One of the worst things about learning how to be more productive is that it’s often a trialby-fire process; you realize what works only after you’ve fallen short. In the past 4 years I have taught high school science in the inner city, completed graduate studies and cofounded a startup. I’ve also spent a lot of time learning how to be more productive the hard way. Despite these widely different experiences, I’ve realized that there are a few mindsets that consistently help me finish my work faster and with less effort. If your goal is to become a more productive and prudent entrepreneur (whatever your hustle may be), I believe that these mindsets are essential for growth. Below are 5 things I’ve learned to quickly get through whatever life throws at me:
Define success before you start
One of the first things I learned while teaching was that a lesson plan without a measurable outcome was the quickest way to failure. You simply cannot properly instruct students or measure student proficiency if you don’t define what success looks like. Whether you’re a teacher working to improve test scores, a salesperson trying to increase qualified leads or just somebody hitting the gym for your health, set a measurable and realistic outcome. Defining your success metrics avoids shooting at a moving target, and you can objectively assess your performance. You can always decide later if the target needs adjusting.
Perfect the process before you perfect the product
Everything that we accomplish during a standard work or school day is a product of a routine that we’ve trained since childhood. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we can do the same for the new habits and skills that we want to learn. I came to this realization only recently while I was experimenting with a new technique for planning daily goals. Focusing on a much smaller behavior (writing down two things that I wanted to accomplish that day) and coupling it with my morning office routine was more important to my success than if I had focused on writing a full agenda every morning. It’s akin to lifting weights perfect your form before you grab the 50 pound dumbbells.
Multitasking saves neither time nor effort
The introduction of the dual monitor workspace is simultaneously one of the best and worst things to happen to productivity. Yes, it’s awesome to feel like you’re in the Batcave when you’re working on spreadsheets. On the other hand, you’re not really helping yourself by having Tweetdeck open while writing a grant proposal. A 2010 study at Emory University revealed that constantly switching between tasks that require different mindsets impedes the higher order executive functions needed to maintain persistence and focus on a task. Simply put, you’re not performing as well as you could on a task, when you interrupt it every 5 minutes to do something like respond to incoming emails. Assign blocks of time to specific tasks and then stick to them throughout your work day.
Always take out the easy targets first
There are few things that will get you more motivated to attack a huge project than the momentum from completing several other smaller tasks. Do what’s easy and within your grasp first, before you attempt to tackle the bigger assignment. The feeling of accomplishment from checking off the smaller tasks will make you more invigorated and optimistic before tackling the larger responsibility.
Treat your time with the respect it deserves
Most of us are adept at using our calendars to plan for the meetings and major events that we have to attend. However, few of us take the time to do the same with the responsibilities and tasks that these events are often interrupting. When you head to your calendar to plan out your day or week, give your time the same respect that you give the time that you’ve granted to other people. This doesn’t mean that every single detail of your day has to be logged in your calendar. However, your important tasks and projects deserve being on your calendar and being treated as if they were meetings and conference calls. A little bit of diligence in organizing the things that you need to accomplish goes a long way in helping you get them done.
Image credit CC: The Phat Startup