10 Productivity approaches to explore to get the work done and make time for life.
You Ain’t Gotta Go To Work, Work, Work, Work
But, as the song goes, you gotta put in the work. I love the idea of work, intellectually. It’s really interesting. We all have to do it. We (almost) all assign a lot of value in our lives to our “work product” or how we contribute to the world. Some of us “go to work” to feed our families. Some of us go to work because we’re driven to make a difference. Most of us, are striving to a little bit of both. We have crazy busy lives AND a lot of stuff (hopefully) that fills our cup outside of work. But, most weeks it feels like there is WAY (LIKE WAY) too much to get done and many of us find ourselves sitting there on Friday frustrated that our efforts fell short of our ambitions.
How In The World Do We Get It All Done?
Good. Me too. I know my purpose. I know why I work. It’s to provide for my family, make the world a better place and move us all forward. I’m working towards a goal of being financially independent, of having the ability to do what I want, when I want and with people that have meaning to me. But, man…some weeks just feel like I’m riding in a literally dumpster as it careens down the hill on fire. Does this sounds like you? If so, this question is for you. How can we do both? Do big, meaningful work AND live a rich full lives outside of work; filled with friends, family, community.
Ever Heard of Parkinson’s Law?
It’s this theory penned by a humorist named Cyril Northcote Parkinson, which essentially says “Hey dummy. There’s a reason that you get to the end of your day/week/month feeling like a failure. The work will just expand to fill up your life if you don’t have a system in place.” Parkinson’s Law was first used to explain why bureacracies get bigger, But, it’s also super helpful as a way of thinking about loads of different types of work, including PERSONAL PRODUCTIVITY.
So, if you find yourself on the struggle bus, In part, you have this asshole’s theory to thank for it. But, you also need to take a hard look in the mirror and realize that it’s on you too and not some dude from the 50’s.
Ready To Make Some Productivity Changes?
You and me both friend. A few months ago, I started a journey to casually investigate some of the things that others are doing to get more productivity out of their weeks AND I started experimenting with some of these same approaches myself.
So, let’s commit to some things.
- We can and will take control of our work weeks.
- We WILL prioritize our lives outside of work more
- We SHALL commit to understanding the difference between busy work and meaningful work.
- We are committed and open to loving/respecting ourselves enough to figure out what works best for us.
- And yes….we will be open to trying new shit. That chid mind is the only way to embrace these new approaches (because some will be hard).
10 Approaches to Productivity That Might Save Your Week
Okay! With the above commitments in hand, here are some solid approaches that you can use in our company, with. your team and in your personal life to end more weeks better than you started them. I’ve learned some productivity lessons the hard way from being self-employed and a business owner for nearly 20 years.
- Really Understand Your Week: David Baker of Punctuation.com said it best. “There are three kinds of days in your week. “Get Shit Off Your Plate” days, “Create High Value” days and “Live in Context” Days. Know that each of these will need regular attention, but know which ones help you create the kind of momentum you need. 🙄
- Set Reasonable Expectations/Goals: Just trust me on this one. There is mental and emotional momentum you generate when you finish things. And the opposite occurs when you end the week with a massive to do list still intact. Remember, part of this game is getting good at work so you don’t take it home and into your personal time (which is vitally important). 🎯
- Prioritize “Crucial” Stuff: Remember those “Create High Value” days? Know what’s important to get done and what’s not and make the priorities just that. In our shop, we call them “crucial results”. Simply put, they are the things that fall into one of two categories: Getting them done either generates big results and momentum (ex: “If we can ship this proposal, we’ll be in the running for that major account.”) OR prevents bad things from happening (ex: “If I don’t get this product launched by Wednesday, we’re going to miss the big announcement date.”). 💥
- Time Block or Else: Listen. If you’re not protecting creative time, strategic time or deep work time, then that’s on you. Some stuff just simply requires you to unplug and stay laser focused. I practice time blocking regularly for important stuff, but I also time block banks of “nothing on the calendar” time to batch the things that roll into my view that I do need to deal with just not in the moment. Here’s a great article on time blocking for you from our friends at todoist. ⏲️
- Try Monk Mode: Have trouble with focus? Try to be like a monk. Monk mode is a period of enhanced focus, discipline, and productivity where you eliminate as many distractions as you can and commit yourself to completing a goal. It’s good for task management, but it’s an even better life practice that can be applied to lots of things. But, you have to create the right environment. I enjoyed this productivity read from Jeroen V on Medium. It helped me better understand what monk mode is and how it’s an approach to life (and not just a productivity hack). 🧘🏼
- Eliminate Distractions: Need to do some deep work or some focused work? Why the hell do you bring all the distractions of modern day work and life with you? That’s simply cray cray. Turn off the phone (or at least put it in do not disturb). Put do not disturb setting on you laptop. Find a distraction free place to get that work done (remember those workspaces? Way better than your home office or a coffee shop for deep work). Silence the chimes, pushes, pings, etc. Every time you pause to look, read, listen etc you throw yourself off your game and get nothing done. 🦗
- Explore The Pomodoro Technique: If you are looking for a smart way to bang out a bunch of smaller tasks within a timeframe and normally have a lot of open ended tasks that could take forever if you let them, try the Pomodoro Technique. It’s an approach where you break tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks with dedicated short timeframes. Think of it like a “mini-sprint” with breaks. Here’s a good read on how to implement this. Promodor = Productivity 🏃🏾♀️
- Take Breaks: Yes. Take breaks. Pomodoro says so. 😊 Take a 10 minute break for every hour of focused work you put in. Change your scenery when you find yourself being unfocused or stuck (walk anyone?). Breaks also serve up a bonus…build in an automatic water bottle chugging 30-second session into your break to make sure you stay hydrated all day. For me, every time I use the bathroom, I take a 30-second pit stop at the water fountain. Non-negotiable. #HydrateorDie
- Wrangle Your Meetings: Listen. I’m collaborative. I love meetings with others. I think they are super valuable for creativity/innovation. At the same time, I know people who literally don’t ever get out of their chairs b/c they are in an endless stream of meetings (that’s not right or healthy). If meetings make your list of “things that I think get in the way of me doing great work”, then do something about it. Can you cut a meeting time in half with a more focused agenda? Are there meetings that aren’t 100% critical that you be there for? Delete. Can you restructure how your team meets overall to tap into some extra “productivity” time? I bet you can. It is 100% worth examining.. Here’s a good resource on the topic (with some sobering stats). 🛑
- Reward Yourself: When you accomplish something big, reward yourself in some small way. Maybe share a win with colleagues (we have a #winning channel in our work cooperative for people to do just that). Treat yourself to a bevvy or that break I was talking about before is a proper reward for productivity. 🎁
- BONUS (We just couldn’t resist)!
Delegate (Responsibly): In our design firm, Period Three, we used to get these awful referrals from one of our “partners”. They’d send over work to us that they had already passed on. It wasn’t a good client or a good fit for them and those referrals ended up (surprise surprise) being trash for us too. Don’t be them. If you’re going to delegate tasks (and you 100%, absolutely have to to get anything done), be a responsible delegator. This could be a whole other blog post, but here are some quick tips. 🏎️
- Don’t be a “drive-by delegator”: Deliver clearly communicated tasks, with specific deadlines and understood expectations for success. Don’t just “drive by” and drop some shit on a team member.
- Delegate Strategically: If there are things on your plate that you’re not good at? Give them to people who are? Don’t just hand out trash to someone else. Leverage your teams skills to get more done together.
- Delegate For The Right Reasons: Don’t give someone something because you don’t want to do it. Put on your big boy/girl pants and do the hard stuff too.
If you’ve made it to the bottom of this list…you have now “invested” 15 minutes of your precious time into bettering yourself and your work week. Now….go put one or more of these ideas into practice to start generating an ROI.
Want Some More Productivity Convo?
Looking for a little more? Check out this great episode on the Communal podcast where Greg and Gene dig into how we structure our weeks to avoid going insane. It’s a really good (and candid) conversation.
About The Author:
Greg Hilton is the cofounder and managing partner for SOCO, SOCO is a thriving platform and community focused on supporting creators, indie workers and entrepreneurs just like you. He’s an avid outdoorsman, creator and storyteller. He’s also been self-employed and a business owner for nearly two decades and has worked with hundreds of solos, creators and entrepreneurs to help them lead better and more meaningful lives.
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We’ve spent the past month discussing finances in the SOCO community. It’s a popular topic, and we wanted to dedicate a month focused on independence talking about financial freedom.
It’s a time for the community to ask questions, participate in monthly challenges, and learn how to manage their money better.
As July comes to a close, we’ve rounded up some good advice from our members and resources shared in the community.
Create a Rainy Day (or 911 Fund)
As one of our members put it, you need a 911 fund.
It’s money you set aside when things don’t go well. For example, an unexpected car expense, an uncovered medical bill, or (gasp) your AC starts having issues in the middle of a Columbia summer.
Most financial gurus will tell you to have 3 to 6 months of living expenses saved to cover the expensive stuff life throws your way and to help in the event of a job or income loss.
Get started today by setting up an automated transfer to a savings account and create a goal for how much you need to be saved based on your lifestyle and expenses.
Get Tools and Tech to Help You
Finding the right tools can help you hit those money goals. And the best tool you can have is a budget (okay, calm down, we know you’re thrilled about budgeting).
If spreadsheets aren’t your thing, there are plenty of great apps and online resources to help. Try this list of the best personal finances apps which are Certified Financial Planner approved.
One member recommended You Need a Budget (YNAB) because it forces you to budget the money in your bank account, so you prioritize your needs.
Set Realistic Goals
It’s essential to know what’s going on with your money.
Get organized on what’s coming in (income) and what’s going out (expenses). Then, work on creating goals for your emergency fund (911 fund), future purchases, travel, and whatever else you have going on in life.
When you create goals, look honestly at your finances to see what’s feasible. And give yourself the flexibility to adjust when you need to.
Know Where Your Money is Going
Bottom line, you need to know what’s happening with your money. Look at credit card statements and transaction history to see where you spend most of your money.
If you’re struggling to save, find areas you can cut (like streaming services or Amazon lightning deals).
Sometimes our spending can go up with our income.
“Income creep” is real and can happen in the blink of an eye. NPR has a few great ways you can watch out (and prevent) it in this article.
Increasing your financial knowledge will payoff continually.
And it’s a long game.
The important thing is to continue re-evaluating, adapting, and staying committed to your money goals.
I live my life in the gap. Every day. And I bet you do too.
I’ve always been this way. A former boss and one of the best mentors I’ve had professionally, Neil McLean who is an EOS Implementer used to tell me this regularly. He knew it. He saw it. The pursuit of creating value, building community and making a difference drives me. Where I am right now today is not as good as where I’ll be when I accomplish the next thing (sound familiar?). That’s the gap. The “gap” between where you are today and where you want to be in this “ideal” future. It was coined by a guy named Dan Sullivan, who has been a growth coach for high achievers for decades and has even written a book about this called “The Gap and The Gain”.
For many, living in the gap can be a tremendous motivator, pushing you to achieve more, create more value or impact more people’s lives. But for a lot of us, it represents a moving target that we’ll never reach…leading to tremendous frustration, angst and dissatisfaction.
Translation: Being unhappy whilst simultaneously working your ass off. No bueno.
The best analogy I can give is the distance runner that finishes a race and immediately signs up for the next marathon..never taking a moment (hell, take a bloody day) to pause and appreciate what they have accomplished.
This is me and it has brought me as much pain as fulfillment in my more than a decade of being on my entrepreneurial journey. Think about the mind fuckery behind this concept. If you’re “living in the gap” constantly, then every time you accomplish something, your brain tells you that you haven’t reached your goal yet. Living in the gap tells you that what you just did is not good enough. And for me…it’s just simply exhausting…
I bet you can imagine all sorts of ways that this could screw you up. You do something meaningful for your life partner and their response is “great, but did you do the other thing I asked you?” A kid gets his first hit (ever) in Little League, but strikes out the other three at bats and his father says “Not bad, but you could have gotten four hits.” A founder who tracks her KPIs every month, but is comparing those metrics to where she WANTS to be and not to where the company was a year ago and feels like she’s never making progress.
Does this resonate? Did you just twitch a little? Are you crying in a puddle of your own tears? It’s cool. Because now you know about this thing called the “Gap”.
This month in the SOCO Community, we’re celebrating the halfway point of this year and taking some stock of where we are and what’s next. So in that spirit, I wanted to explore how we might be able to live in the gap in a more meaningful way. Here are five things I’m trying to do to be more present and live more meaningfully in the gap. 🙂
- Recognize it and Own It
Acknowledge that you are a person that lives in the gap. That you might never get out of the gap and that it’s okay. Acknowledge that this might be who you are and practice some radical acceptance of that. It’ll free you (a bit). Now that you know about it, you’re going to see it everywhere. Take stock of that, recognize it for what it is and give yourself some grace when your “gappy mcgapperson” rears its ugly head.
- Take a Break
One of the best ways to combat this “living in the gappedness” is to force yourself to take a break to invest in other areas of your life. Physical wellness, mental wellness, emotional wellness or relational wellness. Because let’s face it. If you live in the gap, you’re dragging the people in your life along with you. And that ain’t right.
- Turn Around, Dummy
Listen. One of the most powerful ways that I’ve combatted the gap in my personal and work life is by just pressing pause and turning my head around 180 degrees. Take a look backwards 6, 9, 12 or more months to see how far you’ve actually come in relation to whatever it is that you measure (business KPIs, miles run, etc…). 9 times out of 10, the chances are that you’ve made progress. And that’s worth celebrating (just a little bit 🙂 ). As Dan Sullivan said, “When you measure backward, you increase your confidence, energy, and satisfaction”.
- Get Rid of Ideals
Ideals are visions of future success that are unattainable. Sometimes they are ideals that you have imposed upon yourself. Sometimes they are ideals that society, your community, your culture or your family have imposed upon you. Get rid of them! Dan Sullivan nails it when he talks about ideals being like the horizon. “You can see the horizon—you can drive toward it, and it will point you in the right direction. But nobody ever arrives at the horizon. Even if you were to arrive at the exact point you were envisioning on the horizon, you’d never know because it would feel just like where you were before.”
- Measure Small and Often
I’ve found one of the best ways to deal with the gap mentality in addition to the above is to measure small and measure often. What does this mean? Have metrics of success you track? Look to make small progress on those regularly (maybe even daily). Ever heard of 1% Every Day? Great example of living this idea. And here’s a great video on the Kaizen way.
I’ve been living in the gap my entire adult life. I’m just now starting to come to terms with that and working towards living more meaningfully between where I am and where I want to be. Hope you will too.
PS: Want to dive deeper? Listen to my partner Gene Crawford and I as we dive deeper into this topic on Communal, The SOCO Community Podcast here.
- Best Goal Measurement – https://resources.strategiccoach.com/the-multiplier-mindset-blog/the-best-goal-measurement-strategy-for-entrepreneurs
- Dan Sullivan – https://www.strategiccoach.com/
- Gap and The Gain Book – https://gapandgainbook.com/
- The Art of Manliness: Get 1% Better Every Day – https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/behavior/get-1-better-every-day-the-kaizen-way-to-self-improvement/
By Greg Hilton
Passionate about building innovative, entrepreneurial and dynamic companies and communities. I like big ideas, going against the grain, and working with incredible people. Stuff I’m a part of: Period Three, SOCO Coworking Space, Rolling Rock Investments, 1 Million Cups Columbia SC.
Greg Hilton is an active entrepreneur and has launched and worked with over 100 early stage ventures. He’s the Cofounder and Managing Partner for SOCO, the region’s first coworking community and is Chief Opportunity Wrangler at Period Three an industry leading web design shop.
The fear of failure takes many shapes in business owners, freelancers, and creatives.
For some, it looks like a handful of opportunities passed by. For others, it looks like endless tweaking and refining – never sharing – because, what will people say?
Working from fear is a dangerous game that handicaps our greatest skills and talents. It’s also damn hard to conquer on your own.
Because this is such a shared experience among SOCO members – and because many members have hard-won lessons from fighting this for years – we gathered folks together in August to chat through ways to put fear back in its place.
Everyone falls short
We kicked off the session by leveling the playing field. Folks were honest and we learned that, from lost business partners to pissed clients, everyone has had notable failures.
Good habits make failures feel epic
As we were talking through our recent mistakes, one member pointed out that the ups and downs people shared were normal.
Why, then, did they stick with each member as mega-failures?
Turns out, our desire to do things well intensifies how we perceive failure. We know what extraordinary looks like, so even ordinary or okay smacks of failure.
We don’t like it, but failure is an efficient teacher
There’s a lot to learn from our mistakes. Especially if we are willing to hear them out.
Members have learned, among other things:
- To work for themselves
- How to schedule more effectively
- How to own mistakes and make every effort to rectify them
- Double-check inputs on the command line
We’ve also received some pretty big benefits at the hand of failure:
Moving from fear to freedom
Despite the many, many things we can learn from failing, we still fear doing so. When we fixate on failure, members say we suffer handicaps like:
- Holding back on new projects, based on past reviews
- Stagnation and immobility
- No room for growth
- Missing out on new experiences, places, and people
There’s another option, though. Instead of marinating in fear of failure, we can boldly approach our mistakes, learn from them, and move on wiser.
Here’s how members do this:
Take one big step this month
Before we closed out the session, we asked members what one thing they would do if they weren’t afraid. The answers were inspiring. Members said they’d do things like publish a book, travel to cool locations, and change jobs.
What about you? What one specific thing would you do if you weren’t afraid of failing?
Don’t go at it alone
Each month, we host a group chat in Slack about a pressing topic in on our community. These chats are called Slack Sessions and they’re open to all paying members.
Already a member? Join the #Slack_Sessions channel to stay up to date on upcoming chats.
Not yet a member? Schedule a free tour to check out our spaces. We’d love to show you around and introduce you to a few of SOCO’s rockstars.