Personal Productivity Part II

Personal Productivity Part II

In part I of my thoughts on Personal Productivity (PP), I defined PP, outlined the skeleton of my personal system without going into great detail, and narrowed the many theories on PP to a simple three step system.  To recap - 

My personal definition of PP: 

  • Have the ability to clearly define goals, objectives, and responsibilities 
  • Have the ability to optimize the process needed to achieve the aforementioned targets
  • Have the diligence, discipline, and focus to work the process, while limiting or even eliminating distractions 

My personal productivity system: 

  • Set goals, identify life responsibilities, decide the objectives required for successful completion
  • Make a checklist the night before
  • Do it the next day!

In part II I will break down my system into a bit more detail and provide tips and tricks that I use to achieve my goals and objectives.  A caveat before I get into the specifics of my system...As I mentioned in part I, desire is an absolute must for any accomplishment, and in my humble opinion desire trumps the system when it comes to PP.  Do you recall if da Vinci had a smart phone to manage his to-do lists and tasks?  Did Beethoven read blog posts and countless books on PP in order to reach his incredible output? While I am sure these great men had a personal system of productivity that worked for them, above all they had an intense desire to achieve; in some cases throughout history men and women have gone mad with desire for greatness and achievement. Desire is the single most important characteristic to prolific PP...PPP if you will, and I shall assume that desire is inherent to the reader as I write part II. If desire is not part of the equation, perhaps I shall tackle motivation/desire in a subsequent article.  

My system then, in detail: 

1. Set goals, identify life responsibilities, decide the objectives required for successful completion. 

What do we want?  What do we desire?  What is required of us at work, home, school, or otherwise?  The first step to PPP is identifying that which we want to do and that which we have to do, then separating them into goals with a deadlines for completion.  The "must do" or "required" work is easy in this regard; students know when papers are due and real world types know when the mortgage must be paid.  The "want to'" category is a bit more complex as there are seldom external pressures for completing the personal goals that we desire. Setting goals allows us to start with the end in mind and determine clear objectives for the completion of said goals by working backwards.  I suggest the following for goal setting: 

  • List all that is required to do and when, whether it be for school, work, home life, etc. 
  • List all that you personally desire to d0 and determine deadlines for completion
  • For the personal "want to" goals, I recommend a majority of realistic goals with a few stretch goals mixed in.  It is good to dream! 
  • Keep a goal list - write them down! 

Next, we'll want to determine the most efficient steps or objectives to satisfy the completion of the goals. Again I recommend starting with the end in mind and working backwards.  If a personal goal is to write a book, what point do you ultimately want to make? What story do you want to tell? If writing a paper for a class, what is the teacher/professor looking for in your work?  In an extreme example, if newly married or a new parent, what characteristics do you want your family to have in 5 years, 10? 15?  Do you have a vision for your family, an end goal in mind perhaps that will provide you and your family with satisfaction and life fulfillment? I suggest the following for determining objectives and next steps: 

  • Work backwards from the goal deadline
  • Break down the goal into manageable parts...monthly, weekly, daily objectives
  • For long term or stretch goals, the deadline is not as important as the monthly and weekly progress needed to attain said goal. For example, if a stretch goal is to take a family vacation to Europe, while you may not be able to determine a set date, you can start saving every month to ensure that when an opportune time does present itself you will have the savings to go. 
  • An example for a college student with a 20 page paper due in 4 weeks:
    • Determine the professor's expectations and requirements
    • Determine what you will want to add on a personal level...your own beliefs
    • Week 1: Initial research and 2 intro pages
      • Monday: Research, formulate intro/hypothesis/topic sentence 
      • Tuesday: Research, write opening paragraphs 
      • Wednesday: Research, finish first page
      • Thursday: Research, finish second page
      • Friday: Research, review first two pages, relax 
    • Week 2: Continuing research and 8 pages (with daily goals as above)
    • Week 3: Continuing research and 6 pages
    • Week 4: Continuing research and 4 pages, including conclusion, revision, etc. Assuming the paper is due on a Friday, you can then spend Thursday night relaxing while your friends pull the infamous "all-nighter" trying to get the paper done.  

2.  Working from the goals and objectives, make daily to-do lists the night before.  

As noted in part I, there are PP experts and gurus who despise the daily checklist. I am not only a firm believer in the power of the daily to-do list but consider it an absolute must have. Yes, there are some who can keep a mental to-do list. They can get done what they need to get done in a timely fashion, not forget anything, simultaneously align their daily mental checklist with the goals in their head, and do it all while balancing school, social, family, work, etc.. I wonder what more those brilliant minds could achieve with the added power of the daily checklist!  A daily checklist, aligned with your objectives and goals, provides the following benefits, among others: 

  • Eliminates decision fatigue
  • Allows you to work faster and more efficiently...the plan is already in place
  • Keeps you focused and on track
  • Helps eliminate procrastination 
  • The boxes on a to-do list provide excellent either check it off the list or you do not...there is no hiding! 
  • There is a psychological boost when checking a box as done.  It gives you a sense of accomplishment and keeps you wanting more. 
  • Allows you to "keep score" and quantify your PP. 
    • As a swimming coach, numbers guy, and an extremely competitive person in general, I love this one. Let me provide an example of how I keep track of my PPP:

@JakeShell's To Do List Scoring System

  • I align my daily checklist with my weekly goals and objectives the night before
  • I use a three part scoring system to track PP
    • A check mark is done, completed, etc. A base hit if you will. 
    • A circle is incomplete...did not finish, didn't get to it, etc. A strike out! 
    • An X means the task became impossible for reasons beyond my control.  This is rare but can happen, and we'll call it a walk as it does not count as an at bat. 
  • At the end of the day I calculate my to-do list batting average. 
  • I do the same for the week. I just started this system two weeks ago and I am excited to track my BA over the course of months, years, and eventually a career. 
  • The goal is a .900 or above career to-do list batting average.  If the mark of a great student is A's...then the mark of a great to-do list batting average shall be .900 or above.  
  • By making a game of it I increase my motivation a tiny bit more, and by quantifying it I can track my PP in an objective manner. I am the "get it done" type and do not need the pregame pep talk nor external motivation, but games tend to bring out a bit more in even the most motivated of individuals. 
  • An example of my scoring system with my personal to-do list: 

In this hypothetical example I hit .846 on the day...not bad, but those pesky circles will drive me to be better the next day. I was 73/83 for my real checklist last week, coming in at .879.  I have room to improve!  


3. DO IT!! 

This is where the desire and motivation really shine through.  Again, as stated above, I believe the single biggest factor in how much we get done, the quality of our work, and how efficient we are in doing it all boils down to desire and motivation.  The system above is what works for helps me stay organized and align my daily tasks with the goals and objectives I have and the required work I have to do.  But the system means little if the DESIRE and MOTIVATION to execute is absent.  DO IT!!  See the Art Williams speech I noted in part I.  DO IT!  

There are some tips and tricks to help here, but desire and motivation are quite mysterious in their inner workings...Is desire/motivation innate? Is it learned?  Does it have genetic roots? Can it be coached by a mentor, friend, parent, etc? This is perhaps a different topic for a different day...If you are a "Just Do It" type you may not need the following advice. If you find your desire/motivation lacking at times, then read on for ways to coax it from within. 

  • Keep your to-do list with you at all times, and keep it visible. The to-do list will help keep you accountable, and accountability can help when motivation is lacking.  Those boxes will not check themselves! I use the Page Up document holder while at my desk to keep my to-do list visible and I highly recommend the investment. 
  • Limit, and even better eliminate distractions and procrastination. Nothing will kill productivity and sabotage your to-do list faster than distractions.  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc...while social media is valuable when used correctly and efficiently, these tools can be monumental time wasters if one is not careful. TV also falls into this category as do the various day to day social distractions: Be polite, but do not be afraid to kindly ask your friends not to bother you while working on your important tasks. 
    • I did not mention Yik-Yak, Snapchat or similar me a curmudgeon and out of touch if you will, but I find no value in these social media platforms whatsoever, and will go so far as to challenge the reader who finds these outlets useful with this: How can one be serious about PPP and listing their name among the greatest of mankind when so much of their time and energy is spent on such trivial matters?
  • Sleep! Only a select few can maintain high levels of desire, motivation, and energy without adequate sleep. Yes, sleep needs will vary by individual, but the truth is much harder to power through an epic to-do list and maintain a high to-do list batting average if one is not alert and functioning at their highest cognitive ability. 
  • Diet. Similar to sleep, it is a challenge to maintain high levels of desire, motivation, and energy with a poor diet. We know through many studies that cognitive ability...that is to well our brains function, is directly affected by the foods we eat. A sluggish diet leads to a sluggish brain, and our to-do list batting average will suffer. 
  • Exercise. See above. We have plethora of research on diet/lifestyle/exercise and the effects on energy and the brain, and we will not operate at our highest cognitive potential without exercising. 
  • Value your time. we would not be pleased if someone stole our money...but so many of us are fine with people stealing our time. There is obviously a fine line here as we want to be accessible to friends, family, acquaintances, etc., but we also need to be disciplined to get our work done as well. Find the balance.  


I trust you can find a nugget or two of useful information in the above thoughts that you can use in your daily life. The great thing about PP is there is no one way to "do work son," and the system that is best for me may need tweaking for another. Remember that above all else, in my humble opinion, it is desire and motivation that rule all. The system can help, but even the greatest system is useless without some good old fashioned elbow grease! Do work! 





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"Pick Six"

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