You’ve tried everything to improve your productivity.
And as a result, your office is littered with the paraphernalia of a hundred half-started productivity systems.
A set of fancy journals, a huge calendar, a timer for your Pomodoro sessions, a meditation app on your smartphone…
If it’s been featured on a list of “Top 10 Productivity Hacks,” you’ve tried it.
But no matter how much effort you put in to your new productivity strategies, you always find yourself struggling with an unmanageable to-do list.
Even worse, you feel like your whole life is taken up by pointless activities. At the end of every day, you feel like you’re still no closer to your biggest goals.
I won’t pretend that I don’t use any of these productivity “hacks.” I do…every day. Many of them are useful (my favorites include: bullet journaling, Pomodoro technique, and mindfulness meditation).
But all the productivity hacks in the world are useless if your priorities are unclear.
And if you have too many priorities, you’ll never accomplish anything important.
Fortunately, the solution is simple.
You need to get clear on your priorities and remove distractions if you want to achieve your goals.
To make it even easier, I made a worksheet to go along with this post. If you’d like to get the most out of your new approach to productivity, download your free worksheet here:
What’s Your Number 1 Priority?
I hate to tell you this, but you can’t do everything.
It’s not that I don’t think you’re an amazing, productive, uniquely skilled and brilliant person.
Life is just too short. You don’t have time to master every skill, win every award, or achieve every goal.
But you can do anything.
You can’t do EVERYthing, but you can do ANYthing.
I’ll never forget the first time I considered this seemingly simple concept.
It hit me like a ton of bricks:
My well-crafted list of dozens of diverse professional goals was totally unrealistic. No amount of hustle would ever allow me to make real progress toward all of these goals. At best, I could expect to make minimal progress toward a few of them…maybe 10 of them…if I worked really hard for the next few decades.
But even more importantly, I realized that if I edited my list down to only 1-3 long-term goals, I could aim much higher, for more ambitious and exciting goals.
My perspective changed dramatically. I knew that with focus and effort, I could achieve much loftier goals than I’d previously considered possible. My big goals no longer needed to compete with smaller, less significant ones.
This clarity changed my life and it can change yours too.
So, here’s the tough question: What is the one thing you want to accomplish in your life?
To be fair, thinking about your life’s single biggest goal might feel a little overwhelming…so let’s start a bit smaller.
First, we need to talk about how to set the kind of goals that will keep you motivated and focused, even when things get tough.
If you want to get the most out of the next section, grab your free copy of the “Quit Hacking Your Productivity” Worksheet here (if you haven’t already!):
Good Goals are Clear, Great Goals are Specific
Pop quiz! Which of these is a better goal?
Goal A: “I want to be able to run fast. And I want to get strong.”
Goal B: “I want to run a 20 minute 5k by the end of 2017 and I want to bench press my body weight by the end of June 2018.”
Let’s assume that my current level of fitness makes both of these goals reasonable. If that’s the case, then Goal B is obviously better, right?
Goal A is the kind of goal most people make — it’s vague but grandiose. Who doesn’t want to be fast and strong?
But here’s the problem with Goal A:
I will never be able to reasonably assess if I’ve failed or succeeded. Both “fast” and “strong” are very difficult to measure in this context. If I fail to reach my goal, I’ll never know.
Even worse…if I succeed, I’ll never know.
But with Goal B, I’ll know for certain whether I’ve succeeded or failed. I’ll either reach my benchmarks before my self-imposed deadline or I won’t. This kind of goal is specific, measurable, actionable, and I will know when I’m finished.
Best of all, regardless of whether I succeed or fail in my pursuit of Goal B, I will gain a pretty good sense of how to create my next set of goals.
Of course, this kind of goal is a little scary. Knowing that I’ll know when I’ve failed can cause a fair amount of stress.
Fortunately, this is the good kind of stress gets me off the couch, keeps me focused, and fuels my desire to take courageous action. I know that no matter what happens, I’ll have given my goal my best effort. And even if I fail, I know that I will have improved.
Whatever you’re working toward in your life, the best way to start is with a measurable, well-defined goal.
Consider the following goals. Have you ever made any of these?
Become wealthy…spend more time with my family…read more…take care of myself…eat better…be less stressed…
These goals sound nice but they are impossible to track and they are extraordinarily vague. Unfortunately, these are the kinds of goals we often make (especially around New Year’s).
Compare the poor goals above to these more useful goals.
Create and act on a carefully-defined strategy to recruit 5 new clients by the end of the month.
Spend one full day with my family (totally free from work and social media) each week for the next 6 months.
Finish at least two books (one for fun and one for self-improvement) every month for the next year.
For the next 60 days, wake up each morning and meditate for 30 minutes before preparing a homemade breakfast.
Remove fast food from my diet completely by the end of this month and replace it with home-cooked meals.
By tomorrow, develop and practice a 1-hour stress-reduction routine that I’ll use every day for the next 2 weeks.
Note: the goals listed above represent what I consider short-term goals because they end within the next year. Successful long-term goals (more than 1 year) require the same level of specificity.
Complete Part I of the “Quit Hacking Your Productivity” Worksheet
Once you know what goals you’re trying to reach, you’re ready to get rid of every distraction that might get in your way.
Most people skip this crucial step. It’s easy to come up with lofty, exciting goals. But it’s quite a bit more difficult to courageously remove distractions.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but the distractions that keep us from achieving our goals often don’t seem like distractions. In fact, some of the worst distractions are the ones that appear to be opportunities.
I was recently offered a teaching position that, on the surface, seemed like a good opportunity. The pay was decent and the job suited my skills. Most importantly, I’d potentially have a big impact on the lives of a select group of young people.
But this job would require that I spend less time developing my coaching business.
I needed to carefully weigh my decision. If I took the job, I’d make a little money, but my time would be split between a somewhat impactful teaching gig and my number 1 goal of building a business that impacts millions.
I knew that taking the job would probably mean sacrificing the long-term growth of my coaching business in exchange for a short-term income increase.
Once I realized that the job would be a distraction (a potentially disastrous one), I confidently and politely turned down the job offer without losing a minute of sleep.
Of course, sometimes our distractions are incredibly obvious (social media surfing, binge-ing a show you’ve already watched a dozen times, clicking through a million photos of cute puppies…). These sorts of distractions can have a devastating impact on your ability to reach your biggest goals, so it is crucial that you acknowledge them and take steps to lessen their impact on your productivity.
Now complete Part 2 of the “Quit Hacking Your Productivity” Worksheet.
Discover Your Capacity for True Productivity
Now that you’re clear on your goals and you’ve removed your distractions, it’s time for you to unleash your potential.
Once you finish the “Quit Hacking Your Productivity” Worksheet, leave a comment below answering these two questions:
1) What is your biggest distraction? 2) What is your top goal?