier probably isn't.) And that 15 minutes creates just enough time for you to manage your morning tasks less frenetically.
- Begin every day with a moment of mindfulness. We tend to plunge into the fray of our workday, reviewing emails and dispatching problems before we even get out of bed. But, in terms of focusing on what really matters, it makes more sense to follow the advice of David Gelles, who writes the Meditation for Real Life column for The New York Times: "Begin the day by taking a few minutes to just breathe, before checking emails, social media, and news." And then, as you make your way through your day: "Set aside short periods, between five and 15 minutes each day, where your intention is simply to be more mindful."
- Make your calendar your master plan for success. You're probably familiar with the work of John Maxwell, the speaker, pastor, and author of many books, primarily about leadership. He says: "I believe that the secret of your success is determined by your daily agenda. If you make a few key decisions and then manage them well in your daily agenda, you will succeed ... What you become is the result of what you do today. In other words ... you are preparing for something."
- Block time for what matters most. Craig Jarrow writes, "I'm always amazed how much power we give other people to fill up our calendars. Before you let other people control your calendar, it's important that you schedule what's most important to you. Block out time for yourself for your goals. Fill up your calendar before other people do."
- Decline at least 10 percent of the meeting invitations you receive. Ask yourself: "Is this meeting really necessary? And if it is, do the people running it really need me?"
- Avoid back-to-back meetings. Here is Craig Jarrow again: "Your entire calendar should not look like Lego blocks, stacked up against each other. This just sets you up to be rushed and stressed, and with appointments running together, no time to get from one to another." Instead, you need to create buffers, to make sure an appointment ends before the next meeting begins. Reducing stress will make you more productive.
- Set objectives for every meeting you organize. Ask yourself this question: "What is the one thing I need this meeting to accomplish?" This, of course, is another way of determining outcomes or objectives. Here's another way of stating it: "What does success look like?" Only by articulating a desired end-state can you build the elements of success. In fact, every decision you make--from where to hold the meeting to whom to invite to how to facilitate--should be based on how you answer this question.
- Never leave any meeting without agreeing on next steps and roles.
- Buy a "Do not disturb" sign and post it at your workspace when you need to get something done. One of my colleagues has a photo of a closed door that she sticks on her cubicle to signal that she really, really doesn't want to talk to anyone right now.
- When you're really under pressure, get lost. Book a conference room somewhere far away from your workspace where no one will find you for an hour or two. Or borrow an empty office. (You might want to ask first.)
- Quit procrastinating. I used to believe that procrastination made me more productive because I'd work super fast to meet the deadline I had put off until the last minute. But I learned that procrastination was a bad way to manage my time--and a worse way to manage my team. So I quit procrastinating and became way more productive.
- Reverse engineer every project. Approach every project backward, working from the deadline to today. Then figure out what you need to do right now to get to the finish line.
- Declutter your workspace. Here's great advice from Bill Bliss, leadership coach and president of Bliss & Associates: "Whether you work in an office building, factory, home office, or any other environment, the physical space matters. If you have many items on your desk or workspace, your mind will tend to interrupt your attempts to focus because your peripheral vision will catch something which 'needs' attention. A cluttered desk is not the sign of a productive person; it is the sign of a busy, distracted, and unfocused person who likely invests time in urgent, but not important items."
- Give yourself lots of breaks. As Daniel Pink writes in his new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, "Short breaks can help us to maintain focus and reactivate our commitment to a goal." In fact, "frequent short breaks are more effective than occasional ones. The ideal break also involves movement." Pink cites a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity that showed that hourly five-minute walking breaks boosted energy levels, sharpened focus, and "improved mood throughout the day and reduced feelings of fatigue in the late afternoon." These "microbursts of activity," as the researchers called them, were also more valuable than a single 30-minute walking break.
- Take pride in all of your achievements--and praise others for all the good things they accomplish. Here's what DeSteno has learned about a key motivator:: "Pride, gratitude, and compassion, whether we consciously realize it or not, reduce the human mind's tendency to discount the value of the future. In so doing, they push us not only to cooperate with other people but also to help our own future selves."
- Stop trying to be perfect, says housecleaning and organizing guru Marla Cilley, who is known as FlyLady. One of the reasons people love FlyLady is that she's so warm and loving. (A typical message: "You are not behind! I don't want you to catch up. Just jump in where you are.") Cilley believes that trying to be perfect is 1) impossible and 2) stops people from getting things done (because they don't think they can do something perfectly). Yes, you want to do great work, but remember that "good enough is good enough."