A ‘Productivity’ Strategy Anyone Can Use for Improved (and Better) Performance
Are you looking for tips to improve productivity and take control of your outputs?
This piece is designed to give insights into my highly-detailed and process-driven productivity system to help you discover some really interesting ideas around how to plan your long-term, mid-term and short-term strategy.
To give some context, I’ve taken a keen interest in productivity and life-planning for over fifteen years — compiling lessons from hundreds of books and following various authors and thought-leaders in the space of productivity and successful habits.
My passion for the subject covers a wide breadth of knowledge from current thinkers such as James Clear, all the way back to more traditional methods such as Getting Things Done (GTD) planning.
Over the years, I’ve created a system for myself which encapsulates a range of methods and approaches from around fifteen different sources to create a unique productivity system that I constantly optimise to inform my daily, weekly and monthly habits.
Join me as I take a deep dive into my three-step process and explain how you can learn from some of the brightest minds in business and psychology to create a bespoke approach that works for you.
PHASE 1: SETTING A VISION & LONG-TERM PLANNING
The first place you want to start is to build a long term vision for yourself — similar to how a business creates its vision mission statement. Vision-setting is a transferable process that can stretch across both your personal and professional life.
Start with questions.
What are my guiding principles?
What’s my why?
Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’ explains how these questions help to give clarity as to where you might want to go in the future. It’s important to remember that you won’t necessarily reach this point in the future, but at least it gives you some sort of direction to help you operate and inspire your daily, weekly, and monthly actions.
Create a Life Roadmap
One of my favourite elements of my productivity process was inspired by a meeting with a CEO and Founder who, upon quizzing her on how she managed to juggle her busy schedule, pulled out an A3 printout of a ‘life roadmap’ that followed her everywhere she went.
A roadmap tracks your progress and measures your current position in relation to your goals. I’ve taken this principle of a physical roadmap and distilled it into a simple Google Sheet which outlines my goals in relation to job progression, side ventures, income, savings, and my overall net worth.
Against each goal, I’ve created a seven-year timeline with six-month increments which I use to mark my progress towards reaching these goals using a simple ranking system.
- Green — I’m hitting my targets.
- Orange — I’m on track to reach my targets if I continue on this trajectory.
- Red — something needs to change if I’m going to reach my goals.
An example life roadmap for illustration purposes only.
Finding Your Just Cause
The next step is to then break your life roadmap down and build your own just cause in the world.
This concept is taken from Simon Sinek’s ‘The Infinite Game’ where he explains how organizations should be building a just cause and taking that out to the world. Similarly, Marc Benioff’s latest book, Trailblazer, explores how organizations need to have a societal purpose, not just a shareholder value or revenue-generating purpose. Finding this purpose is the guiding principles to what makes a great business — again, this is something that can translate into your personal life too.
For me, I’m motivated by the opportunity to give back, help others and do something that’ll add value to the bigger picture. This concept has fundamentally changed how I approach my work and personal relationships.
The best way to set your just cause is to create a written mission statement for yourself that you can call upon if you’re struggling to find your inner fire.
Create Your Fantasy Story
At the start of each year, I write a story for myself. It’s important that this is a story, not a goal.
Creating a fantasy story is something that you can internalize to help you stay attached to your vision and visualise what a fantastic year would look like when you reflect in December. What would you like to accomplish over the next year and what would you view as a really good year?
While it’s easy to get bogged down by the day-to-day realities of working life, writing a fantasy story about how you would like your future to look is an extremely healthy process to reset your focus.
Whether it’s maintaining my health, improving my financial position, or moving house, I write a fantasy story that pushes me to think beyond the daily grind and plant a seed of hope.
I find this particularly useful on difficult days when I’m struggling to find motivation. Pulling up my fantasy story and reminding myself of what I’m working towards is a great way to refocus and keep me on track.
Take Action with a V2MOM
Once you’ve established a solid idea of what vision you’re looking to achieve, it’s time to take action. I’ve borrowed Marc Benioff’s V2MOM (Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles and Measures) strategy to help me collate my values, vision and just cause into a unified plan.
While you may prefer to adopt Google’s famous OKR goal management framework, I enjoy the flexibility of V2MOM. Let’s walk through an example of what a V2MOM might look like for someone who wants to become a global thought leader.
Vision. What would you like to achieve?
E.g. “I want to become a global thought leader in my domain.”
Values. What five core principles will guide your approach towards achieving this vision?
Obstacles. What hurdles will you need to overcome along the way? What barriers are stopping you from getting to where you want to be?
E.g. “I’m concerned that my lack of confidence could cause me to be too critical about my work and restrict my ability to share frequent content.
Methods. What practical steps will you take to overcome these hurdles and work towards achieving your vision?
E.g. “I will start by sharing content with my immediate network to receive feedback from people I trust. Hopefully, this will help to build my confidence over time so that I’m not afraid to use my platform to reach new audiences across the world.”
Measures. How do you know if you’ve been successful and how will you track whether you’re on track to hit your goals?
E.g. “I will create a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) using Google Analytics to track the number of readers on my monthly blog posts. I hope to increase my readership by 300% over the next six months and have over fifty readers across at least ten different countries.
What Are Your Prolific Quality Outputs?
I borrow the idea of Prolific Quality Outputs (PQOs) from Brendon Burchard’s ‘High Performance Habits’ where he explains the importance of breaking your vision into clear actions that you can distil from your V2MOM.
For example, if your vision was to publish a book, your PQOs could include:
- Writing the book
- Having the book endorsed by five thought leaders
- Building a website and a launch process
While something like publishing a book might seem overwhelming, breaking things down into a set of clear and achievable PQOs can make your end-goal seem more manageable.
Create Micro Milestones
Micro milestones are perhaps my favourite part of my entire productivity process. I live my life by setting tangible and realistic milestones that I can hit in the next 2–6 months, given my current situation.
After discovering the term through SaaStr’s CEO, Jason Lemkin, I’ve embraced this structured approach to achieve short-term wins and bring a level of order and accountability to my decision-making. Crucially, micro milestones provide a continuous thread of actions that align with my ultimate vision and offer incremental incentives to guide my actions.
I like to centre my micro milestones around the PQOs from the previous section.
- What is the biggest goal or dream that I want to achieve right now?
- The five moves that would help me progress swiftly toward accomplishing that dream are?
- The timeline for each of my five moves will be…
- Five people who have achieved that dream who I could study, seek out, interview or model are…..
- The less important activities or bad habits I’m going to cut out of my schedule so that I can focus more time on the five moves in the next three-months include…
James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits’ talks about how to build the right habits to succeed in both your career and personal life.
While micro milestones are important for identifying which goals can help me achieve my mission, I’m a big fan of employing keystone habits to work towards these goals through a set of regular, repeatable actions.
For example, if you want to publish a book by the end of next year, your micro milestone might be to write 40,000 words by the start of Q2. If this is your goal, your keystone habit could be to write at least 400 words every morning to ensure you’re on track and achieving a sense of flow.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with Sir Clive Woodward at my old organisation, Hive Learning. I took so much great theory and understanding from his reflections on how he coached the England rugby team to World Cup victory, and his relentless focus on learning to build capabilities and shift people’s mindsets.
I recently read a book by Scott Young called Ultra Learning which outlines a strategy that I’ve added into my productivity system.
Each year I set myself one or two ultra-learning goals that I break down into measurable steps to compare my current status with where I want my learning to take me. I’m continuously looking for new ways to absorb new knowledge, expand my skill set, and enhance my professional performance.
Here’s a summary of my ultra-learning goal for this year:
Optimising Your Morning Routine
At a more granular level, one of the most important elements of my daily planning is sticking to a structured morning routine.
While everyone will wake up differently, building a morning routine that maximises productivity will set you up for success for the rest of the day.
After reading Robin Sharma’s legendary ‘The 5 AM Club’, I was inspired by the idea of optimising the number of hours in each day and discovering new opportunities to meet my life goals. While it might not sound like a big deal, I found that waking up earlier and sticking to a routine radically changed the way I think, live and operate.
My morning routine keeps me motivated on a daily basis and helps me focus on what I want to achieve by beginning the day with a set of rituals. Whether it’s reading, meditating, or journaling, rituals help to reset my focus and prepare for the day ahead.
Remember, there’s no perfect morning routine. Try to keep it simple, realistic and play around with different habits to find those that work best for you.
Building a Time Management Matrix
Chris McChesney, Jim Huling, and Sean Covey’s ‘The Four Disciplines of Execution’ looks at how the discipline of focus, leverage, engagement, and accountability serve as guiding principles to help individuals translate strategy into action.
I’ve distilled these ideas to review my actions in relation to how I value my time. I like to compartmentalise my daily tasks into four brackets:
- £10/hour tasks
- £100/hour tasks
- £1,000/hour tasks
- £10,000/hour tasks
The key to successful execution is to focus your time and energy towards the tasks that deliver the maximum output. I do this by mapping the value of my tasks into a simple time management matrix, which serves as a visual aid to help me optimise my day.
If you don’t have a sufficient time management system in place, it’s easy to fill your day with a never-ending pile of £10/hour admin tasks that won’t help you progress towards your goals.
Next time you find yourself doing this, think about how you could adjust your schedule to prioritise your most valuable outputs.
The Checklist Approach
The final step in my planning phase is inspired by the works of American Surgeon, Atul Gawande. His book ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ explores how the medical profession achieves unrivalled levels of consistency thanks to a rigid checklist system that breaks complex tasks into highly-specific actions.
I’ve translated this principle into my daily scheduling by creating a detailed list of actions that I want to follow in my daily actions. The beauty of a checklist is the ability to deliver a consistent approach, regardless of the varied challenges you face each day.
PHASE 2: DAILY, WEEKLY AND MONTHLY ACTIONS
Once you’ve set your long-term planning and broken them down into a thread of how you like to operate personally, my next recommendation is to put this stuff into action through daily, weekly and monthly practical steps.
Bi-Weekly ‘Life Sprints’
Just as many software development companies and agile startups use sprint cycles to make iterative improvements, I like to operate via a series of bi-weekly ‘life sprints’ to structure my workflow.
Establishing a periodic cadence helps to focus on outputs, not immediate tasks. I check-in on my progress every two weeks to assess how I’m performing against my micro milestones and keystone habits.
Creating a Fierce List
Noah Kagan’ OkDork blog explores the idea of a fierce list to help people align their weekly habits such to nail their main focus for that week. He explains how every action you take will have an indirect impact on your outputs.
If there’s something within the week that you’re looking to achieve, your actions should support you in reaching this goal within each bi-weekly life sprint.
Create a Tomorrow List
My first ever boss introduced a simple concept that has always stuck with me. Every day at 5:30 PM I had to create a ‘tomorrow list’ to help me process what tomorrow looked like, before I left the office.
Not only does daily planning application help with time management and avoids consuming your time with low-value tasks, but it also provides clarity to help you focus your energy in the right places.
PHASE 3: REFLECTIONS & RETROSPECTIVE
Building reflections into your daily, weekly and monthly productivity planning is a vital step to maintain a healthy work-life balance and avoid creating a self-destructive system.
Dave Bailey describes retrospective individuals as crucial building-blocks in world-class teams — explaining that “it’s not enough to put a bunch of smart, accomplished people in a room and expect magic to happen”.
Reflection is a crucial process for your personal wellbeing and to keep you on track when the going gets tough. Retrospective actions are also important for refocusing your mind and putting things into perspective. To quote Tony Robbins: “See things as they are but not worse than they are.
”With this in mind, I love Jesse Itzler’s concept of a ‘life resume’ to capture a real-time record of your achievements and past experiences. The American entrepreneur and business coach believes experience is the single most important thing in life and the source of almost all fulfilment.
Try creating a life resume and think about what has gone well in your life, what you wish you’d done differently, and what you’ve learnt from your past. I find reflecting on my life resume and comparing it with my fantasy stories an incredibly valuable exercise to ease anxieties and support my overall wellbeing.
We all have our fears. For me, public speaking is something I’ve always struggled with and I’ve had to work on with extensive training and coaching.
Tim Ferriss’s TED talk on Fear-Setting explores how unpacking your fears and understanding how they impact your decisions is essential to realising your dreams. Fear-Setting teaches us to think about how we could improve our chance of achieving our goals if we remove the fear that holds us back.
I like to start by imagining what my life would look like if I removed a specific fear, defining how my fears get in the way of my goals, asking how I can prevent these fears from stumping my growth, and finally, how I could repair the damage if my worst fear came true.
While facing your fears may seem daunting, individuals who can rationalise these restrictive qualities and conqueror fear will open doors to a world of new opportunities.
Writing a Grateful List
Last but not least, I’m a huge advocate of creating a grateful list to reflect on the positive elements of your life. Whether it’s being thankful for the people you work for or appreciating your ability to provide for your family, reminding yourself of the things that make you happy is an incredibly healthy and grounding exercise.
Create a Formula That Works for You
So, that’s my complete productivity system. I hope you find it beneficial and don’t worry if you find some areas too detailed for your specific needs — mastering your productivity system is all about refining your process and following steps that work for you.
Everyone’s brain operates differently so I hope you can take some principles from this and start to pull together your own system in both your professional and personal life.
My ultimate motivation to share this information is to help you become more productive professionally and personally to live a more productive and happy life. The key thing is to recognise that your process will undergo constant change — my advice is to play around with multiple systems and take your favourite parts from each to build a unique approach.
Here’s my productivity plan at a glance:
PHASE 1: SETTING A VISION & LONG-TERM PLANNING
- Start with questions
- Create a Life Roadmap
- Finding Your Just Cause
- Create Your Fantasy Story
- Take Action with a V2MOM
- Create Micro Milestones
- Keystone Habits
- Relentless Learning
- Optimising Your Morning Routine
- Building a Time Management Matrix
- The Checklist Approach
PHASE 2: DAILY, WEEKLY AND MONTHLY ACTIONS
- Creating a Fierce List
- Create a Tomorrow List
PHASE 3: REFLECTIONS & RETROSPECTIVE
- Writing a Grateful List
- Create a Formula That Works for You