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?
I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Photo by: Greg McCown
Many of your tips here resonate with me as solid strategies I could literally begin implementing immediately — and that’s my intention. To start, I’ve just blocked out time tomorrow morning to figure out where I can invest time to save time.
Also, I purchased the pre-sale recorded version of your Think Better, Live Better conference — figured it’ll give me the extra push I need to keep going. It really sounds interesting. I’m looking forward to watching/studying it.
Marc Chernoff says
I’m so glad this post resonated with you, Michelle. And congrats on getting a pre-sale copy of the Think Better, Live Better recording. You won’t be disappointed. Honestly, with such an incredible line-up of speakers/teachers, Angel and I learned as much as everyone else at the conference. It was a true win-win for us. 🙂
Henry Janson says
Marc and Angel, this was one of the most useful posts I’ve read in awhile. Every point resonates in some way. Your work has been helping be a more productive (and happy) human being over this past year of turmoil, and I really feel like many of the key weakness I have are highlighted here. Several of the points in this post will be added to the pool of highlights I’ve already made in your book, and they will all be used as future reference points for my daily positive affirmation journaling.
Marc Chernoff says
Thank you for the kindness, Henry. I’m so happy we’ve been able to assist you on your journey this past year. And cheers to positive affirmation journaling. Angel and I are huge proponents of both daily affirmations and daily jounaling, so you’re on the right track in my mind.
This is an incredible guide for getting important things done. A combination of the first three is what I’m presently working on and making progress on in my life. Regarding this, I’m happy to report that I’ve actually already made incredible progress with one of my key objectives for 2016 after I returned from your conference in Austin. Yes, I was actually one of those 150 attendees, and it was absolutely wonderful being there! I appreciated how genuine and non-commercial it was. I learned a ton, and I’m so grateful I got a chance to attend. Keep up the great work!
Marc Chernoff says
Congrats on the recent success, J.J.. Keep going!
And thank you for the positive feedback regarding Think Better, Live Better. Keeping it non-commercial was certainly an intentional decision on our behalf. I’m glad you found as much value in those couple days of talks and workshops as I did.
With so much (negative) life changing events happening simultaneously in my life, I really have been making an effort to focus on anything that is positive and take my life moment by moment. It could be so easy to be swallowed up by the tumultuous overflowing negativity. In some way each of these points has helped me refocus on what good I do have available to work on. In general I find most of what you say and talk about helps me refocus and I need that, especially when the negativity makes it hard to focus.
Marc Chernoff says
I hear you, Gena. I’ve been there. Be present. And please do your best to focus on one day at a time.
Chris F. says
Thank you for the great post! I’ll be taking these tips to heart and applying them regularly.
One productivity tip I read about recently basically said “don’t get caught up in other people’s drama.” It’s a huge time sync and emotional drain to get spun up about other people’s issues, particularly when they have no direct bearing on our own life. Watching reality TV might be a good example.
I can’t tell you how pleased and excited I am to have stumbled upon your site. I’m one week into an unanticipated divorce and your content has calmed some late-night anxieties while giving me great hope for the future.
Marc Chernoff says
Thank you for the kindness, Chris. Stay strong my friend.
This is definitely one of the more useful posts I’ve read in a while!
I especially resonate with #5: sticking to core values – this is something I’ve had to work a lot on recently, as I’ve always had a tendency to get distracted along the way and find that I ended up far from the goal in the end.
Something I found to work really well is to mentally go through these core values every single day (before you start working), and checking to see if you’re still on track.
Thanks for sharing this awesome post!
Marc Chernoff says
Excellent strategy for checking in on your core values, Mathias. I couldn’t agree more.
Great post!! I’ve been trying to start a new direction in my life for the past 8 months and have found myself in almost every one of these traps; very discouraging. Numbers 3 and 8 will be my focus in the days to come. Thank you two for all you do!!
margaret feasey says
I agree. One must develop the self-discipline to avoid the wrong things and work on productive self-care rituals that will gradual bring more shine into life.
Don’t skimp on self care. When I decide to skip my workout, or a meal, or try to go without sleep, even if I win in the moment, in the long term I lose: exercise gives me energy that keeps me physically and mentally going. If i skip too many meals I get grumpy and groggy and unfocused. And don’t get me started on missing sleep. I refuse to skimp on self care for the sake of work; it’s just not worth it.
Thank you Marc and Angel, I love your blogs.
Refuse to wait around. That’s the one!
Olajumoke Ola says
Being productive has become one of the most sought after and coveted human qualities in today’s world especially by employers and business owners.
However, we all need reminders like this to fight off distractions (including fear, anxiety, negative emotions) and focus on the things that matter, things that bring about fulfillment and long lasting joy and happiness.
Thank you 🙂
Marc and Angel, I forgot how I stumbled upon your blog about a year ago but I was sold on your philosophies and wisdom from the start. Although you were inspiring at that time, the cooler thing is I’ve watched you both grow and develop your talents more and more. I love that…this post struck a cord on all points. I’m great in the insights and self development but I’m trapped in it and failing to take actions because of analysis paralysis and overwhelm and not taking the time upfront to automate and starting but then second guessing myself thinking someone else has a better way and then getting off track and ultimately giving up.
Someone I respect gave me an assignment today..he said Take a Stand. Commit to what you want your life to look like and have integrity by keeping your word to yourself by aligning your behavior to your commitment. So this evening I have a chance to stand up and share to a group of likeminded people a little bit of myself. Vulnerability is something I struggle with but I’m committed to opening up the floodgates by “taking a stand” literally! I’ve also never posted here so that’s a stand as well. Two wins. Thanks again!
Marc Chernoff says
Thanks for taking a stand with us, Emp. 🙂
Thank you for affirming the personal power of declining requests. “Refuse to say “Yes” to everything and everyone” resonates with me because as a willing and capable person, I get tapped often for different things – from additional (unpaid) work responsibilities (I am a freelancer and people often think extra services requiring my time should be at no cost) to a host of volunteer spots. But not all requests align with my goals or desires. I only choose what works for me with my head held high. I do not allow anyone to guilt me or shame me into something that’s not truly in my heart to do. This affirmation ties in nicely with # 3. Refuse to bite off more than you can chew. There are times when I’ve over-committed myself and I’ve suffered from burn-out and my family has had to put up with a resentful, worn-out family member.
Marc Chernoff says
You’re welcome, Shelly. 🙂
Laura J. Tong says
So insightful, as always. Celebrating all your small wins particularly resonates with me. I’d love to offer one extra tip that I haven’t scientifically measured but would say makes me at least 25% more productive: fun! It might sound counterproductive but by injecting fun into as many tasks as possible, I find I’m bursting with energy and enthusiasm: my daily tick lists have cartoons pasted in (took 8 minutes but brings me joy each time I reach for my to do list) and if you haven’t experienced the joy of filling in your sheaf of tax return papers in a tropical fish costume, well you may just want to give it a go.
Thanks Marc for the excellent strategies.
Patrice Curedale says
I stopped reading for a moment and called an assistant to pick up some sales info – delegated! – which is something I resist for some reason. So thank you!
I would also add “divide and conquer.” My biz is small but my partner and I have found that we save a lot of time by dividing up the work and trusting each other to do what’s best, and what we each are best at doing. This saves us each half the work load! Of course, we still discuss a lot of things, too. But dividing and “routinizing” the work as much as possible has saved us time, and some emotional hotspots as well.
Jessica Sweet says
Thank you for this! My primary tool for success this year is increased focus, and this really helps. #5 resonates because I can drift from one thing into something else that’s related but different, and soon I’m not on my core objective anymore. So I’m focusing on focus and I’ll keep these tips handy!
Adele Mwanza says
Thank you so much for the helpful tips. I especially resonate with no 3 as I tend to drift into so many vast plans from a single idea and end up confused. No 9 has helped me realise how much of a yes person I am. Sometimes when one strives to be productive, it’s so easy to forget where to be productive the most. Learning to say no will really help me move forward. I see myself improving already. God bless you Marc and Angel.
Marko Zupanic says
Number 6 is my favorite. We must forget bad stuff, and live positive. It’s all about the view on the world. Stop being passive and become active.
Mike Allison says
Great article with great advice. Thanks a lot Marc.