Whether you are an entrepreneur, business owner or work for someone else, staying productive to reach the top of your game does not have to be a constant challenge. The secret to success is not so much a secret after all.
When you grow a strong grip on what inspires and motivates you as well as what throws you off course, your honed ability to harness your productivity can only set you on the path for success.
Increasing your productivity like the Elon Musks and Richard Bransons of the world can be surprisingly simple. Here are 22 of the ways they do it:
1. Be emotionally connected to clear goals
Clarity is a must-have ingredient to being productive. Leading marketing consultant, speaker and best-selling author Simon Sinek explains in his book Start With Why that in deciding between manipulation or inspiration as stronger influences of human behavior, inspiration is more powerful and sustainable.
When you have an emotional connection to your goals, you become better at searching for the means to achieve them.
2. Revisit goals daily
Dedicate time each morning before your day starts to review your goals. Stop, think and ask yourself:
“Regardless of whether or not my days are great or challenging, do I still feel emotionally connected to this?”
Look for an underlying, resounding ‘yes’ and a physical, positive shift of excitement. If you feel this, then your productivity will be greater than if you are forcing yourself to work for a purpose that does not give you a mental nor emotional return on investment.
3. Use visualization to reach targets sooner
Thomas Edison envisioned the concept of the light globe and eventually turned his imagined idea into reality. Much research has shown that physical performance is greatly improved when the time is taken to engage in carefully constructed imagery and visualization that ignites the human senses.
Functional MRIs now showing our brains don’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. This helps us realize that using visualization techniques can accelerate the efficiency and quality of our work in more focused ways without the same amount of physical effort.
Instead of just imagine what you might have for lunch, direct your daydreaming toward what you want to achieve, experience and feel from your efforts!
4. Re-prioritize throughout your day
In the best-selling book The One Thing, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan advise that by asking yourself constantly:
“What is the one thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
Your activity will be focused and aligned to meeting your goals. You will spend far less time losing energy to distractions which take you off course.
5. Create a daily today list, not a to-do list
Being busy does not necessarily mean you are productive. Having a long to-do list can sometimes be quite de-motivating.
Tony Schwartz, CEO of the Energy Project, advises starting each day with one key task and ensuring that completing it (or making good progress on it) moves you toward achieving your goals.
Should the first task be complete early on in your day, move on to the second and third activity. However, if you still don’t complete that one task, start the next day with completing it. Only move on to the next task when you have completed the present one.
6. Get up early
We don’t all have time or capacity to do a 5km run at 5am, however, research shows the morning is the best time to set your framework for a productive day. Our minds are freshest at this time of day.
Before anything else, dedicate time to review your goals, your key priorities for the day, exercise and nourishing your body.
Top performers allocate their first few hours to projects relevant to their top priorities and delay meetings and appointments until later. The satisfaction alone of seeing what you have accomplished before 10am alone helps you sustain a greater level of productivity throughout the day even though your energy levels may start to wane.
7. Fuel your body according to your activity
Your body is your engine room, so it makes sense to fuel it for the performance you want it to achieve.
Twenty-three time’s Olympic gold-medal winner Michael Phelps does not eat the same carbohydrate-rich diet in offseason as when he’s competing.
Whilst you may not be an elite athlete, applying this mindset approach might mean increasing your intake of nutrient-dense, low glycaemic food at planned intervals according to your day’s schedule.
8. Treat your mind like an asset
Top performers know their mindset and mental health are the cornerstones that dictate their productivity. They guard their exposure to energy-draining circumstances, people and media, and carefully choose activities and events which are soul-enriching, energizing and relevant to their goals and purpose.
Because they have a strong sense of purpose, they choose reading material, networking and personal growth opportunities that help them grow through the challenges they are facing at those points.
9. Surround yourself with productive people
Identify and surround yourself with people who talk less and do more. Even if those people fail and make mistakes more but still make progress, they are improving and are much more likely to get the results they seek.
This goes beyond simply reading about what top performers do and socializing with those you identify as top performers.
Find programs that incorporate highly productive practices and join mastermind groups where the members are long-term communities that continually reap the results they seek.
Proactively choose to try and spend more time with those people in their activity phases.
Not only will your productivity go through the roof, your learning curve will be exponential.
10. Nourish your mind strategically for your growth and development
Top performers are avid readers. They take charge of their journey by committing to continually learning.
But it’s important to recognize that whilst others have found certain literature to be extremely helpful for themselves, this does not mean it is directly relevant to you or maybe it is….just not right now.
Pick and choose considerately and steadily what is relevant to you right now and put aside the other content for later. You can always come back to it.
11. Choose mentors wisely
Even if you don’t work in an industry that requires you to commit to professional development and gaining supervision from an expert, it is wise to seek out mentors.
Personal or professional mentors should not have any invested agenda in helping you in order for you to get the best objective advice and wisdom.
Seek out and ask for opportunities that allow you to learn experientially or shadow them in action. Also, seek a couple of different mentors. The more variety, the better and faster quality of learning you will have.
12. Always seek detailed and constructive feedback
No top performer is satisfied with general or wishy-washy feedback. If you get no feedback – positive or negative – ask for it.
Being told to simply do a better job next time does not help you to improve. Invite and tease out instructions for change. Gaining this will help you to accept failings and mistakes as well as give you clear plan to already start moving forward.
Licking your wounds of disappointment will be short-lived and any memories of receiving negative feedback will quickly become yesterday’s news.
13. Plan your day the night before
Closing your previous day recognizing what you have achieved and planning what your next day will entail does for reducing anxiety and experiencing better quality sleep.
Your plan does not have to be too detailed but putting pen to paper and reflecting this back to yourself gives your mind a sense of closure on the day. It also acknowledges unfinished items that will take priority the next day.
14. Perfect practice makes perfect
World renowned Grand Prix dressage trainer Maria Gunther would teach her students that it wasn’t just practice that makes perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.
It’s ok to make mistakes but even in practice, we are always aiming to achieve our personal best.
Improving any technique or skill involves constant refining and tweaking. It can also involve feeling discomfort which is often a misunderstood sign of stretching and growing.
Top performers know and have a healthy acceptance that there is no such thing as perfection but use their practice opportunities as wisely as if they were in a once in a lifetime situation.
15. Efficiency and effectiveness are not mutually exclusive
The best outcomes are achieved when the right processes and techniques are executed to the finest detail.
When the steps that need to be taken are clear, your focus on executing each of those steps well can only lead to better results.
Ensure you’re not under pressure when choosing a course of action to undertake and honor your own decision-making process. Then concentrate on doing each step well.
“Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.” ~ Peter Drucker
16. Use the Four Ds for effective prioritization
Having meetings and sorting emails at the expense of finalizing and sending a new business proposal is clearly non-productive. The four Ds are an extremely quick way to identify time-wasting activities and enrich your focus to things that truly matter:
- Do – do it straight away
- Delay – schedule a time to come back to it later
- Delegate – allocate the activity to someone with better capacity to complete it
- Dump – discard it permanently
Whenever you have difficulty deciding what needs to happen, make it a rule to apply one of the four Ds and you will make decisions more quickly, easily and effectively.
17. Invest in developing resilience skills
Top performers have excellent emotional regulation skills and have become skillful in observing and mastering regulating those of others.
Through learning coping and stress management techniques such as meditation and mindfulness, top performers strengthen self-awareness, which helps them to quickly identify what they need to do to heal, recover and bounce back better and stronger.
Top performers invest in personal development, knowing that they need to become and behave like the person who produces great results before they start to see those results.
18. Monitor and manage your energy
The amount of time we spend sitting each day is a far cry from the 12 miles an average human used to walk daily. Research quantifying the effects of physical inactivity has found that reducing inactivity by even 10% could avert 533,000 deaths globally.
In reviewing such research, Silicon Valley-based author and speaker Nilofer Merchant has resorted to having ‘walk and talk’ meetings. Merchant reports not only does she feels the physical benefits of walking 20-30 miles a week, she says she has become a better listener as the activity forces her to concentrate on what is being discussed.
The next time you take a break, consider having a walking meeting or undertake five minutes of yoga poses or mobility stretching.
19. Develop and strengthen your mindset
When we are faced with tough challenges and feel stuck, Carol Dweck , Psychology Professor at Stanford University advocates the practice of regularly asking ourselves if there are other perspectives and possibilities we cannot see yet.
By asking ourselves this question, we stop thought rumination and downward thought-spiraling, and start activating a part of our brain that helps us claw our way back toward finding solutions.
20. Work with performance psychologists and coaches
Highly productive performers seek the support and help of a team but not just employees and work associates. Collaborating with a coach to develop your future goals and action plans increases your accountability.
The added advantage of working with a performance psychologist means you can understand and uncover unexplained blockages, resistance and behavior that have kept you stuck.
You can develop emotionally intelligent goals as well as mental fitness techniques and strategies to skyrocket your productivity, performance and results.
21. Have less and shorter meetings
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recommends having a meeting of a small number of people, a succinct agenda and closing a one-hour meeting early if the key agenda items are covered in the first 15 minutes.
CEO and Chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance Carlos Ghosn recommends giving people less time than they request for a meeting, saying it drives them to be more effective, punctual and direct with the agenda.
Free up valuable time if you don’t really need the full hour that was scheduled.
22. Become masterful at saying no
When success starts to mound, people take notice and new requests come knocking at your door. As flattering and validating as this is, invitations, requests for help and support can quickly derail you.
Developing several responses which respectfully appreciate but generally explain why you cannot honor those requests will help you maintain good relationships whilst protecting your time, energy and resources. You’ll actually feel good about saying no and keeping your productivity wheels turning.
Focus on one small thing first
After examining the 22 ways productive people reach the top, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed.
The secret to success here is to simply pick one area to focus on at a given time until it has become your second nature.
For example, you might start going to bed an hour early to rise an hour early to do some kind of physical workout activities. Once you have mastered this, you might move on to working on to surrounding yourself with positive productive individuals.
The point here is it takes continuous practice to reach the top.
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