#1. Think in terms of effectiveness, not productivity. Busyness has become a badge of honor in our culture. How busy we are has become a measure of our status and whether we’re living a full and important life. All too often people measure their value based on how much they do. Achievers evaluate themselves based on effectiveness. They know and concentrate on the actions that have the greatest impact and do everything in their power to minimize activities that don’t make a significant contribution.
#2. Flip it. How many times do you start with the quick or easy items on your to-do list so you can get them out of the way and then get down to the important tasks? But then as fast as you check these quick items off the list, new ones surface. Before you know it, it’s 4 pm and you haven't gotten to the significant projects yet. You leave feeling frustrated. You worked hard all day but you didn't get to the items that really matter. Achievers flip it. They use the first couple hours of the day, most people’s peak performance time, for the significant and typically harder items on their lists. Regardless of what happens the rest of the day, they leave work knowing they’ve accomplished what matters most.
#3. Calendar everything. Many people just use their calendars for meetings, events and due dates. Projects and tasks are noted on separate “to-do” lists. Achievers schedule everything on their calendars and stick to it. For example, if a project is going to take three-hours, that time is blocked on the calendar. Seeing everything that requires their time in one place helps them prioritize and be realistic about the commitments they make. By having a schedule, they don’t waste valuable time deciding on what’s next.
#4. Create target times. The time spent on a task or project can easily get out of hand, especially if you have perfectionist tendencies or are doing work that you find satisfying. Achievers know or determine how much time a given project will take in advance. They build that timeframe into their schedule and do everything possible to stick to it. They don’t lose valuable time seeking perfection when good is good enough. If you need to get a better handle on how much time the work you do takes, consider a time tracking application like www.toggl.com.
#5. Learn to manage their environment. People underestimate the power of their environment and overestimate their self-control. Environment is the most potent trigger in our lives and it continuously intervenes and shapes our behavior. Achievers appreciate that maintaining the maximum control over their environment is critical to staying on track. They think in terms of the three A’s: 1) Anticipate and visualize how they want their day to go. Then they consider the obstacles that might get in the way and plan how they will deal with them. 2) Avoid situations, when possible, that are needless distractions or energy drains. Let’s say someone was fired and people have been speculating about it all day. That may be the day to stay in your work area and avoid the breakroom. 3) Adapt when things in the environment can’t be changed or avoided. For example, if you’re a person who needs quiet to concentrate and you work in an open-plan office where people are constantly chatting, don’t waste your energy getting angry about the noise. Instead, buy yourself a pair of noise-cancelling headphones or, if possible, move to a quieter area in the office.
#6. Build their focus muscle. The average worker is interrupted every 11 minutes and it takes 25 minutes to get back on track after an interruption. We may think we hate distractions, but the fact is our brains like them. Our brain's reward circuit lights up when we multitask; we actually get an emotional high when we do multiple things at once. Over time we lost the ability to focus, so much so that a recent Harvard Business School study showed the average knowledge worker only maintains focus for seven minutes before needing to check their phone/messages. Achievers schedule focus time on their calendars when they can concentrate on a single task that requires deeper thinking and connections across the brain. This deep concentration is important for long-term memory as well as overall brain health. Achievers turn off the email, instant messaging and phone and either shut their door or create their own quiet zone by putting on their headphones. For many people maintaining focus does not come easy, but with practice, it’s a skill that can be built over time.
#7. Recharge. People often feel that stopping work and taking a break means getting less done. As it turns out, the opposite is true. A study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed that diversions can improve focus and performance. Our bodies go through 90 – 120-minute cycles during which we move from a high-energy state into a physio-logical trough. Towards the end of the cycle, our bodies begin to crave recovery time. The body sends us a signal like yawning, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, or the desire to eat. Most of us ignore the signal and keep on working. This continues to drain your energy reservoir. Achievers know that shifting gears and getting away from work for a couple of minutes restores energy and improves performance. The key is choosing an activity you find energizing – whether it’s taking a brisk walk around the block, playing Sudoku, talking to a loved one on the phone, or doing some breathing exercises.
#8. Know when to say “no.” For many people, their default answer is yes. Fear of disappointing others, not being liked or missing out on an opportunity lead them to say yes even when it means getting sidetracked from their own priorities. Achievers let go of their fears and learn when to say no with tact and diplomacy.
#9. Exercise. We all know exercise is good for our body, our sense of well-being and brain health. Achievers have figured that it also has a significant impact on their job performance. A study conducted at Bristol University supports that exercise boosts overall employee performance by 21%. The study compared people in three different organizations who exercised one day and didn’t exercise the next. Overall, on workout days, participant scores were 21% higher for concentration, 22% higher for finishing work on time, and 41% higher for feeling motivated.
#10. Don’t assume others’ expectations. In this day of immediate gratification, people often feel they have to respond now, and if they don’t their colleagues will view them as “not caring” or “not committed enough.” Achievers clarify, rather than assume, peoples’ expectations. They focus on understanding others’ priorities and needs by dates rather than worrying about how responsive they look.
#11. Manage energy. Most professionals use a variety of tools and techniques to manage time effectively but they seldom stop to consider how to manage their energy. Achievers recognize that If they want to accomplish more and feel better when they leave the office at the end of the day, they need to pay close attention to their energy level. That’s because time is finite. No matter what you do there are only 24 hours in the day. Energy, on the other hand, can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed. Achievers think about their energy as if it were a fuel tank. They recognize that some actions fill the tank (e.g. learning something new), while others drain it (e.g. listening to a co-worker who’s a chronic complainer). They’re careful to minimize energy drains to the extent possible and to build actions into their day that create energy.
#12. Don’t procrastinate. Are there items on your task list that you keep avoiding? The phone call you dread making? The mountain of unreturned emails you need to answer? The candid talk you need to have with the employee who is not pulling their weight? These “undone” tasks that cause you to worry or nag at your conscience occupy valuable mental space and drain your energy. It is estimated that the average person loses 75% of their energy to these distractions. Achievers don’t avoid the things they know need to be done no matter how uncomfortable.