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productivity

How to balance long-term with urgent—one task at a time

Quick, do this exercise.

Think of all the short-term tasks you completed yesterday, like: replying to emails, fixing glitches on your web site, answering the phone, updating Facebook status, making lists, and waiting for people to confirm their appointments. All valuable. None pay the bills.

In the course of a day most people spend most minutes putting out fires, tinkering with details, making lists and procrastinating. It’s called the Parkinson Principle – work expands to fill the time allotted.

What about long-term projects. How much time do you invest every day moving those projects ahead. I’m thinking projects like:

  • designing your next product launch
  • getting help to build an advertising campaign
  • writing that book you’ve been talking about since 2001
  • outsourcing your social media (that’s eating up a hour a day)
  • using customer feedback to update your product
  • getting your accounting up-to-date

Those projects move the needle forward. The trick is to employ a system where long-term goals drive your actions, not hoping you’ll find more time (mysteriously) later.

Here are three died-in-the-wool systems that will help you balance long-term objectives with urgent tasks. I have taught these systems to thousands of people and they always the most popular parts of my time management seminars.

1. Work from a Flight Plan

Once a week you need to create a Flight Plan – a short list of essential objectives to complete by next Friday. This is not another “To-Do” list full of miscellaneous tasks and “left overs” from last week—instead it’s mission-critical work that moves your long-term projects forward and gets you closer to your goals.

Start with “Boulders” (the big goals for the year): what “Chunks” of Boulders can you complete this week? It might be setting up a meeting, research, or outsourcing – the trick is to have something every week that keeps your Boulders rolling forward.

Next, add in one-off, time-sensitive tasks. Be as specific as possible – “Post job in upwork.com for graphic design” is better than “Get help with graphic design”.

Once you have your Flight Plan, keep it visible and drive all your actions toward completing it before the weekend.

2. Remove Distractions

A distraction could be that sticky note that’s been on your desk for two months, or a full InBox screaming “look at me!” Minor in the moment, distractions have a way of gnawing away at your focus and making it difficult to complete. Boundaries (creating time slots when you are strategically unavailable) and Blocking (creating appointments with yourself) are two systems to start with. Here are some other fast solutions:

  • take 10 minutes and purge your desk of anything not immediately needed (yes, that includes that stack of business cards from the last conference you attended).
  • unsubscribe from email lists that you no longer want. Yes, this will take time (you can outsource this), but think of the distractions that will disappear every day.
  • get all your lists in one place—this includes calendars. If you aren’t using that cool app on your phone every day it’s likely not needed. Delete it.
  • create a list for the month and a “someday” list in Evernote. These are un-prioritized holding zones. Do not look at these except once a week when you update your Flight Plan.

3. Practice Triage

In an emergency, paramedics practice triage. They often can’t attend to everything and everyone immediately, so they make hard decisions about what can wait. You need to do the same.

Jumping from one task to another, without completing what you started is a recipe for anxiety and failure. I am often surprised how much more effective I can be working from a cafe with no Internet connection, as opposed to my office where I am fully connected.

When a distraction comes up (“I’ll just take a minute an check out their web site”), resist. If this does not contribute to your Flight Plan it can wait. Tough love in the moment will pay big love dividends long-term.

Hugh Culver

Bio: Hugh Culver co-created the world’s most expensive tours (to the South Pole), started five companies, and teaches experts the business of speaking. Read his blog on the business of speaking. Follow him on Twitter @hughculver

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planninh

The four best damn productivity habits high achievers use

I’m a student of productivity. I have to be—distractions are everywhere.

And while I know there are hundreds of apps designed to plan, protect, measure, and manage my time, I prefer some died-in-the-wool methods.

The good news is you can use them as well and with zero training.

First, how are you doing? Are you able to focus when needed and complete the task at hand? Are you organized and following a plan? Can you recover from inevitable distractions quickly and get back to work?

If you’re not sure you’re playing at the top of your time management game, then these solutions can make a big difference.

1. BOUNDARIES

I think “open door” policies are stupid. It’s also stupid to check you email first thing in the morning, work without a plan and allow interruptions to rule your day.

That’s why you need Boundaries.

A Boundary is when you are strategically unavailable. Different from a meeting, a Boundary is a time block that reoccurs every day to allow you to work on projects that require your full attention.

My first Boundary is from 5:00 to 7:00AM for writing. No Internet, spell-check, email, or social media—just a big cup of tea and writing. I will either be working on a blog (guess what time I’m writing this), client proposal or speech—most mornings I can crank out 1,000 words.

My next Boundary is 9:15 to 10:30AM. I’m at my office (a 12 minute bike ride from home) and working on 50% of the hardest work on my plate for the day.

And then I have a Boundary from 1:30 to 3:30 for the second 50% of hard work.

Here’s the trick: I don’t worry if it doesn’t happen. It could be I have a client meeting, a speech out of town or I’m meeting someone. Of course, I try to schedule around my Boundaries, but if I can’t protect that time my trick is to return to my routine the next day.

2. BLOCKING

You get ready and are on time for meetings. Right? Why not create a meeting for yourself.

Blocking happens when you create an appointment with yourself for a task that either:

  • you know you might procrastinate about
  • impacts someone else and they are relying on you to get it done
  • is strategic and by completing it you move other projects ahead

When I get off the phone from a new client I block time on my calendar to interview delegates (invaluable research as a speaker), create handouts, or have a final call with the client.

I also Block time for responding to RFP’s (Request For Proposals), researching for my blog, creating email sequences for upcoming webinars and just thinking.

I’m always a bit surprised how my Pavlovian reaction to seeing a meeting on my calendar (even if I’m not meeting someone) alerts me to get ready to work on that task.

One last point about Blocking time for yourself: my rule is once the Block is created you can’t delete it, only move it.

3. BATCHING

When I visit my friend’s cabin each summer we chop wood. Nothing like chasing a scrap of wood around the chopping block to keep me happy.

It would be a bit silly for me to announce I’m going to “chop some wood”, proudly return with one stick only to head out 20 minutes later to “chop some more wood.” Instead I Batch.

Batching is a lost art in our age of multitasking and it still works like a damn. When you Batch you complete similar tasks all at once. The most obvious example is your email. That addictive InBox (Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D likens our addiction to email to that of a Vegas slot machine) will suck up every available moment unless you reserve your visits to Batching. Other examples of batching include:

  • paying bills
  • filing and clearing the clutter in your office
  • returning phone calls
  • updating your planning tools
  • updating social media
  • reading and commenting on blogs
  • dealing with personal finances, money transfers, investments, banks, insurance companies etc.

4. BREAKS

And now for the one power tool that will have the biggest impact on your success—taking Breaks. Don’t underestimate the power of a Break.

New research found that over four hours of sitting a day (between your breakfast, commute, email, social media, TV, Netflix and meetings that’s easy to do) doubles your risk of Type 2 diabetes, obesity and early coronary disease. Got your attention?

The trick is to take Breaks throughout the day, not to wait for that long walk in the evening. Researchers found that exercise after the fact (like going for a long run after work) can’t undo “damage” done while we’re dormant in our chair.

So you have to plan to move at least every 15 minutes. Here’s how:

  • move your garbage can, water and recycling box away from your desk
  • when working on a project, set a timer for every 25 minute to get up and move
  • park further away from your office, meeting, grocery store and walk the rest of the way
  • take the stairs
  • Use this list of office exercises to inspire some variety in your movement.

Boundaries, Blocking, Batching and Breaks – pretty easy hacks to get you productive and moving. What are you going to start with?

“When you feel good about what you did, your brain will change. It will want to do the behavior again in the future. That leads to making the habit stronger.” —B.J. Fogg, Ph.D

Hugh Culver

Bio: Hugh Culver co-created the world’s most expensive tours (to the South Pole), started five companies, and teaches experts the business of speaking. Read his blog on the business of speaking. Follow him on Twitter @hughculver

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procrastination

How to get unstuck and started (even if you love to procrastinate)

We’ve all been there. You have. I have. Stuck.

Maybe you need to get your sales up or write a book. Maybe you need to deal with a staffing issue (or you need staff). Whatever the reason…being stuck sucks.

The good news is there are hacks that’ll get you unstuck, moving and productive again.

Before we get to that…

Advice is like water. Everyone needs it, but we don’t give it much credit for making life happen. Ask a person in the middle of a desert if water is “helpful” and you’ll get a different story. Why?

When you recognize the “cost” of being stuck the solution is much, much more valuable. So, before we dive into solutions I know work, think for a minute about the alternative. What is the real cost of being stuck?

If you don’t pick up the phone and call the client back. If you don’t create a deadline and start working on that book. If you don’t create those emails and ask people for the sale.

Procrastination has a cost.

Feel it? Good. Now, let’s move to getting you unstuck.

Ten ways to get unstuck, moving and productive again.

1. Get real

Think how many decisions you’ve to make in your life. In a year’s time this will seen minor, so why not just do it?

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” —Churchill

2. Take a break

When you focus your attention on a task completely unrelated, your mind can return to the original task refreshed and with a new perspective.

“Never taking a break from thought work actually reduces your ability to be creative” —Kimberly Elsbach, UC-Davis

3. Get physical

Stand, stretch, go for a run, walk your dog—physical movement increases the flow in your circulatory system, releases feel-good neurotransmitters (like Dopamine, and Serotonin) and puts you in a positive mood.

“Exercise is like fertilizer for the brain…it’s so good it’s like Miracle Gro.” Dr. John Ratey, Harvard.

4. Stop Doing list

What is filling your time AND holding you back? Make a list (Jim Collins calls it your ‘Stop Doing list’)—one of the fastest ways to get started is to stop doing those low-value tasks that are chewing up your time.

“The “stop doing” list became an enduring cornerstone of my annual New Year resolutions.” —Jim Collins, author From Good to Great

5. Change your environment

Clear the desk clutter, work from a local cafe, use paper instead of computer—sometimes, a change is as good as a start.

“As a species, humans have evolved to respond to novelty, once we’ve become accustomed to something, we may grow immune to its effects. —Hugh Thompson, Ph.D

6. Be kind to yourself

It’s easy to blame yourself—don’t. You’ve been here before, you are capable and you will succeed. Have faith you will get through this period, just like every other time.

“Practicing self-compassion provides us with the kind voice and warm embrace we need in difficult times so we courageously do the right thing.” Forbes

7. Let go of the past

It’s hard to get started when your attention is on what didn’t work in the past. Take a deep breath, let it go and focus on what you want to create in the today, for the future.

“Once we start a task, it is rarely as bad as we think.” Tim Pychyl, Ph.D

8. Get advice

Usually we can’t see the forest for the trees when we’re too close to the problem. Ask a good friend, hire a coach – even ask on-line. And then listen.

“When you ask for advice, people do not think less of you; they think you are smarter.” —Maurice Schweitzer, PhD of the Wharton School

9. Create a deadline

A little tension (like a deadline) can move mountains and end procrastination. Give yourself a Decision Deadline (for the full project or a practical solution) and stick to it.

“Deadlines allow us to clarify our thoughts and create an action plan.” — Dan Ariely, Ph.D

10. Create tiny wins

Frustrated about sales? Call one prospect. Want to lose weight? Start walking 20 minutes a day. Need to apologize? Write a card. Any forward motion is a tiny win in the right direction.

“When you feel good about what you did, your brain will change. It will want to do the behavior again in the future. That leads to making the habit stronger.” —B.J. Fogg, Ph.D

Ten ways to get moving. All work. Only one question…what are you doing here (get started).

Hugh Culver

Bio: Hugh Culver co-created the world’s most expensive tours (to the South Pole), started five companies, and teaches experts the business of speaking. Read his blog on the business of speaking. Follow him on Twitter @hughculver

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You Are Where You Are Because Of Your Rituals

If you want to model successful people, the first thing you should be looking at are their rituals. Look at every detail including such minor things as:

  • What do they do every morning when their feet hit the ground?
  • How often do they read?
  • How often do they check email?
  • How much time do they spend exercising?
  • How much time do they spend marketing their business?
  • Who do they socialize with during their downtime?

Take 15 minutes and watch the video on this page. It will change your life if you let it.

The amazing part about massive success to me is that people are trying to hard when it is one of the easiest things that is attainable. Watch people that have succeeded before you and copy them.

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Three Immutable Laws of Discipline That Smart People Live By

Three Immutable Laws of Discipline That Smart People Live By

Plan everything or it will never happen

Manage your time as recurring daily, weekly and monthly appointments on your calendar. Most of your calendar should be recurring blocks of time that have you making consistent progress towards your highest priorities. Don’t forget to add in regular blocks for relaxation time, screw around time, family time, etc. These are important parts of our lives that we cannot afford to let happen by chance.

Live and die by your plan

Once you choose to live by #1, don’t mess around with your schedule. If your Wednesday says you are exercising from 6-8, don’t “get to it at 7”. At 6pm you drop whatever you are doing and exercise. You said it was important. You allocated the time. Now go do it. As you learn more about yourself and your priorities, your allocation of time may change. If that happens modify the block of time to better suit your life, or remove it. Don’t leave it on your calendar and keep skipping it thinking you’ll get to it someday. This is called discipline. Not “Something kind of like discipline”

Don’t wander aimlessly

Limit the amount of time you spend randomly browsing the internet. Stay off of social networking, news sites, etc. unless they are DIRECTLY related to you researching or working on your dreams. Every website today is designed to keep you there for as long as possible – doubly so for social media sites. Almost nobody gets on Facebook for just “five minutes”. Five minutes will rapidly turn into an hour. If you feel you need time to screw around on the internet, go see #1 and put it on your calendar. If it gets out of hand then read the bonus tip.

Bonus Discipline Tip:

Spending time in front of the computer is a great way to burn away unproductive hours of your life. If you know you are the type of person that has this problem, consider installing RescueTime. I have this running all of the time. It tracks all of the websites and programs that I use to show me how productive I am. Once you have it installed for a week you will get some amazing data that will probably surprise you about yourself and your habits. Use that information to improve how you manage time online. RescueTime is a must have app if you are having online discipline issues. Get it!

Was this good? Did you see our other article about this?

Click here to read one of our most popular past posts on Fixed Schedule Productivity.

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Can You Sit Still For 180 Seconds? I Dare You.

Your ability to focus and properly allocate your time is instrumental to any success that you hope to achieve. However the world, and specifically the internet, is not designed to help you focus. It is design to grab your attention with a compelling headline and suck you away from whatever you are working on to read some trivial piece of information that has nothing to do with your dreams, hopes and fears.

There is no special cure for managing your distractions. There is no special app, no browser plugin, and no list of “The Top 10 Ways To…” that the world can ever give you that will help you be less distraction.

Focus and concentration are a choice. Choose to focus and win the attention game

Or not

I dare you to watch this video for the next 180 seconds and do nothing else.

Do not pick up your phone. Do not move your mouse. Do not touch your keyboard. Use this as a simple exercise in concentration. Even I had a hard time doing it. But if you can do it, you’ll start to understand the kind of focus that you will need to get other things done.

Enjoy.

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But…! Hmmmm.

your life is passing you by

your life is passing you by

This is how I talk to myself when I am unhappy with doing what I am doing at the moment. I think you could use this also.

You’ve talked about that cool project you want to do. More than once.

But you have made zero progress on it. You’ll get to it this weekend.

You’ve looked at average people that have several books on the shelf and thought ‘I can do that’.

But you have yet to come up with a topic or write a single word.

You suck your gut in when you look in the mirror naked because you have not exercised in 10 years.

Your garden has weeds.

Your car is dirty.

You are still living paycheck by paycheck.

You hate your boss. You hate your co workers. You loathe the drive to work. You stare at the clock when you are there.

You have not done anything special for your spouse in a while. Why bother? You are married.

You hate rich people because they get more than you. They have nicer cars. Nicer house and nicer drinks.

BUT…!

You got on Facebook today. More than once.

You stayed up late watching TV last night.

You  smoke and drink on a regular basis.

You sit in front of a computer all day long. You’ll do it again tomorrow.

Your life is directly reflected in the movie ‘Office Space’.

Hmmmm.

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Fixed-Schedule Productivity

Fixed-Schedule Productivity: The Best Way To Build Your Ideal Schedule

What is Fixed-Schedule Productivity?

There are some people that define this as a complicated time management process. However once you understand the basic concepts it is the easiest and most fulfilling way to manage your life.

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