You know the advice. It may be easier said than done sometimes, but there’s a reason you’ve heard it a hundred times.
- Get up earlier.
- Create a list. Prioritize it. Work it.
- Focus. Don’t get distracted. Be intense!
- Build some momentum.
Put it together, and the key to being successful is to start before anyone else, work harder than everyone else, and pretend there’s no one else around.
And pretty soon, you’ll wish you were someone else.
So why all the discipline? Why all the tools, tips, and techniques to get more done faster?
You’ve heard of Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s illustration of importance over urgency by putting the big rocks in a bowl first, then some smaller rocks, then some gravel, then sand, and finally some water. He did that once, then asked the audience what the lesson was. Someone offered, “That no matter how busy you are, you can always fit more in if you try hard enough?”
Have you ever known someone who approaches their life that way? They equate their value—their self-worth—with how busy they are. It’s an easy trap to fall into.
Where does that road lead? Always taking on more responsibility, ever saying yes, never stopping to question whether they should be doing it. You inevitably end up feeling like you’re spread too thin.
Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. —Bilbo Baggins
The point of personal productivity isn’t so that you can be busy all the time. It’s the exact opposite.
Being productive is about doing what you have to do as quickly, efficiently, and effectively as possible, so you can devote more of your time and attention on the things you want to do.
Start with the big rocks. For most of us, earning a living is a very big rock. But no matter how fulfilling you find your work—and you should—it’s not the only big rock in your life. Others include time for yourself, your family, church, community—whatever matters most to you. Once the big rocks are scheduled, see what else you have room for.
Take a close look at the recurring meetings you have on your calendar. Are they helping you get closer to your goals? Or are you just helping someone else with theirs? If your time would be better spent someplace else, you might need to renegotiate that commitment.
When you plan your week, you won’t be able to fit in as much gravel as you’re used to. That’s okay. By throwing out the gravel, you’re making room for stuff that’s more important.
That “more important” stuff includes down time. Time to relax, recharge, and regroup. Time to play with the kids. Time to read, watch TV, or paint.
Things you want to do have just as much a place in your productivity system as the things you have to do. “Date night with wife” and “play catch with son” go on your calendar, right up there with “mow the lawn” and “pay car insurance”. You block out time for work; what about time for your kids, wife, and yourself?
The canonical advice of productivity—get up earlier, plan your work, work your plan, etc.—is great advice when it’s time to work. It will help you get more done. Just remember to work on things you want to do—fun things!—not just the nuts and bolts of survival, or someone else’s agenda. Remember why you’re doing what you do.