Productivity is a deeply personal issue as well as a humankind obsession. Let’s share a look at the micro version (the individual) and come back to the macro version (everyone in the world) after we serve up this dish of secrets.
When Barbara Hemphill, founder of the Productive Environment Institute (PEI), called me a Productivity Marathon Runner, I stopped in my tracks. What did she say? Until that instance, I never thought about pausing in 30 years since taking those first, tiny steps, to check the rear view to see if I left any trail of evidence for others to follow.
What I discovered was astounding and worth sharing with anyone else who has ever tried to achieve productivity beyond your own gutsy goals and biggest dreams.
Everyone has a productivity story and travels a productivity journey. Most people don’t think about this or do anything with it until they start to feel closed in by time, strive for something they want and collapse before reaching the finish line or accept the reality they will die and when is the only unknown.
This is one productivity story and there are lots of secrets in this article you can pick up, examine and consider mind melding into your journey. Each secret asks that you stop, breathe, think, close your eyes and then maybe write some answers to the questions poked at you.
My productivity awareness, then practices, then habits started 30 years ago and I’m still advancing. So far, the two most important secrets discovered are these:
Those are two big bites, so let’s help you digest it. Productivity means you start, then finish, then deliver something. Everything else is activity, not productivity. In order to do this, you have to not spend time on other things. In order to not spend time on less important things, you have to eliminate clutter and distractions.
Did you know that many activities actually fall into busy work and errands instead of real productive activity? Many people are active, but they’re not productive.
My productivity-deliberate journey started in 1990’s with Barbara Hemphill and her Paper Tiger. The journey continues today with everything I’ve learned in the past 10,930 days plus touch-base guidance from the PEI army of productivity professionals.
The biggest motivator for productivity practices comes as soon as you experience results from all of the many, tiny steps in your journey. For example, do you want to live longer and healthier? Lower that stress. Somewhere around the 10th year of my productivity marathon I realized that the reason my health was actually improving as I got older was because I stopped taking on the baggage and clutter of earlier years.
Want another example? Twice we have moved the business to a new location and that causes us to “up the game” or take on some super challenges in productivity. When you convert 16 file cabinets (81 drawers) of what you think is extremely valuable items you’ve produced over the years to digital forms, you toss a lot and you find some original treasure, still worth a lot of money. You also find new business opportunities and reasons to renew relationships with people who wondered what happened to you and have even bigger needs to connect with you.
Do you think that anyone who achieves the status of Ironman Triathlete believes they are doing anything more than a nice walk or a pleasant bike ride or a relaxing swim on day one? If you keep at it every day, learn what works, repeat, and put it all together in a process that includes your calendar, you might end up completing a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles of bicycle riding and a 26-mile run, all in one day, in 17 hours or less. The Ironman is not racing against anyone else; rather, you are working with your own mind and physical elements of your body movements and the environment.
That’s the way productivity can be. If you stop watching videos or reading about productivity and just get going with your mind, physical elements and the environment, you’ll spend the rest of your life doing whatever you want, living the dream.
Before revealing the secrets learned and loved for the past 30 years, let’s start at day one, which is where everyone starts—in a mess, amidst your clutter, spinning your wheels on “busy” or “swamped” and not producing something of value that delights someone other than you.
This is the first secret you’ll learn. Everyone is born to create and produce. You go through stages and you need to understand this because productivity shifts with you.
First you are young and everything is provided for you. Most of your “stuff” accumulates with your family. You don’t have to produce anything. Then you become a young adult and you want it all and more. It seems like acquiring things is important, such as friends, businesses, marriages, children, homes, vacation properties, and tons more “stuff.” Your years of producing something of value for customers and others starts here.
Also, in these before-50 years, you make most of your really stupid mistakes, such as compounding clutter with storage sheds or adding on extra rooms because you crave space to create, breathe or build relationships. As you near your 50th birthday and realize you may have less time and space than before, you begin the process of sorting, tossing, letting go, all in the name of shrinking the load so you can make better time for the rest of your business journey or life.
Finally, if you make it to 65, you confront the reality that there is no luggage rack on a hearse and nobody wants your stuff. Toss or take it to Goodwill are top options.
The only thing anyone ever wanted from you is what you produce for them and your impact on the world. What did you produce that made someone smile? What did you produce that informed, inspired, entertained or raised eyebrows? What did you produce today that someone will remember for a very long time?
It was in that stage where we think we know it all, acquire and achieve more than imagined at graduation and make our worst mistakes—30 something–that I realized it was time for a productivity expert. I had no idea where to start but I did notice the promotion by a software company that produced something called Paper Tiger and hired Barbara Hemphill to be their spokeswoman and product sales channel. The pitch and the hook was simple: Find anything in 5 seconds or less.
The software was just the technology tool. The productivity journey started with principles and practices Barbara created and taught anyone who would listen to her or hire her to work with individuals or corporations with hundreds of file cabinets and millions of pieces of paper. Digital was just starting to enter the picture, so the principles and systems Barbara visualized included anything that you acquired, wanted to keep and ever find again. Start anywhere—business, personal, physical, mental, etc. and start producing. Take on one productivity habit at a time. Success is sequential, not simultaneous.
Do you remember we started out by saying productivity is very personal? It starts out by just wanting to feel like you’ve spent the day producing something worthwhile and not just getting ready to do something. Not by looking for something you need to produce something. Not by looking for a creative idea or inspiration to produce something brilliant that lights the hearts and minds of your customers.
Before I pull back the curtain to show you the secrets, you need this warning label. I am not a productivity expert or coach. I am not saying you ought to do any of this. I’m glad to show you what works for me. I’m glad to talk further with you about how our clients notice my productivity performance levels and copy what I’m doing. I am a CEO who serves other executives and boards of directors of national organizations. You might call me a teacher because I allow many to “shadow” me and ask questions about why, then how, then what I’m doing.
All of these secrets simply appeared, simply because I opened a space for them to happen. Use them to improve your life or justify that you are already on the right path.
The more you produce, the more you have to archive, and the more wealth you create. Many highly productive people learn to become philanthropists. Carnegie spent the first part of his life going from poverty to the wealthiest man on the planet and spent the last part of his life giving it all away, while engaging others to share some “skin in the game.”
Your health improves. Stress is a killer and my annual physical test results have improved each year of producing only what matters most to the most important people in my networks, tribes, and communities. Clearing spaces, creating productive environments and tossing clutter are daily habits.
Clutter clearing starts as physical and turns into brain work. Call it self improvement or just manifesting what you were put on earth to accomplish. My default setting is the belief I came into the world in perfect condition and I’m supposed to create and produce. That’s why I’m not a coach or a “fixer” of negative things; instead, I am a maximizer of time and talents.
Read a lot and deliberately, with a system. In order to produce anything, you need understanding. The formula for prolific productivity is 20% understanding for 80% production. That means you have to know what you are doing and make good choices in order to produce high value anything. The secret inside this secret is to focus energy on books that stay with you after you put them down. Do the math. That means no more than 3 hours a day make it onto the schedule for reading. Where do you get those hours? By not watching television, for one. And you? Where have you cleared the time and space for reading?
Conversations and interviews work. This is part of the 20% understanding part. Although this is not productivity, it calls for productivity practices in networking, choosing partners, choosing clients, and gaining insights into the worldview of others. On my calendar each day around 1 p.m. is “deep listening.” Some may call it “lunch” but I say “feed yourself and others.” This is time dedicated to taking care of hunger. It’s time to make sure I get out of my office and interview fascinating people. I feed their need to connect in person, even if it’s a Zoom chat during lunch. This is not much different than the experience of going to a restaurant or meeting in the park with our brown bags of favorite food.
Journaling works. Start anywhere with any method and just keep journaling every day. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and what works. You’ll learn about journaling practices of many famous and highly productive people, such as Da Vinci, Edison, Gates, Einstein, and others. I have advanced to a system of three journals which I call the Productivity Troika. Look it up. Three horses pulling one chariot, one rider. Really fast. Remember the Ironman? Three separate and specific purpose activities that make a whole. Here’s my 20 minute journaling groove at the start of each day. Journal #1 asks the tough question, such as What is the ONE thing you must get done—such that by doing it everything will be easier or unnecessary? Journal #2 is my Bullet Journal. Journal #3 is the Narrative Journal. All three, working together, allow me to let go of 20 other things on my mind before 8 a.m. and works magic all day long against invaders into my mind or into my calendar. Journaling eliminates insecurity you might miss something or produce less than brilliant or maximum.
Know your why. This secret keeps showing up until you pay attention to it. The only way you will communicate clearly and be understood is to know your truth and value to the world. In order to produce you have to connect. That’s why you are in a world of people and not the only one on the planet. Read again Start With Why by Simon Sinek if you feel your productivity fizzling. Most likely, you misplaced your purpose or you started making up stuff that isn’t true.
Momentum is another secret of productivity. The more momentum you create, the easier it is to produce more, which creates more momentum, which makes it easier to produce.
Produce something that matters to you and contributes to the world. Anything short of that will leave you with feelings from busy to burned out.
Practice is another secret. Productivity habits are many and it’s like learning lots of notes and putting them together. I learned this in my music years. Go from nothing to first chair in the orchestra, just by practicing an hour every day and learning.
Principles matter. This is where a productivity expert can help. They can rapidly teach you principles that become your foundation for your systems or chain of reasoning that turns into something you produce—something that makes others smile and curious about you and the world.
Patience matters. It’s just you in this marathon. Nobody else is competing with you. Nobody wants to be you. Only you can live the creative original life that is 100% yours.
Did you know productivity and self improvement are among the top ten topics and articles in Medium?
Did you know Medium launched in 2017 and already it has more than 30,000 writers, 60 million readers each month, and 7.5 million articles posted?
Did you know Medium is an online publishing platform with more than 8,000 publications? Think magazine or website—that’s 8,000 places where all of these productivity articles might appear.
What would happen if you realized you don’t need to learn “How to be Productive”?
All of this did not start with wanting to be productive. All of this starts with your why and the need to get up each day, start moving and give your thoughts and body a chance to “move about freely.”
Here’s a warning label. Are you obsessed with being productive to support your need for more? And when you get more, where are you going to put it?
Allow me to end with a personal story. Often my day moves me into communications consultation sessions with business owners, boards of directors and other wicked smart people. Often people say things like “you are so focused and purposeful” or “you are so organized.” What I want to say is, Not really. This can all be chaos in a month if I stopped my productivity habits. If productivity was a self-study course, I’d have several doctorate degrees by now. I do this because my why is, it seems really important to not waste a life.
Productivity is about the present. Each step in the marathon happens right now. Why do people come up to me at a conference or cocktail event and hand me a business card? Why are you procrastinating? I’m in front of you now. You have a golden moment. Do you need some help with getting your message clear and intriguing in two minutes or less? Is that your productivity struggle?
If you are curious about this and want to make an appointment to talk, it’s this easy. Go to my appointment calendar at https://Communicators.as.me/ and request some free time (free means pro bono—something done without charging my normal fee, for the greater good of the world.)
As we move into the closing quarter of this year, I believe we can all choose to finish the year strong. There’s no good reason to delay it until tomorrow or after the holidays. I also think it is a great time to reset our productivity habits so that we can make next year and the next decade even better.
Like this? Then share it. This article first published on Productivity Institute Website 2019. Use whatever social roads you travel, e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, your own website.