There’s a ton of productivity, efficiency, and focus advice out there.
Every week I seem to stumble upon some new tip or strategy for becoming more productive and efficient in work and life. Some of it’s good, some bad, and some is situational at best.
There’s so much out there that it can be downright overwhelming.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with pretty much everything imaginable, including planning systems, techniques to sharpen mental faculties, productivity software, and more.
Since then, I’ve begun to wonder if I could identify the fundamental principles involved with doing one’s best work, the foundational principles that tie all of these various productivity tips and efficiency hacks together to make for a system that allows someone to maximize their performance and which is easier to follow and emulate than a million separate tips.
Do these foundational principles exist? If they do, what are they? When it comes down to it, what are the most important principles for doing our best work?
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Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.
– Zig Ziglar
Since working to uncover these foundational principles, I’ve discovered three things which I now consider critical for maximizing productivity, improving focus, and just plain doing your best work in every sense of the phrase:
- Maintain a clear mind
- Iterate and optimize
- Be accountable
Keep in mind, this isn’t an all-encompassing list. I don’t claim to have found the only three major principles for maximum productivity and work efficiency. However, I do believe that if you’re looking to maximize your productivity and overall efficiency, these three things should always be included in some way (and cultivated into daily habits).
The rest of this post will cover three of the most effective practices I’ve found for utilizing these three basic principles, all of which I consider a core part of my daily routine that allows me to do my best work each day.
1. Use a weekly accountability tracker (update daily)
I’ve developed a simple but highly effective way of pre-planning my days, tracking my progress, and staying accountable throughout my week.
I start each week by opening a new note in Evernote (but you can use whatever you’d like, including whatever notepad program your computer has or a physical notebook). I then write the following information in order:
- Short summary of major goals: I list my major long-term goals at the top not just because it’s important to keep them top-of-mind, but because everything I track below this is based on these goals.
- Primary task progress tracker: Next, I track how much progress I’ve made throughout the week on the primary tasks connected with my major goals. An example of a primary task could be, “generate 100 new leads this week” if you’re goal is to sell a certain amount of your product or service.
- Weekly plan: This is when I further break down the primary tasks based on each week day. I then mark off tasks as I complete them, helping me see if I’m on schedule for the week as the days go by or if I’m falling behind.
- Weekly grade: At the end of a particular week, I fill this section in with an A-through-F grade based on how I feel I performed on each primary task for the week. This is filled in just once at the end of the week.
To say that this system makes a big difference in my productivity and focus is an understatement. This weekly accountability tracker not only helps you stay accountable to yourself, it helps you optimize your process and gives you a sense of progress that encourages you to work harder.
2. Ask yourself, “How can I do better?”
Questions are a great way to gain clarity and optimize your process. This step is the simple practice of asking yourself, “how can I do better next week?” as you plan for the following week. By doing so consistently, you can continue to iterate and optimize your process and get a little better each week.
This simple practice is the perfect extension of the previous accountability system because it uses that information to answer the question easily without much effort at all. Each week, you take a few minutes to review your data and think back on the previous week. Then, write down however many notes come to mind.
There are no rules as to how many things you can or should put down, but I tend to list two to four different improvements I feel I can make each week. Also, you may want to repeat certain points a few weeks in a row if you feel you still need improvement in them the following week and so on.
3. Meditate for five minutes daily
Even if it’s just five short minutes a day, resting the mind can have a significant effect on your productivity. Without this, our mind becomes cluttered, we become stressed, and we’re then much less efficient and our creativity shuts down altogether. And there’s no better way to do this than with meditation.
There are many ways to practice meditation, but for the sake of clearing the mind to maintain focus, I’d suggest carving out a spot somewhere in your home or office where you can sit and meditate uninterrupted for at least five minutes.
Use those five minutes to sit in silence and follow the sensation of the breath from your nostrils or the rising of the chest. Whatever thoughts or feelings arise during this time, acknowledge them and then return to your breath. Do this continuously until the five minutes are over.
This is your time to disconnect, so commit yourself to it as fully as you do your work to get the most from it. If you do, you’ll experience the full power of meditation practice to keep your mind clear and optimized for maximum productivity and focus.
By adopting these three simple daily habits, you’ll be able to maintain greater consistency, improve your productivity, and keep your process optimized so that you can do your best work each day.
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