Ninety days, 90 ways to be more productive in 2017. While some will only take a few minutes, they will still make a major impact on your productivity. Others might take a little longer, especially if creating a new habit is involved, but once that habit is formed, you reap productivity benefits forever.
How you use them is up to you. You can cherry-pick your favorites. You can try one every day. You can add handfuls to your daily routine. Just don't worry that you won't have time--when you're more productive, you actually create time.
So let's dive in!
1. Decide to create systems, not goals. Commit to a process, not a goal. Don't just set a goal of creating better customer relationships; commit to calling at least two customers a day to ask how you can better serve them. Don't just set a goal of landing new clients; commit to cold-calling at least two leads every day. Commit to a process that leads to a goal, and you're much more likely to achieve that goal. Focus on what you will do, not on what you hope will happen.
2. Make temptations hard to reach. Call this the "pain in the butt" technique: When something is hard to do, you'll do less of it. Store sodas in the refrigerator and keep bottles of water on your desk. Put the TV remote in an upstairs closet. Shut down your browser so it's harder to check out TMZ. Use a "productivity" laptop that intentionally doesn't have a browser or email, leave your phone behind, and move to a conference room to get stuff done. Convenience is the mother of distraction, so make it a pain in the butt to satisfy your temptations.
3. Maximize the most important tasks. All of us have things we do that make the biggest difference. (For me, it's actually sitting down and writing.) What two or three things contribute most to your success? What two or three things generate the most revenue? Eliminate all the extra "stuff" to the greatest extent possible so you reap the benefits of spending time on the tasks that make you you.
4. Say to yourself, "I will do what no one else is willing to do." Often the easiest way to be different is to do the things other people refuse to do.
So pick one thing other people won't do. It can be simple. It can be small. It doesn't matter. Whatever it is, do it. You'll instantly be a little different from the rest of the pack.
Then keep going. Every day, think of one thing to do that no one else is willing to do.
After a week, you'll be uncommon. After a month, you'll be special. After a year, you'll be incredible, and you definitely won't be like anyone else. (And, in the process, you will develop remarkable determination and willpower.)
5. Start reading Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. I loved Cal's last book, So Good They Can't Ignore You. It's the book I mention most when people ask me for recommendations.
Deep Work is just as good. It's the perfect antidote to all the alerts, distractions, and multitasking that make you feel like you're getting a lot done, but aren't what you really need to get done.
After all, busy is very different from productive.
6. Allow yourself less time for key projects. Time is like a new house. We eventually fill a bigger house with furniture, and we eventually fill a block of time with "work." So take the opposite approach. Limit the amount of time you allow yourself to complete an important task. You'll be more focused and motivated, your energy level will be higher, and you'll actually get more done.
7. Chunk "housekeeping" tasks. Even though we'd like to focus solely on our most important tasks, we all have other stuff we need to do. Instead of sprinkling those activities throughout the day--or, worse, taking care of them when they pop up--take care of them in a preplanned block. Better yet, schedule that block for when you know you'll be tired or in need of a mental break. That way you'll still feel (and be) productive even when you're not at your best.
8. Stop blaming others. People make mistakes. Employees don't meet your expectations. Vendors don't deliver on time. So you blame them for your problems.
But you're also to blame. Maybe you didn't provide enough training. Maybe you didn't build in enough of a buffer. Maybe you asked too much, too soon.
Taking responsibility when things go wrong instead of blaming others isn't masochistic, it's empowering--because then you focus on doing things better or smarter next time.
9. Just say no. You're polite. You're courteous. You're helpful. You want to be a team player. You're overwhelmed. Say no at least as often as you say yes. You can still be polite while protecting your time. And you should protect your time--it's the one asset no one can afford to waste.
10. Start listening to Extreme Productivity with Kevin Kruse. Seeing so many people feeling overworked and overwhelmed, New York Times best-selling author Kevin Kruse sought to uncover the secrets behind achieving productivity while also feeling a sense of peace and balance. Each 15-minute show is based on insights gained from his interviews with more than 200 highly successful people, including billionaires, Olympic athletes, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and even straight-A students.
Try this episode: Check out why understanding the number 1,440 could immediately change your daily habits.
11. Start small. Say you've decided you should cold-call 20 new prospects every day. Great idea--but sounds daunting. Sounds really hard. Sounds almost impossible. Instead, start small. You can call two people a day, right? That sounds easy. That you will do. Then, in time, it will feel comfortable to increase the number. Whenever you want to create a new habit, start small so you will actually start, and then stick with it through that tough early period when habits are hard to form.
12. Build in frequent breaks. Small, frequent breaks are a great way to refresh and recharge. Like the Pomodoro Technique, a time-management strategy in which you work on one task for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. (To time yourself, use a kitchen timer or your phone.) The key to not burning out is to not let burnout sneak up on you. Scheduling regular short breaks ensures that won't happen.
13. Follow the two-minute rule. Here's one from Getting Things Done by David Allen: When a task takes less than two minutes, don't schedule it, don't set it aside for later, don't set a reminder--just take care of it, now, and then it's done. Besides, don't you have enough on your schedule already?
14. Actively schedule free time. Free time shouldn't just happen by accident. Free time shouldn't be something you get around to if you get a chance. Plan your free time. Plan activities. Plan fun things to do. Not only will you enjoy the planning--and the anticipation--you'll actually have more fun. And the happier you are, the more motivated and productive you will be over the long term. Which, of course, is what personal productivity is all about.
15. Exercise first thing in the morning. Exercise is energizing. Exercise will make you healthier. Exercise can make you smarter. Plus, exercise can improve your mood for up to 12 hours after you work out. So there you go. Work out for 20 minutes first thing. Feel better. Be smarter. Be less stressed. Have a more productive day. Can't beat that.
16. Start reading Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and in Business by Charles Duhigg. The best books don't just make you think, "Wow. I never realized that." They also make you think, "And now I know what to do differently." Duhigg shows how to build better teams, make better decisions, build a better workplace culture, and be more personally productive.
Can't beat that.
17. Eat a healthy lunch every day. We've all eaten a heavy lunch that seemed to kill the rest of the day. So take a different approach. See lunch as fuel for your afternoon--and as one meal you know will be healthy. Plan to eat a portion of protein that fits in your palm and a couple of vegetables or fruits. Make it easy and pack your lunch--then you won't waste time driving to and from a restaurant.
18. Say to yourself, "I will be OK with less than perfect." Yes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Yes, perfection is the only acceptable outcome. Unfortunately, no product or service is ever perfect, and no project or initiative is perfectly planned. In fact, the quest for perfection can often be your worst enemy.
Work hard, do great work, do your best, and let it go. Your customers and colleagues will tell you what needs to be improved, and that means you'll get to make improvements that actually matter to people.
You can't accomplish anything until you let go. Do your best, let go, and then trust that you'll work hard to overcome any shortcomings.
19. Stop trying to impress other people. No one likes you for your clothes, your car, your possessions, your title, or your accomplishments. Those are all "things." People may like your things--but that doesn't mean they like you.
Focus on what really matters to you, and that will free up a lot of time you once wasted on worrying about what you thought was important to other people.
20. Drink another glass of water. It's very likely you don't drink enough water, and that's too bad because feeling good sparks motivation and effort. Plus, if you drink water first thing in the morning, you'll boost your metabolism. Drink more water throughout the day and you'll be less hungry, feel more energetic, decrease your chances of contracting certain diseases--and you'll have to get up more often to use the restroom, which ensures you'll be more active throughout the day.
21. Start listening to Jeff Sanders's The 5 AM Miracle. It's all about "dominating your day before breakfast" by developing powerful early morning habits and rituals. Sanders credits this approach as being the key to his own personal success as a marathon runner, entrepreneur, and healthy vegan. Sanders features well-known celebrities and experts such as Deepak Chopra, Stephanie Gibson, and Ted Ryce, who share their views on getting the most out of life.
Try this episode: Find out if you have a tendency to say yes to everything.
22. Take a productivity nap. A quick nap can improve creativity, memory, and your ability to stay focused. Besides that, neurologists tout the learning benefits of midday siestas. Silicon Valley companies compete to see who can design the coolest napping rooms. Napping is not just napping anymore; it's a skill. And it's a skill that can supercharge your productivity. (Here are some great tips for productive napping.)
23. Make more time for your favorite people. Think about the people you've met recently. Who left you feeling more motivated, excited, and energetic--who made your life better? Seek to spend more time with them. Surround yourself with people who can improve your life, and your life will naturally improve. Sounds obvious, but it's also something we all too often forget.
24. Count your blessings before bed. Take a second before you turn out the light. In that moment, quit worrying about what you don't have. Quit worrying about what others have that you don't. Think about what you do have. You have a lot to be thankful for. Feels good, doesn't it? Count your blessings every night and you'll start the next day in a much more positive way.
25. Use your mind for thinking, not remembering. Here's another Getting Things Done tip. Don't clutter your thoughts with mental to-do lists or information you need to remember. Write all those things down, and then you can focus on thinking about how to do things better, how to treat people better, how to make your business better. Don't waste mental energy trying to remember important tasks or ideas. That's what paper is for.
26. Turn off alerts. Your phone buzzes. Your email dings. Chat windows pop up. Every alert sucks away your attention. So turn them off. Go alert-free, and once every hour or so take a few minutes to see what you might have missed. Chances are you'll find out you missed nothing, but in the meantime you will have been much more focused.
27. Be inspired by small successes. Change is tough. Habits are hard to form. If you want to learn a new skill, don't decide you'll become world-class. The goal is too big, the road too long. Instead, decide to do one small thing really, really well. Then build on that. Success, even minor success, is motivating and creates an awesome feedback loop that will motivate you to do another small thing really well. Take it one step at a time and you might someday actually become world-class--which, after all, is how that works. Start small, stick with it, and someday your big dream will be a reality.
28. Start reading Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez. Self-improvement is great, but sometimes you just want a fun book to read. Chaos Monkeys is the most fun business book I read this year. It's an inside look at some famous companies, their cultures, their key players.
And, oddly enough, you'll learn a lot about productivity, especially from finding out how not to run meetings and companies.
29. Stop at a great point. Take it from Ernest Hemingway: "The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day ... you will never be stuck." His advice applies to all kinds of work. When you stop in the middle of a project, you know what you've done, you know exactly what you'll do next, and you'll be excited to get started again.
30. Stop clinging. When you're afraid or insecure, you hold on tightly to what you know, even if what you know isn't particularly good for you.
An absence of fear or insecurity isn't happiness: It's just an absence of fear or insecurity.
Holding on to what you think you need won't make you more productive--or happier. Let go so you can reach for and try to earn what you really want.
31. Eliminate one "permission." You probably don't think of it this way, but everything you do "trains" the people around you how to treat you. Let employees interrupt your meetings or phone calls because of "emergencies" and they'll feel free to interrupt you anytime. Drop what you're doing every time someone calls and they'll always expect immediate attention. Return emails immediately and people will expect an immediate response.
In short, your actions give other people permission to keep you from working the way you work best.
A friend created an "emergency" email account; he responds to those immediately. Otherwise, his employees know he only checks his "standard" email a couple of times a day, and they act accordingly.
Figure out how you work best and "train" the people around you to let you be as productive as you possibly can.
32. Kill one report. You're not reading most of them anyway. And neither are your employees.
33. Say to yourself, "I will not care what other people think." Most of the time, we should worry about what other people think--but not if it stands in the way of living the lives we really want to live.
If you really want to start a business--which you can do in just a few hours, mind you--but you're worried that people might say you're crazy, do it anyway. Pick one thing you haven't tried because you're concerned about what other people would think or say and just go do it.
It's your life. Live it your way. You'll be a lot more productive--and a lot happier.
34. Kill one sign-off. I worked at a manufacturing plant where supervisors had to sign off on quality before a job could be run. Seemed strange to me--we trusted the operators to ensure jobs met standards throughout the run, so why couldn't we trust them to know if a job met quality standards before they started running?
You probably have at least one sign-off in place because somewhere along the way an employee made a major error and you don't want the same mistake to happen again. But in the process, you reduce the amount of responsibility your employees feel for their own work because you've inserted your authority into the process.
Train, explain, trust--and remove yourself from processes where you don't belong.
35. Fire one customer. You know the one: the high maintenance, low revenue, non-existent profits one.
Start charging more or providing less. If that's not possible, fire that customer.
36. Start listening to Accidental Creative. Aimed at members of the "creative economy," or those who view themselves as more creative than organized, Todd Henry's Accidental Creative podcast covers a range of topics including leveraging competition, minimizing regrets, and common leadership mistakes. Todd's weekly show shares his own insights as well as those of his guests, who include Dan Harris, Cal Newport, and Laura Vanderkam.
Try this episode: Do you prefer being liked or being effective?
37. Prune your to-do list. A to-do list with 20 or 30 items is not only daunting, it's also depressing. Why start when there's no way you can finish?
So you don't.
Try this instead. Create a wish list--use it to write down all the ideas, projects, tasks, etc., that occur to you. Make it your "would like to do" list.
Then pick three or four items off that list that will make the most difference. Pick the easiest tasks to accomplish, or the ones with the biggest payoff, or the ones that will eliminate the most pain.
Make that your to-do list. And then get it done.
Then go back and pick three or four more.
38. Cut one expense. Right now, you're spending money on something you don't use, don't need, or don't want. But since you buy it, you feel you have to use it. I subscribed to a number of magazines (because subscribing is really cheap compared with buying at the newsstand). Great--but then the magazines show up. Then I have to read them. If I don't, they sit around making me feel guilty.
So I dropped three or four. I don't miss them.
Often the biggest savings in cutting an expense isn't the actual cost; it's the time involved in doing or maintaining or consuming whatever the expense represents.
Pick one expense you can eliminate that will also free up time and effort: Your bottom line and your workday will thank you for it.
39. Drop one personal commitment. We all do things simply because we feel we should. Maybe you volunteer because a friend asked you to, but you feel no real connection to the cause you support. Maybe you have a weekly lunch with some old friends, but it feels more like a chore than a treat. Or maybe you keep trying to learn French just because once you started you didn't want to feel like a quitter.
Think about one thing you do out of habit, or because you think you're supposed to, or simply because you don't know how to get out of it--and then get out of it. The momentary pain--or in some cases, confrontation--of stepping down, dropping out, or letting go will be replaced quickly by a huge sense of relief.
Then you can use that time to do something you feel has real meaning.
Or just take a break.
40. Start reading Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. I'm a big fan of grinding. (As you maybe can tell, a really big fan.) Every successful person I know works smart, but they also work hard--and they keep working in the face of obstacles and barriers and inevitable disappointment.
Want to accomplish something huge? Often, all it takes is grit: the willingness to keep going when others do not.
41. Say to yourself, "I will appreciate someone unappreciated." Some jobs require more effort than skill. Delivering packages, bagging groceries, checking out customers--the tasks themselves are relatively easy. The difference is in the effort.
So do more than say a reflexive "thanks" to someone who does a thankless job. Smile. Make eye contact. Exchange a kind word.
All around you are people who work hard with little or no recognition. Vow to be the person who recognizes at least one of them every day. Not only will you give respect, you'll earn the best kind of respect--the respect that comes from making a difference, however fleeting, in another person's life.
42. Create a window of reflection. Most small-business owners spend a lot more time reacting--to employee issues, customer requests, market conditions, etc.--than they do reflecting.
Eliminate 20 or 30 minutes of reacting time by creating a little quiet time. Close your door and think. Better yet, go for a walk. Exercise does more to bolster thinking than thinking does; walking just 40 minutes three days a week builds new brain cells and improves memory functions.
And don't worry that something bad will happen while you're gone--most of the time the issues you "avoid" will solve themselves.
43. Stop whining. Your words have power, especially over you. Whining about your problems makes you feel worse, not better.
If something is wrong, don't waste time complaining. Put that effort into making the situation better. Unless you want to whine about it forever, eventually you'll have to do that. So why waste time? Fix it now.
Don't talk about what's wrong. Talk about how you'll make things better, even if that conversation is only with yourself. And do the same with your friends or colleagues. Don't just be the shoulder they cry on. Friends don't let friends whine--friends help friends make their lives better.
44. Decide who will decide--from now on. Instead of making serial decisions, try making just one: Decide who will decide.
Say you regularly need to decide whether to expedite shipping because of work-in-progress delays. Instead of being the go-to decision maker, pick someone in the organization to make those decisions. Provide guidance, parameters, and advice, and turn that person loose. Then check in periodically to see if he or she needs more direction. That way you get to spend time figuring out how to eliminate the delays instead of dealing with the repercussions.
Almost every decision you currently make can be taken over by people you trust. How will you learn to trust them?
Teach, train, guide, verify. In time, you'll give your employees the authority and responsibility they've earned.
45. Start listening to The Tim Ferriss Show. Whether it's minimizing the workweek or maximizing your fitness, Tim Ferriss is all about the "minimum effective dose." Newsweek calls him "the world's best human guinea pig." Tim's weekly podcast shares the results of his own life experiments as well as those of many famous guests. Regardless of the guest or the topic, Ferriss always asks his guests about their morning rituals and habits for productivity.
Try this episode: What exactly are happiness hacks?
46. Every Sunday night, map out your week. Sunday evenings, sit down with your list of important objectives for the year and for each month. Those goals inform every week and help keep you on track. While long-range goals may not be urgent, they are definitely important. If you aren't careful, it's easy for "important" to get pushed aside by "urgent." Then look at your calendar for the week. You know what times are blocked out by meetings, etc., so look at what you want to accomplish and slot those tasks onto your to-do list.
The key is to create structure and discipline for your week. Otherwise, you'll just let things come to you, and urgent will push aside important.
47. Actively block out task time on your calendar. Everyone schedules meetings and appointments. Go a step further and block out time to complete specific tasks. Slot periods for "Write new proposal" or "Craft presentation" or "Review and approve marketing materials."
If you don't proactively block out that time, those tasks will slip. Or get interrupted. Or you'll lose focus. And important tasks won't actually get done.
48. Add times to your to-do list. Create to-do lists and don't assign times to each task and what happens? You always have more items on your to-do list than you can accomplish, and that also turns it into a wish list, not a to-do list. If you have six hours of meetings scheduled today and eight hours worth of tasks, then those tasks won't get done.
Assigning realistic times forces you to prioritize. Assigning realistic times also helps you stay focused. When you know a task should only take 30 minutes, you'll be more aggressive in weeding out or ignoring distractions.
49. Default to 30-minute meetings. Whoever invented the one-hour default in calendar software wasted millions of people-hours. Most subjects can be handled in 30 minutes. Many can be handled in 15 minutes--especially if everyone who attends knows the meeting is only going to last 15 minutes.
Don't be a slave to calendar tool defaults. Only schedule an hour if you absolutely know you'll need it.
50. Stop multitasking. During a meeting--especially an hourlong meeting--it's tempting to take care of a few mindless tasks. (Who hasn't cleaned up their inbox during a meeting?) The problem is that such split focus makes those meetings less productive. Even though you're only doing mindless stuff, still--you're distracted. And that makes you less productive.
Multitasking is a personal-productivity killer. Don't try to do two things partly well. Do one thing really well.
51. Obsess over leveraging edge time. Your biggest downtimes during the workday may be when you drive to work, when you drive home, and when you're in airports. So focus really hard on how to use that time. Schedule calls for your drive to work. At the airport, use Pocket, a browser plug-in that downloads articles. Loading up 10 articles ahead of time ensures you'll have plenty to read--plenty you want to read--while you're waiting in the security line.
Look at your day. Identify the downtimes. Then schedule things you can do during that time. Call it edge time--because it really can build a productive edge.
52. Start reading Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely. Payoff is a great look at how to better motivate employees. For example: While a bonus can result in a spike in worker productivity, it then declines to below what it was before the bonus was offered.
Gratitude and compliments are much more effective motivation. Like Dan says, "Acknowledgment is a kind of human magic."
When your employees are motivated and engaged, they're also more productive--which will also make you more productive.
53. Track your time. Once you start tracking your time, you'll be amazed by how much time you spend doing stuff that isn't productive. You don't have to get hyperspecific. The info you log can be directional, not precise.
Tracking your time is an eye-opening experience--and one that can really help you focus.
54. Be thoughtful about lunch. Your lunch can take an hour. Or 30 minutes. Or 10 minutes.
Whatever time it takes, be thoughtful about what you do. If you like to eat at your desk and keep chugging, fine. But if you benefit from using the break to recharge, lunch is one time where multitasking can be great: You can network, socialize, and help build your company's culture--but not if you're going out to lunch with the same people every day.
Pick two days a week to eat with people you don't know well. Or take a walk. Or do something personally productive. Say you take an hour for lunch each day; that's five hours a week. Be thoughtful about how you spend that time. You don't have to work, but you should make it work for you.
55. Say to yourself, "I will listen 10 times more than I speak." I used to talk a lot. I thought I was insightful and clever and witty and, well, I thought I was a real hoot. Occasionally, very occasionally, I might even have been one of those things.
Most of the time, I was not.
Genuinely confident people (here's how to tell if you're one of them) don't feel the need to talk. While I hate when it happens, I still sometimes realize I'm not talking because the other person is interested in what I have to say but because I'm interested in what I have to say. (Ick.)
You already know what you know. Listen and you'll find out what other people know.
56. Protect your family time. You're probably a bit of a workaholic, so be very thoughtful about your evenings. When you get home from work, make it family time: Have dinner as a family, help your kids with their homework. Completely shut down. No phone, no email.
Every family has peak times when they can best interact. If you don't proactively free up that time, you'll slip back into work stuff. Either be working or be home with your family. That means no phones at the table, no texts. Don't just be there; be with your family.
57. Stop controlling. Yeah, you're the boss. Yeah, you're the titan of industry. Yeah, you're the small tail that wags a huge dog.
Still, the only thing you really control is you. If you find yourself trying hard to control other people, you've decided that you, your goals, your dreams, or even just your opinions are more important than theirs.
Plus, control is short term at best, because it often requires force, or fear, or authority, or some form of pressure--none of those let you feel good about yourself.
Find people who want to go where you're going. They'll work harder--and you'll all have more fun.
58. Create self-esteem incentives for your employees. We all work harder when we feel respected and appreciated. (Obvious, but really easy to forget.)
Every employee is different, so think about the type of praise and recognition that has meaning to each person who works for you. For example, some people like to be praised publicly; others prefer a quiet private word. Then build incentives based on what makes the most impact. Have an employee lead a presentation to upper management. Place an employee in charge of an important project. Give an employee the opportunity to train in another department.
Employees work hard because it's their job, but employees work even harder when they feel good about themselves.
59. Start listening to The Productivityist Podcast. Self-described "productivity enthusiast" Mike Vardy hosts a weekly show that examines tactical time management techniques to boost efficiency and effectiveness. Recent shows have explored the topics of mindfulness, ADHD, tracking productivity data, and how to be productive while homeschooling your kids.
Try this episode: Why following a routine is so important. (In my case, he's definitely preaching to the choir.)
60. Eliminate one stupid thing. Every company and every job has a number of once meaningful but now worthless tasks.
Think about all the "that's how we've always done things" stuff. If a task doesn't directly impact sales, quality, productivity, or safety, get rid of it and free up that time.
Get rid of the stupid stuff and every employee gets more time to be a superstar.
61. Ask for one simple thing you could do to make someone's job easier. Everyone faces roadblocks and hurdles. Everyone deals with frustrations.
If you want to make someone's job easier--and therefore more productive--ask and you shall receive input. Just say, "What is one thing I could do to make your job easier?" The person will tell you.
Never force your employees to settle for a "same stuff, different day" work life: Status quo is a motivation and productivity killer.
62. Streamline expectations. I'm willing to bet that almost every time you assign a project, you can't resist adding a few "Hey, while you're at it, wouldn't it be great if you also ... " items.
Deciding what to do is important, but often deciding what not to do is even more important. Every position, every project, every initiative has a primary goal, and 90 percent of the effort of those involved should go to accomplishing that primary goal. Achievement is certainly based on effort, but achievement is also based on focus. Strip away the ancillary stuff, and turn your employees loose to get on with what is really important.
They'll not only do a better job, they'll have more time to devote to the next critical project.
63. Start reading The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. We're all trying to learn new skills and improve old skills, and Coyle uses the science of performance to provide a great blueprint for getting really good at, well, anything.
Every time I try to learn something new, I follow his REPS approach: reaching and repeating; engagement; purposefulness; strong and speedy feedback. It works. Every time. And more quickly than any other approach I've tried.
Successfully try new things, and you'll try even more new things--and your life will be infinitely richer, whether professionally or personally.
64. Eliminate every "ego" commitment. We all do things that have more to do with ego than results.
Maybe you serve on a committee because you like how it looks on your CV. Maybe you teach at a local college because you like the words adjunct professor. Or maybe, like me, you do radio interviews just because it seems cool to be on the radio, though it in no way benefits me professionally. (There are a few I would do no matter what just because I like the hosts.)
Anything you do solely for ego is a waste of time. Think about things you do mainly because they make you look important, smart, or cool. If it provides no other "value," drop it.
Anything you do that serves the greater glory of you is a waste of time; besides, the best glory is reflected, not projected.
65. Don't struggle for that extra 5 percent. I'm fairly competitive, so when I start to do something I soon start wanting to do it better than other people. (OK, I'm overly competitive.)
Take cycling. I'm faster, fitter, etc., than the average person. But compared with the fast guys, I'm nothing. They can drop me within a few miles. And it drives me crazy. That makes me ride more and train more and spend tons of hours on a bike--and for what? So I can hang with them for a couple more miles? So my time up a certain mountain is only 30 percent slower than theirs instead of 40 percent?
This kind of improvement has no real importance. Sure, I may get in better shape, but at that point the improvement to my overall health is incremental at best. And, in the meantime, I have to spend hours on cycling I could spend working toward more important goals.
Or I could just spend more time with my family, the most important goal of all.
Think about something you already do well but are trying hard to do even better. Then weigh the input with the outcome.
Sometimes "good" truly is good enough, especially if that 5 percent gain is hugely disproportionate to the pain required to reach it.
66. Find the perfect way to say no. Most of us default to saying yes because we don't want to seem rude or unfriendly or unhelpful. Unfortunately, that also means we default to taking on more than we want or can handle.
It's important to know how, with grace and tact, to say no. Maybe your response will be as simple as, "I'm sorry, but I just don't have time."
Develop your own way of saying no and then rehearse so it comes naturally. That way you won't say yes simply because you think you should--you'll say yes because you know it's right for you.
67. Eliminate useless "me time" commitments. I used to play fantasy baseball and football. But when I thought about it, I had no idea why. Sure, I could rationalize it created a nice break in the week. I could rationalize it was a "mental health" activity that let me step aside from the stress and strain of business life.
I could, but that wasn't true. I just did it because I had always done it, and once I start every year I don't want to quit because, um, I'm not a quitter. (I know that sounds stupid, but I'm willing to bet you do at least one thing for the same reasons.)
Look at the things you do because you've always done them and decide if it's time to stop. Here's an easy test: If you wouldn't do something while you were on vacation, there's no good reason to do it when you're not.
68. Say to yourself, "I will try to do better." We've all screwed up. We all have things we could have done better. Words. Actions. Omissions. Failing to step up, step in, or be supportive.
Successful people don't expect to be perfect, but they do think they can always be better.
So think back on yesterday. Think about what went well. Then think about what didn't go as well as it could have and take ownership. Take responsibility.
And promise yourself that today, you will do a lot better.
69. Set hard limits. Deadlines and time frames establish parameters, but typically not in a good way. We instinctively adjust our effort so our activities take whatever time we let them take.
Tasks should take only as long as they need to take--or as long as you decide they should take.
Try this: Decide you'll spend only 10 minutes a day on social media. Just 10.
The first day you'll get frustrated because you won't get everything done you "need" to get done. The second day you'll instinctively skip a few feeds because they're not as important. The third day you'll reprioritize and maybe use a tool like Buffer to get better organized. By the fifth day, you'll realize 10 minutes is plenty of time to do what you need to do; all that other time you used to spend was just fluff.
Pick a task, set a time limit, and stick to that time limit. Necessity, even artificial necessity, is the mother of creativity. I promise you'll figure out how to make it work.
70. Establish a nighttime routine ...
The first thing you do is the most important thing you do, because it sets the tone for the rest of the day.
So be smart and prepare for that "first thing" the night before. Make a list. Make a few notes. Review information. Prime yourself to hit the ground at an all-out sprint the next day; a body in super-fast motion tends to stay in super-fast motion.
71. ... and a morning routine.
Make sure you can get to that task as smoothly as possible. Pretend you're an Olympic sprinter and your morning routine is like the warmup for a race. Don't dawdle, don't ease your way into your morning, and don't make sure you get some "me" time (hey, sleep time is me time). Get up, get cleaned up, get fueled up--and start rolling.
My elapsed time from bed to desk is about 15 minutes (easy since my commute is two flights of stairs), so there's not much I can improve. So I do something else; I get my most important task done before I check email.
Think about it this way: Sprinters don't do cool-down laps before they race. Neither should you.
72. Start listening to ProdPod. Two minutes. That's how short each episode of Ray Sidney-Smith's ProdPod productivity podcast is. However, a lot of actionable information is packed into every episode. Recent topics include rewarding yourself for reaching your goals, Kaizen, and several book summaries. No matter how busy you are, you can definitely make time for ProdPod' episodes.
Try this episode: You deserve this reward for being productive.
73. Outsource the right tasks. I was raised to think that any job I could do myself was a job I should do myself. That's why it took me a long time to decide the kid down the street should cut my grass. He can use the money. I can use the time.
But that's a simple example. Here's an even better approach: Write down the two or three things you do that generate the most tangible return. Maybe it's selling. Maybe it's developing your employees. Maybe it's building long-term customer relationships.
Me? I make the most money when I'm writing; anything else I do that takes me away from writing limits my ability to generate revenue.
Figure out the two or three things that you do best, and that generate the best return on your time. Then strip away all the other "stuff" by outsourcing those tasks. (Or, oftentimes, by simply eliminating those tasks.)
74. Start reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. We are what we do, and what we do is based on our habits. Duhigg shows how to take bad habits and turn them into good ones--and how organizations can change their habits too.
Want to be happy? Change your habits. It's that simple. (And, of course, that complicated.)
It's worth it, though, because changing a habit really can change your life.
75. Fix what you often break. I used to be terrible about putting meetings and phone calls on my calendar. I figured I'd get to it later, and then I never did. Then I spent way too much time, often in a panic, trying to figure out when and where and who ...
All that time was wasted time. So I finally decided I would immediately enter every appointment into my calendar the moment I made it--no matter what.
You probably have at least one thing you tend to mess up. Maybe you don't file stuff properly. Maybe you put off dealing with certain emails and then forget them. Maybe you regularly find you're unprepared for a call or meeting.
Whatever your "things" are, fix them. You'll save time and aggravation.
76. Change the way you measure tasks. Over time, we all develop our own ways to measure our performance. Maybe you focus on time to complete, or quality, or end result. Each is effective, but sticking with one or two could cause you to miss opportunities to improve.
Say you focus on meeting standards; what if you switched it up and focused on time to complete?
Measuring your performance in different ways forces you to look at what you regularly do from a new perspective.
77. Do the opposite of what you normally do.Think of this one as the George Costanza approach.
If you haven't reached a goal, then what you're currently doing isn't working.
Instead of tweaking your approach, change it. Pick one goal you're struggling to achieve and take a different tack. If you're hoping to finish a marathon and endless long runs aren't paying off, try interval training instead. Sometimes small adjustments eventually pay off, but occasionally you just need to blow things up and start over.
78. Rework your workday. Get up earlier. Get up later. Take care of emails an hour after you start work. Eat at your desk.
Pick one thing you do on a regular basis, preferably something you do for no better reason than that is the way you always do it (which makes it comfortable), and do that one thing in a different way or at a different time.
Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt. Sometimes familiarity breeds complacency, and complacency is a progress and improvement killer.
79. Adopt someone else's habit. Successful people are often successful because of the habits they create and maintain.
Take a close look at the people who are successful in your field. What do they do on a regular basis? Then adopt one of their habits and make it your own.
Never reinvent a wheel when a perfect wheel already exists.
80. Teach another person something you want to do better. When I teach, I learn more than the people I'm trying to teach. (Hopefully that says more about the process of teaching than it does about my teaching abilities.)
When you mentor another person, you accomplish more than just helping someone else.
You learn a few things about yourself--and hopefully find new inspiration and motivation in the process.
81. Start listening to Back to Work. Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin bring together a great talk show about productivity, constraints, tools, and communication. While each episode lasts an average of an hour and a half, listeners are entertained by the duo's funny antics on the side. Unlike most of the other podcasts that offer quick actionable tips, Back to Work offers a deeper look at important topics, including work, identity, and expectations. Not your ordinary podcast.
Try this episode: Merlin and Dan talk about getting out of your own head.
82. Help a person who needs help. Don't wait to be asked. Pick someone who is struggling and offer to help.
But don't just say, "Is there some way I can help you?" Be specific: Offer to help with a specific task, or to take over a task for a few days, or to work side by side.
A general offer is easy to brush aside. A specific offer not only shows you want to help, it also shows you care.
Help a person who doesn't seem to need help. Think about it: Compared with others, the best-performing people don't need help. So they rarely get help. And as a result, they're often lonely, at least in a professional sense.
So offer to help with a specific task. Not only will you build a nice interpersonal bridge, but some of their better skills or qualities might rub off on you as well.
83. Help anyone. Few things feel better than helping someone in need. Take a quick look around; people less fortunate than you are everywhere.
For example, I conducted an interview skills seminar for prison inmates (after all, who needs to know how to deal with tough interview questions more than a convicted felon?). It took only an hour of my time and was extremely rewarding.
Most of the inmates were touchingly grateful that someone--anyone--cared enough to want to help them. I got way more out of the experience than they did.
84. Use a notebook. Richard Branson has said on more than one occasion that he wouldn't have been able to build Virgin without a simple notebook, which he takes with him wherever he goes.
How many great ideas have you forgotten? Ultra-productive people free their minds by writing everything down.
85. Only process email a few times a day. Ultra-productive people don't check email throughout the day. They don't respond to each vibration or ding to see who has intruded their inbox.
Instead, like everything else, they schedule time to process their email quickly and efficiently.
86. Call your parents. Seriously. They miss you and will love hearing from you. And you'll feel better about yourself.
87. Cancel a meeting. Here's Mark Cuban's approach to meetings: "Never take meetings unless someone is writing a check."
Meetings are notorious time killers. They start late, have the wrong people in them, meander from topic to topic, and always run long. Get out of meetings whenever you can, hold fewer of them, and if you do run a meeting, keep it short.
88. Create theme days. Highly successful people often theme days of the week to focus on major areas. Maybe Friday is financial and admin. Maybe Monday is reengaging with current customers.
The goal: batch your work to maximize your efficiency and effectiveness.
89. Only touch things one time. How many times have you opened a piece of regular mail--an invoice, perhaps--and then put it down only to deal with it again later? How often do you read an email, and then close it and leave it in your inbox to deal with later?
Highly successful people try to "touch it once." If it takes less than five or 10 minutes--whatever it is--they deal with it immediately. Doing so reduces stress since it won't be in the back of their mind, and it's more efficient since they won't have to read or evaluate the item again in the future.
90. Do one thing you've been afraid to do.
We're all afraid: of what might or might not happen, of what we can't change, of what we won't be able to do, or of how other people might perceive us. So it's easier to hesitate, to wait for the right moment, to decide we need to think a little longer or do some more research or explore a few more alternatives.
Meanwhile days, weeks, months, and even years pass us by. And so do our dreams.
Don't let your fears hold you back. Whatever you've been planning, whatever you've imagined, whatever you've dreamed of, get started on it today.
If you want to start a business, take the first step. If you want to change careers, take the first step. If you want to expand or enter a new market or offer new products or services, take the first step.
Put your fears aside and get started. Do something. Do anything. Otherwise, today is gone. Once tomorrow comes, today is lost forever.
Today is the most precious asset you own--and is the one thing you should truly fear wasting.