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Your Guide to Maximum Productivity

By Philip Humbert

I've been thinking about how and why some people get more done than others...

Everyone I know is busy all the time. We all have to-do lists, appointment calendars, goals, projects and priorities. We work hard all the time, and yet it seems like (1) there is always more to do, (2) we never seem to do "enough," and (3) we are exhausted much of the time. How can bright, creative people work so hard, be so tired, and still have so much more to do? This can't be right!

It's especially hard when we look around and notice that some people get so much more done than the rest of us. How do they do that?

I'm convinced the problem starts with our ideas about productivity. I've said for years that "time management experts should be ashamed of themselves." We do not manage time! Time just "is." Albert Einstein had some nice theories about time and space going in circles, but to me, the clock goes in only one direction. "Time marches on," and worse, "it flies when you're having fun."

I think our mindset towards time is often wrong, and "time management" systems make it worse. The "experts" have given us to-do lists and weekly planners. We have priority-based systems to do "first things first" and we even put our schedules online so we have them in our Blackberries all the time, everywhere we go, day or night, 24/7, with no time off, no excuses, and no escape.

What kind of life is that? Has it made us more productive? Or more satisfied? More fulfilled or happier? It doesn't seem like it.

See if this sounds familiar. You start Monday with a to-do list and get most, but not all of it done. On Tuesday, you add Monday's left-overs to what you already planned for Tuesday, making Tuesday's list impossibly long. By the end of the day, you complete maybe half of the items, so, again you carry items over to Wednesday and the cycle continues. By Friday you are exhausted and figure you just aren't getting enough done. If you're really smart, you're also figuring out that to-do lists don't work very well.

There has to be a better way, and fortunately, there is. Here are a couple of suggestions:

  1. Momentum is better than goals. I've written many articles saying that goals are useful, but life is about more than checking goals off a list. Life is about flow and living the life we want. Knowing where you're headed and staying on-course is more useful (and more satisfying) than checking items off a list. Know where you want to go and get moving!
  2. A compass is better than a map. Both are good and often necessary, but your internal compass tells you who you are, where you're going, and gives a sense of certainty. Maps can be confusing. Sometimes, they can even be wrong! Find your North Star and follow it. Like a homing pigeon in those old movies, you'll get there.
  3. Values are better than a list. Lists keep growing. There's always a new list or items to add. How frustrating is that?! Living with your values and priorities, and keeping your promises, is a more reliable guide than a completed check-list. Know what you value, what's truly important, and focus on that. Never let other people's have-to's run your life!
  4. Planning is better than listing. An hour's thought about who you are, what you value, where you're going and how you'll get there is far better than any list of things "to do." Begin each day, every week and every year with time to think, visualize, and clarify the most important results you want to achieve. Choose a couple of key items that will make a huge difference and focus all your time, energy, and effort on those one or two things. They matter! Then, if you really want to, list as many extra "to-do's" as you wish. But always focus on the big pieces first!
We live in a world of endless invitations, opportunities and requests. Life is full of attractive alternatives and you can't possibly do them all! The secret is that high achievers simply ignore 99% of the distractions. Instead, they focus on the things they value, the things that move them quickly toward their most important desires in life. Learn to "do" less and achieve more.
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