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Dean Graziosi
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How Can I Improve My Productivity Skills?

By Dean Graziosi

Busyness is an epidemic in 2021. We wear busyness as a badge of honor, as if being busy is a testament to the value and worth we bring to the world…and that not being busy is an indication of laziness or lack of motivation.

Mental health and self-care aside (those are topics for another day), busyness is a real problem. Why? Because it masquerades as productivity and only serves to compound our stress and overwhelm.

There is a massive difference between being productive and being busy!

Effective time management (and its byproduct, productivity) is not about getting MORE done. It’s not about crossing items off your to-do list (or adding items to your to-do list after you’ve done them JUST so you can cross them off!)

It’s about getting the RIGHT things done to move the needle forward.

We need to think about tasks as “binary” – like 1s and 0s. Absolutes. Black and white.

Every task is either moving you toward your goal or away from it. You’re either climbing the mountain or sliding down the mountain. Making money or losing money. Energizing or draining yourself. There’s no in between. No gray area.

The truth is, productive people and unproductive people all have the same 24 hours in a day. It’s what they DO during those 24 hours that makes all the difference in the world.

So let’s look at three productivity habits that will help you improve your productivity skills…and stop wasting time on just being busy.

Productivity Habit #1: Evaluating Your To-Do List to Prevent Overwhelm

Not all tasks on our to-do list are created equal…but it’s easy to treat them as such. So the first step to improving your productivity is to objectively evaluate your to-do list…with a ruthlessness that would make Cersei Lannister proud.

To hone this habit, you have to learn to ask yourself the hard questions. The key here is to be objective, to remove as much emotion out of the situation as you can. 

  • Does this activity create success and revenue?
  • Is this activity helping me accomplish my goals in my business or life?
  • If I continue this activity, where will I be in 10 years?
  • Am I the only person who can do this task?
  • Does this activity energize or drain me?
  • Am I simply tolerating something that I actually need to eliminate?
  • Is this person or relationship moving me forward or backward?

If you can answer these questions truthfully and without emotion, you will start to see patterns in the activities that are actually moving the needle…and the activities that are just keeping you busy.

How to Cure Overwhelm

So many people cite “overwhelm” as the reason that they aren’t as productive as they want to be. What we don’t realize is that overwhelm isn’t the problem; it’s a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is actually caused by a lack of

  • A clear-cut objective
  • A clearly defined deadline
  • Planning or preparedness
  • Focus
  • A system for productivity
  • Learning from the right person or experience

My good friend Brendon Burchard, author of “High Performance Habits,” has a great take on overwhelm. He says our never-ending to-do lists are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and we experience overwhelm when we don’t have a clear picture of what the end results will look like.  Imagine a thousand puzzle pieces scattered on a table. If I told you, “Okay, put this puzzle together,” what would you do? Where would you start?  You’d probably look at all the pieces, shake your head, and walk away, right? 

Now imagine that I handed you the puzzle box with the final image on it. Does the task of putting the puzzle together feel a little more doable? Do you start seeing patterns in the puzzle pieces? Do you start grouping like pieces together – edge pieces, pieces of certain colors, etc.? Do you start feeling motivated as you begin to see the picture take shape – because you have clarity around what the end result actually looks like? Does it feel more manageable with a system in place to organize the pieces? Yes! Suddenly, a pile of random pieces, or tasks, begins to morph into a gorgeous finished puzzle!

So if you feel the overwhelm start to creep in, step back and evaluate – do I have a clear picture of the final result? Do I have a timeline, a plan, a system? Have I eliminated distractions or asked the right people for help? The overwhelm will soon be replaced by motivation and excitement!

Productivity Habit #2: Cultivating Discipline

Many people have a visceral reaction to the word “discipline.” Maybe you were subjected to harsh discipline when you were a child. Maybe you’ve been told that your grades, your weight, your messy house were all due to a lack of discipline.

But so often, that “lack of discipline” really stems from a lack of habits, routine, or planning. So by developing those habits and routines, we can also cultivate the discipline we need to accomplish our goals. 

Your life is the sum total of your days. Your days are the sum total of your daily actions. Your daily actions are the result of your daily habits. So logically, what you want your life to be is a direct result of your habits. Do you have million-dollar habits or hundred-dollar habits?

How to Cultivate Discipline in 4 Steps

So how do you actually cultivate discipline? It’s actually very simple, even if it’s not all that easy.

  1. Identify the stuff that’s actually important
  2. Decide to do that stuff
  3. Schedule your day
  4. Stick to the damn schedule

“But Dean, that seems so rigid! What about all the fires that come up during the day! When am I supposed to deal with them?”

EXACTLY. If you truly want to be productive and successful, you can’t allow your focus to be pulled away by the things that aren’t moving you toward your goal. You can’t allow yourself to fall back into busyness.

And remember…trying to eat the elephant all at once is a recipe for disaster (and a stomachache). You can’t snap your fingers and suddenly have discipline. Cultivating discipline comes from those small steps you make every day, those tiny decisions that build upon one another to create a foundation for focus and productivity. So where should you start?

Setting Yourself Up for Success with a Morning Routine

A lot of people talk about the importance of a morning routine, and I fully agree.  My morning routine sets the tone for my whole day. 

Before I even get out of bed and put my feet on the floor, I think about

  • One thing I’m grateful for
  • One thing that was a win for me from the day before
  • One thing I want to accomplish today

Then I get out of bed, brush my teeth, drink my green juice, and go work out. (Notice what’s not on that list – looking at my phone! It is NOT part of my morning routine).

This routine sets me up on offense. It gives me the ball, the ability to score, and control over my day.

But when my routine gets messed up? It’s all downhill from there. I’m scrambling to get the kids up and to school. I don’t get my workout or my green juice in, so I don’t have the energy I need to get through the day. The whole day, I’m playing defense. And being on defense all the time is exhausting.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that you have to wake up at 4:30 a.m. or anything like that. The key to a morning routine is that it has to work for you…or you just won’t do it. It may take a few tries to get it right, but once you do, it’s totally worth it. 

How to Cultivate Discipline in your Daily Plan or Schedule

  • Write down everything you want to accomplish in the next two weeks
  • Evaluate that list with the simple question, “Does this activity move me closer to my goal or farther away?”
  • Cross out the items on the list that are NOT moving your closer to your goal
  • Organize that list into the logical order it needs to be done. 
  • Chunk big tasks into smaller pieces
  • Set hard deadlines for each task
  • Look at your calendar and set aside dedicate hours in which you will do these tasks
  • Resist the urge to do something else during those dedicated hours

Remember, just like muscle, discipline is built through repetition…NOT through perfection. Will you screw up every once in a while?  Yes, you sure will. But remember that perfection is not the goal – the goal is actually doing the things in the time you have set aside!

“Cultivating discipline is not that hard once you stop listening to your own B.S. and just decide to do it.” 

– Dean Graziosi

Productivity Habit #3: Being Selfish 

From the time we’re children, we’re told not to be selfish. That we need to share with others. 

And honestly, most of us like to help others. We like to give of our time and knowledge. We like to feel valued and appreciated. But the truth is, if we put everyone else ahead of ourselves, we will NEVER accomplish our goals.

Believe it or not, I say no to pretty much everything that comes my way. Why? Because I choose what matters and I prioritize those things.

This is YOUR life. You make the decisions and the rules. You decide what is a priority.

And remember…if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.

If the idea of being “selfish” is a struggle for you, reframe this idea to being protective instead. It’s imperative that you’re protective of your time, your energy, and your priorities. By being protective of your work time now, you can be more fully present in your family time later. 

Tips for Eliminating Distractions 

  • Determine who and what gets your attention during your protected time. This doesn’t just have to be about work – you need to eliminate distractions during family time, spouse time, and even alone time, too! 
  • Set the expectation with your family, team, parents, or anyone else who may seek your attention so that they won’t disturb you 
  • Stay focused on right now. It’s the only thing you can control.
  • Put away your phone. Lock it in a drawer, leave it in your car, turn it off…whatever you have to do to resist the temptation to just check your email or see what’s going on on Instagram
  • Only turn on your computer to get online when you have to. Staying on your computer all the time isn’t productive…it’s a recipe for burnout.
  • Reframe the way you think about email, texts, Slack, or any other communication method. Just because someone sends you an email doesn’t mean you have to look at it or act on it. You get to choose the action you take. You are in charge of your attention and energy.

The Truth About Productivity

In the end, productivity is really all about priorities. Every time you say “no” to something, you’re saying “yes” to something else – and that something will either move you toward your goal or away from it. So train yourself to not see every item on your to-list as equal. Be protective of your time and resist the urge to fall back into the “I’ll just do this real quick” habit. Our productivity – and our lives – are defined by the habits we do every day. 

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