What was the best advice you ever received on being productive? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
Improving your productivity is not a matter of doing a thing or carrying out a task on time. In fact, it's a matter of doing the right thing at the right time. The reason is simple - there is always an opportunity cost for the things that you didn't do. In business and life, we're facing this situation and problem very often.
Should you attend the networking event? Or stay at home to finish the sales letter?
Should you hit the gym after your work? Or head back home straight to spend time with your family members?
Should you spend an hour to write an article? Or spend the same hour to read a book?
The opportunity cost exists just because we all have one finite resource, which is time. It's free, you don't pay for it, but it's limited, and it never comes back when it's gone. You may choose to work for an extra hour to bring home more money or go home to participate in your son's life.
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FIRST: KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES
Finding your priorities is the first and the most important step. Everything could become easier if you know what you want deep down in yourself. There are many cases in life where we need to weigh the importance of our career over our family, our studies over our friendship, or even our finances over our happiness.
Spending time to make your priorities clear in the first place is crucial and extremely helpful, especially before you need to make a decision urgently.
Schedule some time, one to two hours a week, to reassess your core focus and priorities. It will be very helpful if you can include people who are important to you in the decision-making process. For example, you might want to discuss the issues of balancing your finances, career, and family with your spouse; in another case, you should sit down with your business partner when deciding the direction and primary focus of the company.
SECOND: MEASURING IMPACT
It's common for us to face two or more choices of the same nature, but that have a very different effect on the speed of execution, the resources required, the quality of results, etc.
Some examples would be:
- To write a blog post every week for 6 months or to publish a book in 6 months?
- To major in engineering or major in art?
- Take turns raising the kid or to have yourself or your spouse quit a job to raise the kid?
The natures are similar, but the impact is very different. To improve your productivity, you need to know which action or task brings you the largest impact. Figure out which metric is best to measure the impact of your actions, whether it's the speed of completion, your happiness or someone else's, the monthly revenue, or the customers' feedback.
At the same time, we can also look into the input required such as time, money, and energy. The goal here is to get the most output with the least input. You probably argue that not everything is measurable, but I have to disagree. To better put this, everything is trackable.
You can't measure exactly how happy you are, but you can track your daily happiness level in the scale of 1 to 10. Agreed?
THIRD: FILTER THE NOISE
The first two steps are aimed at figuring out the right things to do. But it might still be difficult to do so with all the distractions around us. In most cases, these distractions are much more tempting than doing the right things:
- Browsing Facebook when you should finish up your sales proposal.
- Watching Netflix when you should work out at the gym.
- Reading the news when you should get the landing page design done for your client.
Too many people are trying to deploy their willpower when facing these distractions and external temptations to stay focused on what they should do. In the end, they usually give in to the distractions and then blame themselves for their lack of self-control.
As human beings, we have been designed to stay alert to the environment. But times have changed, and life demands our focus to get things done, while the environment is filled with more and more noise and distractions. The best way to block out the noise is not by willpower, but by designing an environment that allows you to focus physically and mentally.
Get away from distractions if you want to do focus work by turning off your phone, blocking websites, and alerting others that you need an hour or two of deep focus time. Besides, you can use music to prepare yourself mentally based on the nature of your work.
FOURTH: AUTOMATE REPEATED DECISIONS
In 2014, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg had his first-ever Q&A publicly. He answered many questions in that session, but one of the most interesting questions is this:
"Why are you wearing the same t-shirt every day?"
In case you haven't noticed, Mark Zuckerberg wears the same gray t-shirt in most public events. While everyone is expected a playful answer, Mark said this,
"I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community."
He doesn't actually wear the same t-shirt; he has many gray t-shirts at home. But for him, what he is wearing is not that important. Yes, of course, he needs to wear something, but he doesn't want to think about it. Instead, he decided to focus all of his energy on how to best serve the Facebook community.
Every decision in life, regardless how small it is, such as what to wear or what to eat for breakfast, is time and energy consuming. Adding them up, they become a part of your life that takes away a lot of time and energy. Making sure you have fewer decisions to make can avoid decision fatigue.
But these things are still important - you still need to wear something, and indeed you need to eat, and you need to check your emails too. They don't bring you the biggest impact, and they are not the most important thing to do now. And these are the tasks we want to automate.
Set up a system to automate repeated decisions in your life. As mentioned by Ramit Sethi, being wealthy allowed him to. The point of doing so wasn't to brag, but to make sure he gets the best foods without needing to make decisions about what to eat. This spares him more time and energy to make important decisions for his business that create even more revenue for him compared to what he spent on the personal nutritionist and chef.
Start to automate your decisions by acknowledging these. At first, you need to spend some time to figure out a plan, but it certainly pays off afterward. In business, create a communication system so that most repeated processes are being automated with minimal monitoring.
FIFTH: MAINTAIN GOOD PHYSICAL & MENTAL HEALTH
The final step is nothing new - you need to have a good body to perform at your best. For instance, your performance and productivity will certainly drop if you're having headaches or back pain. And there is nothing much you can do if you're paralyzed by poor health.
It's not easy to achieve the health and fitness level at an athlete's standard, but unless you are an athlete, you probably don't need that. Theare boiled down to three aspects: diet, exercise, and sleep.
Besides physical health, mental health is another crucial element in improving your productivity. You will never perform better when you're depressed than when you're pumped. Some suggestions for improving your mental health: practicing meditation, engaging in positive self-talks, and examining your emotional state from time to time.
With good physical and psychological health, it's certain that you will be able to make better decisions and take necessary actions quickly.
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I learned about the 5 steps process from Mikael Cho, Founder & CEO ofin maximizing one's productivity as a busy startup founder.
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