By Keith Simon
New Year Resolutions can be just as superficial and performative as Valentine’s Day cards. My wife could say, “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t need a Hallmark Holiday to give me flowers.” Instead, she just appreciates whatever small thing I can pull off.
You can say the same thing about resolutions at the start of a new year. After all, if you really want to set goals or change habits, you don’t have to wait until January 1. But I think a wiser approach acknowledges that there’s nothing magical about the calendar turning over. And that it’s okay for the calendar to aid your desire to become the person you want to be.
Here are a few tips I use to maximize productivity. While the emphasis is on the workplace, I think these easily apply to almost any area of our personal lives. Hope you find them helpful.
How To Maximize Your Productivity
1. Know yourself.
What time of the day are you most or least productive? Which of your responsibilities require the most or least energy? To the best of your ability, align your schedule so that you’re working on your most demanding and important tasks when you have the most motivation to do them well.
I’m a morning person. And I steadily lose mental energy as the day progresses. So I block off mornings for creating content (blog posts, podcast episodes, Bible studies, sermons). I push all meetings to the afternoon. It’s not that meetings are unimportant. It’s just that, for me, meetings don’t require as much focused concentration.
2. Ask yourself: “Why am I on staff here?”
Given the limited resources, why hire my position? What’s my role? What do I need to do to help push the mission of my organization forward? What defines a successful week/month/day in my job?
If you aren’t sure, sit down and talk with the person you report to. You need clarity on this point.
In 1962 JFK visited NASA for the first time and ran into a janitor. President Kennedy asked him what he’s doing. The janitor’s response surprised the president. “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” When you know how your role contributes to the mission, even sweeping the hallway becomes significant.
3. Ask yourself: “What’s the most important thing I can do today?”
There’s always more to do than you have time for, but not everything on your list is equally important. Start your day with the one thing that, if completed, will have the biggest positive impact. Accomplishing your “most important” task will result in a higher degree of job satisfaction. You’ll go home each day knowing you did something worthwhile and contributed to the team.
“Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.” –Peter Drucker
It’s easy to fill your day with unimportant tasks that feel urgent but aren’t really making a big difference to your mission. Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment.
“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” –Stephen Covey
Pro Tip: At the end of each workday, identify your top priority for the following day.
Super-Pro Tip: Write down your top objective for the following day on a post-it note. Then leave it on your desk or workspace so that you see it first thing in the morning.
4. Create uninterrupted time to work on your most important thing.
The best place to find uninterrupted time is early in the morning before the world gets going and your phone starts buzzing. I get that not all of us are morning people. (That will only happen in heaven…JK…kinda. Jesus was a morning person.) Research shows that you are most productive and function at the highest cognitive level the first two hours you are fully awake. So it’s to your advantage to work on important things early.
“One of the saddest mistakes in time management is the propensity of people to spend the two most productive hours of their day on things that don’t require high cognitive capacity (like social media). If we could salvage those precious hours, most of us would be much more successful in accomplishing what we truly want. Why do we do this? Why do we spend our best hours on our least important tasks? Many of us jump into our day trying to take care of all the quick and easy things. Responding to all those overnight emails, sorting our stack of mail, signing off on purchase orders…it all feels so productive! Look, it’s only 11:00 in the morning, and I must have done at least 50 things.”
— Dan Ariely (Duke University), quoted in 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management by Kevin Kruse.
According to Cal Newport, a good workflow is established in 60-90 minute blocks. So it’s more important that we have uninterrupted time at all, rather than when it is in our day or how long it lasts.
5. Be open to a better way.
This means you should regularly reevaluate so that you don’t get stuck doing things the way you’ve always done them.
A software developer won awards for his job performance until it was discovered that he had outsourced his job to a Chinese firm. The man paid a small portion of his salary to the outside firm to do his job. And this allowed him to watch cat videos and surf Reddit and eBay all day at work. He was fired for giving the outside firm access to sensitive information. But you have to admit that it was a genius idea otherwise.
As you reevaluate, don’t be afraid to ask:
- “How valuable is this task to the business? What would happen if I just dropped it completely? Would anyone care?”
- “Am I the best person who could do this task? Is there someone else who could do it better or more efficiently or more inexpensively?”
- “How can I get the same results in a shorter amount of time? What if I could only spend half the time on this task that I currently do?”
6. Learn to say no to things that aren’t as important.
You must be careful not to say “yes” to good things that pull you away from more important things. Remember that you are always saying “no,” whether you realize it or not. Every “yes” is a “no” to something else you could’ve spent that time, energy, money on.
Of course, you should be available to help a teammate out or to serve in a small or seemingly insignificant way inside or outside your area of responsibility. The point is not that you’re too important to be bothered. It simply means recognizing that your “yes” has value.
Here’s how that plays out for me. When I say “yes” to meeting with someone for pastoral counseling, I’m saying “no” to doing something with that time that would benefit all the other people who call The Crossing their church home. That’s not to say that I shouldn’t do pastoral counseling. But I do have to ask whether I’m the best person for that role and how much pastoral counseling I should do.
Other Obstacles to Look Out For
Turn off your notifications. Do Not Disturb is your friend. Find a quiet place to work. Buy noise-canceling headphones. Create expectations within your office that allow you to have a productive work environment.
Designate 2 or 3 times a day when you will respond to email. Don’t respond to everything the moment you get it. Email and texting allow other people to insert their priorities into your schedule. No one sends you an email that says, “Make sure you accomplish your objectives today!” If you’re not careful, emails will pull you away from accomplishing your most important thing.
When you stop to reply to an email, it takes far longer than you think to reengage with the project you were working on. I tend to think this rule doesn’t apply to me and that I can go back and forth seamlessly between email and work projects. But is that true? Am I really the exception? Probably not.
3. Squeaky wheels
There are always people who want you to solve their problems. You have to decide whether their problem is a priority for you. It might be (or it might not). One useful strategy is to help them find tools that allow them to solve their own problems.
“What one skill, if developed and executed with excellence, would have the greatest positive impact on my work?”
You’re probably not going to turn a weakness into a strength. Instead, think of something you’re average at or even kind of good at but could improve. Then take a class, read a book, or consult an expert to help you get better. Examples include question-asking, listening, writing, using a tool like Photoshop, learning a new language. The list is endless. Check out Skillshare or Udemy for classes to get started.
The goal here is not to change everything immediately. Instead, chip away at this list until you’ve maximized your productivity (at work or at home). You just might start enjoying work (and life) more.
Are you ready to start enjoying your life and your job more? Click below to discover the 5 New Years Resolutions you Need to Set and start setting new goals.