This last year, as I’ve juggled what has felt like hundreds of priorities due to my work with the startups of Mindshare Ventures, as well as my own startup venture, AtlasRTX, I’ve really had to redouble my focus on personal productivity. While a lot has been written on this topic over the years, I wanted to share my personal philosophy on the matter.
As you’ve probably learned about me by now, I like things in threes, fours, or fives :-). In this case, we’ll talk about four principles. By the way, the fact the four principles make up the acronym ‘SPAM’ is entirely, and rather unfortunately, coincidental :-).
It wasn’t until age 35 that I realized how much of my life’s complexity was self-imposed: I had created a great deal of my personal and professional complexity. Since then, I’ve really taken the principle of simplification to heart:
- Do what’s worthwhile: is everything I do worth doing? If not, stop doing it!
- Own the minimum: is everything I have worth owning? If not, donate or sell it!
- Select relationships authentically: am I spending my time with people I want to spend time with? If not, recover wasted time!
I’m afraid that very little can be done to improve on an old productivity tool: the checklist. I rely on them heavily but, more importantly, must prioritize what is truly most important:
- Identify 2 challenging goals weekly: what are two biggest goals I must achieve this week, one personal and one professional?
- Identify must-do and can-do actions: what “must get done” today and what “can get done today” to move the ball forward toward my weekly goals in #1?
- Maintain a to-do backlog: what do I need “to do later”, “to do soon”, and “to do today”; the latter comes from #2 above. Make sure every action is captured in your backlog in one of those buckets.
This one is rather simple: nothing gets done without actually doing the work:
- Allocate time to getting stuff done: have I blocked out enough time today to get my prioritized goals for the day achieved? If not, block out more time or adjust the backlog list for the day.
- Leverage “highest & best use“: is there anything that I can delegate to a colleague on my team? Delegate whenever your time is best spent on something else.
- Break big projects into smaller tasks: is the project too overwhelming to get started? Break it up into a bunch of smaller, more achievable wins.
As the business guidance saying goes, “you can’t control what you don’t measure;” I believe this applies to personal productivity. I was shocked earlier in the year when I realized how much of my time was spent on less-than-critical activities; so, here’s what I suggest:
- Track your time: do I know where I’m spending my time? It’s hard to apply principles #1 and #2 without a good understanding of where your time goes; you’ll be surprised how much time you spend doing things you didn’t think about (e.g., in a car, doing administrative tasks, etc.)
- Track your trend: is my to-do backlog getting deeper, shallower, or staying steady? Depending on the trend, revisit principles #1 and #2 above.
- Reward your progress: I deserve a metaphorical carrot as a reward for achieving what I set out to accomplish; what’s a reward that’s commensurate with the goal (from a couple of hours off to do something fun to an overseas vacation for a year of hard work)?