Besides the intelligent art of getting the “right things” done, there is the often-forgotten art of leaving the “wrong things” undone.
This past month at our first annual Think Better, Live Better conference, dozens of people asked me how Angel and I “get it all done.”
In one woman’s words that were captured on a video testimonial recorded at the conclusion of the conference:
“Marc and Angel, how do you do it? How are you so enormously productive? How do you host incredible conferences, write hundreds of blog posts every year, coach hundreds of Getting Back to Happy students like myself, personally respond to student and customer emails so promptly, and still have time left to spend with family and each other? I haven’t a clue how you make it all happen, but I’m so grateful you do…”
From the outside looking in, I can see how certain people might perceive us as being “enormously productive” – perhaps possessing some kind of magical potion that allows us to accomplish more than what seems humanly possible.
The truth, however, is that there is no potion, just a set of consistent, intentional choices to abolish the negative habits, beliefs and behaviors that would otherwise fill our lives with needless stress and our calendars with lots of waste.
And we didn’t invent the wheel here either – all of our closest mentors and peers walk a similar journey of maximizing productive output by minimizing mental and physical time-wasters. I encourage you to join us…
1. Refuse to wait around.
Stephen King once said, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
An obvious bias toward taking action is the most common behavior found in everyone who’s on track to accomplish something incredible in their life. While proper planning, strategizing and masterminding is important as you begin a new project, it’s also extremely easy to lose yourself indefinitely in the aforementioned.
You must challenge yourself to take action sooner rather than later. The minute you start taking action (e.g. putting words on paper, building a physical prototype, sharing new ideas, etc.), you begin getting valuable feedback that ultimately helps you refine your original idea, so you can move forward with a more informed and educated outlook.
2. Refuse to play the blame game.
Either you own your present situation or it will own you. Either you take responsibility for your life, or someone else will. Blame is a scapegoat – it’s an easy way out of taking responsibility for your own outcomes. It’s a lot easier to point a finger at someone or something else instead of looking within yourself. Blame is not constructive; it does not help you or anyone else – nobody wins in the blame game. The amount of energy and stress it takes to place blame elsewhere takes away from your power to move forward and find a real solution.
It’s time to care more; it’s time to take more responsibility; it’s time to lead from within; it’s time for a change; it’s time to honor your greatest self; it’s time to stop blaming others and grab life by the horns!
3. Refuse to bite off more than you can chew.
When our great ideas are still just concepts floating around in our minds, we tend to think really BIG. And while thinking big isn’t inherently bad, the downside is that it often makes the barrier for taking action quite high. In other words, we tend to overthink our projects to the point where they seem more complicated than they actually are, and so we stall again and again to give ourselves more time to prepare.
To avoid “big thinking paralysis,” pare your ideas down to smaller, immediately testable activities. Can you trial-run the idea of a larger scale conference by hosting a series of smaller local events (like we did to prepare for Think Better, Live Better)? Can you take an idea for a book and test it by writing a few related blog posts (like we did for 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently)? Can you draw it before you build it? Once you’ve tested your idea on a smaller scale, you’ll have the insight and data you need to take your idea to the next level.
And if you’re trying to build a new positive ritual or routine, start small. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but no one ever does it. Start with a daily ritual that lasts 10 minutes or less. If you feel incredible resistance and fail at 10 minutes, drop it to 5 minutes, or 3 minutes, and then stick to it every day for 60 days before you even slightly increase the duration. In the beginning, the important thing isn’t how much you do – it’s how often you show up to do it.
4. Refuse to pretend that you must always be right.
To be productive in the long term, you have to not mind being wrong in the short term. You have to take a stand, test your theories, and then admit it if you realize that your theory was wrong. It’s a process of trial and error that helps you discover what IS right. And finding out what is right is a lot more important than always being right.
The process of trial and error is an essential part of any productive person’s life. Truth be told, when any of us execute a new idea for the first time, the outcome often stinks. The important thing is to synthesize the lessons learned during the process to refine the initial idea, and create a new-and-improved strategy.
Expecting to get it right the first time is an exercise in futility. Prototyping, testing and iteration is vital to transforming a decent idea into a life-changing product or service. Rather than being discouraged by your “failures,” watch closely and learn from them. Then use what you’ve learned to build something better. And then do it again and again. Sooner or later, you’ll find the level of success you had envisioned.
5. Refuse to become distracted from your core objectives.
When you are driven and committed and persistent, you will get yourself there step by step. But you have to remain focused on your core objectives.
When working on larger projects, you will likely generate lots of new ideas as you’re making progress. This can motivate you to gradually expand your project’s objectives – we call this “project scope creep.” This sinister habit can make it nearly impossible to ever truly complete anything. The best way to avoid this is to write down a simple statement summarizing your core objectives at the start of each new project you decide to work on. And then – this is the part we often forget – revisit your core objective summary on a weekly basis (at the very least). When scope creep begins to rear it’s ugly head, you’ll be able to catch it before it catches up with you.
6. Refuse to focus on the negative.
Mindfully concentrate on the positive!
A recent scientific study discussed in The Happiness Advantage proved that doctors who are put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis consistently experience significant boosts to their intellectual capabilities than doctors in neutral or negative states of mind, which allows them to make accurate diagnoses nearly 20% quicker. The same study then shifted to other professions and found that positive, cheerful salespeople outsell their negative, cynical counterparts by over 50%. College students primed to feel cheerful before taking math exams consistently outperform their neutral and negative peers.
So it turns out that our brains are naturally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are thinking negative thoughts, or even neutral ones, but when they are thinking positive.
7. Refuse to ignore the small wins that ultimately add up to big success.
With large projects that require lots of effort and serious amounts of creative problem solving, it’s extremely important to maintain momentum. How? By celebrating the small wins along the way. The easiest way to do this is to set yourself smaller milestones worth celebrating.
Break each project into phases that only take a couple weeks (at most) to complete. The double benefit of this approach is, first, making each large project feel more manageable, and second, providing incremental “wins” throughout each project.
Bottom line: It’s crucial to pause periodically to take account of what’s been accomplished – even if there’s a long way yet to go.
8. Refuse to be knowingly (and endlessly) inefficient.
Sometimes you have to invest time to save time. Think about it…
How can you spend a little time today in order to save a lot of time from here on out?
Consider the tasks you perform regularly while you’re working. Is there a more resourceful and efficient way? A faster shortcut you could learn? A way to automate or delegate it? For example, perhaps you can complete a particular task in 30 minutes, and it would take three hours to implement a more efficient method. If that 30-minute task must be completed daily, and a three-hour fix would cut it down to 10 minutes or less each time, it’s a fix well worth investing in. A simple way of doing this is to use technology to automate tasks (keyboard shortcuts, text expanders, email inbox filters, etc.). Also, teaching someone to help you and delegating work is another option.
Just remember that the more reoccurring tasks you automate and delegate today, the more productive you can be going forward with less effort.
9. Refuse to say “Yes” to everything and everyone.
You must practice saying “No” even if it feels foreign to you. Productive time and energy is not infinite. Seasoned achievers know they must guard their time and energy (and their focus) closely.
Not to toot our own horns, but Angel and I have done pretty well for ourselves over the past decade. Our writing and coaching business has flourished beyond our wildest dreams. We’ve sold 35,000+ copies of our self-published book, we have hundreds of students actively enrolled in our Getting Back to Happy course, and we just recently sold out and delivered a very successful (lots of positive feedback) large-scale personal development conference (Think Better Live Better). Our expertise and insights are in demand. However, even though we could easily scale up our business offerings to the next level, doing so wouldn’t leave enough time and energy to focus on the personal (family) objectives that are also equally as high on our priority list, and it also wouldn’t leave us enough time and energy to make substantial, intimate connections with our students and readers.
Always keep in mind that you don’t have to accept every great opportunity you’re invited to. When you’re in execution mode, remember that new and unexpected opportunities can also mean distraction from your core objectives and priorities. Saying “no” is an essential part of being productive.
10. Refuse to accept the idea that rules are not meant to be broken sometimes.
Did I say that Angel and I basically live by the nine principles above? Yes, it’s true, we often do. However, these principles and other guiding rules for life and business should only be followed as long as they are working for YOU. If progress has become hampered or impossible by applying one of these principles to your unique situation, by all means find something that better suites you.
Did this post resonate with you? If so, which point resonated the most?
Do you have any additional productivity insight or stories to share?
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Photo by: Greg McCown