Jedi productivity tips

"It's been a good year," Linda said when we sat down together in December to debrief 2015. "I've accomplished most of the important things on my list. My kids are in a good place. My husband loves his new job."

Linda is the Chief Marketing Officer of a large division of a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company. She is already a high performer - beloved by her team, respected by her peers and the CEO.

Linda did have one tough setback this year. She had been second choice for a promotion to Chief Marketing Officer of the entire corporation - a strong second choice, but second choice nonetheless. After this disappointment she had licked her wounds, gotten feedback, and went on to have a great year. 

"I'm ready to kick it up a notch and go after the next big thing," she said in our discussion. "But I'm not exactly sure what to do. I can't imagine being able to work any harder than I already am."

The new year is the perfect time to take a look at your habits and see if you can eke a little more productivity out of the (long) hours you already put in.

Here are 3 Jedi productivity tricks for the new year: 1) Create a power morning routine; 2) 20- minute activities; 3) Afternoon reflection

1) Power morning routine:

Have a regular ritual that makes you feel in control and ready to conquer the world. It may feel like a luxury but in fact it's a necessity to have a productive day.

Your power morning routine could be a vigorous workout, getting outside for a 10-minute walk, or 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation. You might write out a gratitude list.

Consciously choosing something that will make you feel in control in the morning is much better than leaving the first few hours of the day to chance. Once you have a routine and you do it over and over, it becomes a habit and doesn't take up time and energy in your brain - you just do it automatically. Once you repeat it enough, you will find yourself responding to the routine itself. A morning routine that centers you, for example, will train you to feel calm and ready immediately by simply starting the routine. 

Linda realized that her mornings were chaotic. That made her feel frazzled, and she took that feeling to work with her. How could she start off more calmly? 

She decided to incorporate 2 actions: planning out her kids' clothing the night before would be a big time saver. And she would wake up 20 minutes earlier, before everyone else was awake, to savor a cup of coffee and write out her daily plan. She started this immediately and found these two things made her feel grounded in the morning. She carried that feeling through to the rest of her day. 

2) 20-minute activities

Many people feel overwhelmed. You have a busy job, a busy family and personal life - how can you find time to do the "discretionary" things that make the biggest difference in your career when you feel like you have trouble simply keeping up with your job?

The best strategy for this is to break things down into micro steps. If you devote 20 deliberate minutes per day (just over an hour and a half per week) to something specific, by the end of the year you'll gain tremendous expertise or rack up a huge number of accomplishments.

You can focus on anything in these mini-sessions: learn a subject more deeply; improve your "executive presence" skills, expand your network - anything you want to improve can be tackled in small time chunks.

Linda knew immediately what she wanted to work on. "The feedback that I got after missing out on the promotion was that I had not done a great job distinguishing myself. I am very well known within the company, but I have nowhere near the visibility I should externally."

We agreed that in 2016 Linda would focus on increasing her visibility. She broke this goal down into 20-minute activities. She would spend the first few sessions researching the right conferences to attend. Next she would use the time to send out emails and initiate phone calls to network her way onto panels. Then she would use the time chunks to hone the subject matter she would speak about.

As we sketched this out and put in on a timeline, she saw that these small sessions of deliberate action would probably get her to her goal of attending 2 to 3 conferences and expanding her visibility as an expert within the first 6 months of the year. "It's really just about the commitment to do it," she said. Yup.

3) Afternoon reflection

You can start off your day ready to crush it. You can build in your productive 20-minute activities and feel on top of the world. You can have all the feel-good juju in the world. But it's going to run out. In the afternoon. When you and everyone else are coming down from their carb and sugar high from lunch.

So you need to regroup. Reflect in the afternoon and create a ritual that will help you reset yourself, power through your day and finish strong.

Linda realized that she lost focus in the afternoon and simply wasn't as efficient. So to regroup she did 2 things: she scheduled time for "10-mindful minutes" where she did a version of meditation. And she filled in the blank for the following: "I will be upset if I go home without doing _________."  She then focused on making sure she made progress based on her answer.

By using these tricks for just a few weeks, Linda saw that she increased her productivity and the quality of her work enormously - others around her even commented on it!  She also saw that she was doing more of the right, strategic and proactive items on her plate. And she had even more energy since she was so psyched and motived by her great results. Not bad!

What can you accomplish by creating more deliberate habits each day? Try these tools and see. Send me a note to tell me what you commit to trying!

You can do anything in 20 minutes per day 

20-minutes. In less time than it takes to skim through your Facebook feed you can make significant progress on the areas that will have the most impact on your professional life.

Here are 2 examples of how you can plan for and use this time.

  1. To build your executive presence in 20 minute chunks:
    • Write down 3 people in your workplace who have executive presence and why. Write down their specific behaviors.
    • Pick one behavior and practice that every day for 20 minutes. Put reminders on your calendar to practice that behavior.
    • Ask a close colleague to spend 10 minutes giving you feedback regularly on what he or she notices about your executive presence. (Spend the other 10 minutes giving that person feedback on the topic that he or she wants.)
  2. To improve your network in 20-minute chunks:
    • Spend 20 minutes every day for a week reviewing your list of contacts. Take notes on who you haven't connected with in a while, who might be very useful for you down the road, who you don't know that well and would like to know better. 
    • After you have sorted your contacts, send out 3 emails per day to connect with people. Ask if they would like to catch up by phone for 20-minutes (see where this is going?) or have coffee or lunch.
    • Schedule lunch or coffee dates in person with someone at least 2 times per month. (You can count that as your entire "20-minute time" for the week.)
    • On the weeks you are not having lunch or coffee, schedule 20-minute calls with some people to reconnect. They'll appreciate the time too!
  3. Bonus item: use your 20 minutes every day for a week or two to write out your "20-minute game plan" for the next quarter.  Having small, concrete action steps helps organize your time and, ultimately, save time.

Not as hard as you thought, right? What are your 20-minute activities that will help you achieve your goals? Send me an email to let me know!