Your ability to think, work, and create faster, smarter, and with a more innovative edge will differentiate you from your competition. Maintaining that competitive advantage requires time, patience, drive, and the consistent refinement of your productivity strategies and tools.
As we approach the halfway point in the year, it’s time not only time to reflect on what’s working and what’s not, but also to use that introspection to sharpen your edge and implement a new strategy.
To aid you in that process, here is some of the best productivity advice from three productivity experts, along with what common advice you should avoid.
Confusion and ambivalence are part of being human. “If you want to be more productive, stop and figure out what you are doing and why it is important to you,” asserts Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed.
Who cares how efficient you are if you don’t know where you are going? Revolt against busyness. It is nothing more than aimless activity for the sake of activity. Define the impact you want to make in the world. Then, focus your energy and effort on making that impact.
Are other people’s expectations unconsciously driving your actions? Who are you really trying to please? “Ask the tougher questions along the way,” says Schulte. Don’t lose yourself in other people’s definitions of success. Get clear on your personal definition of success. Then ruthlessly filter out anything that does not align with your definition.
This is more accurate language, says Fast Company writer Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It. “I could tell you I don’t have time to train for a marathon, but that is not true; I just don’t want to! Using this language reminds me that time is a choice. If I’m not happy about the way I’m spending my time, I probably have the ability to change it,” asserts Vanderkam.
Think about where you need to start being honest with yourself and your priorities. Everything cannot be a priority. The sooner you admit this, the easier it becomes to focus on your real priorities.
“The true measure of productivity is the quality of your thinking each and every day,” says Caroline Arnold, author of Small Move, Big Change. And sleep is the best productivity enhancer. Your brain works unconsciously during the night and can help you solve problems during the day, but not if you don’t get enough sleep. The next time you choose to stay awake trolling social media, watching TV, and returning emails, you are debiting against your leisure time on the weekend.
“Life is something you have to rest up for,” says Arnold. Prepare for bed before settling in to watch your shows. Implement a designated time you power down all of your devices. Record your favorite shows and make the choice to watch them on your own time. Go to bed. Your life is waiting.
This sounds counterintuitive. We assume that large, significant changes require massive behavior shifts. In actuality, the opposite is true, asserts Arnold. It is the small, incremental changes that actually drive and support sustained behavior change. So if you want to tame your inbox, keep your desk organized, or actually stop working before midnight, reverse engineer each behavior and identify the first small step you can take to achieve success, says Arnold.
For example, I wanted to stop starting my day by checking my email. My inbox was full of everyone else’s agendas. I wanted to stop reacting and start my day by working on one of my priorities. So, when I reverse engineered my behavior, I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to actually do before responding to email. Now, before I leave my office each day, I write down the one task I want to accomplish before opening my inbox. Marginal behavior change is king. Keep debugging your own behavior and you will be surprised at what you can do, concludes Arnold.
These productivity experts also shared the worst productivity advice they had ever received.
“If the people with decision-making power in your company don’t know what you are doing–keeping your head down and doing good work is not enough,” says Schulte. If you are part of an organization, be a part of the organization. Have a presence if you work remotely. Focus on the work, understand the life of your organization and how to be a part of it. This is not face time, office politics, or butt kissing, assures Schulte. Your time in the office needs to be in service of the work that you are doing.
“If you come to work thinking that everything on your to-do list should be completed by the end of the day, you will not execute smartly,” says Arnold. Most of our to-do lists are shoulds and not real needs, nor strategic objectives. Approach the day and assume that you will not get it all done. Make smart, strategic choices at the beginning of the day.
Go into the second half of this year with a fresh perspective on what you need to do to maintain your competitive edge. Keep in mind though that this advice–the good and the bad–is only as good as what works for you or your personal productivity style.
Take some time now to think about what works best for you, what strategies make sense for your productivity, what you need to do good work, and then hit the ground running.