Would you consider yourself ‘productive’?
The concept of productivity is largely relative to your unique situation. A productive day for one person, may not be considered a productive day for someone else.
But let’s all get on the same page by defining the concept up front…
Productivity to me is about personal effectiveness. It’s about ‘getting things done’ at a high quality, within the shortest period of time possible, that progress you towards your life goals.
More than anything else, productivity comes back to a feeling, a sense of achievement and progression.
As a business owner or high-performing employee, you are signing up for what is essentially a productivity roller-coaster. The better you get at achieving your daily, weekly and monthly goals, the harder goals you set. The harder the goals you set, the harder you are on yourself if you don’t achieve those goals.
The real challenge is that it never quite feels like there is enough time in the day to achieve the things you’d like to.
“If there was just a couple more hours I’d…”
Have you ever muttered that to yourself?
My productivity indoctrination
Once upon a time I didn’t care about being ‘productive’. It was something that only really came onto my radar when I started working in business.
But now I crave it more than anything…
In no way would I consider myself an ‘expert’ on productivity. I’m just like you, a career-focused individual who wants to get more done and accelerate progress towards my goals.
If my life experience has taught me anything, the only way to achieve mastery at something is to come from a learning mindset. So that’s what I have done when it comes to productivity.
I read ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen. I read ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Steven Covey. I even got a job alongside an individual I considered to be ‘hyper-productive’ and watched everything he did in a day. I read blog after blog from people who have been dedicated to this art for their whole professional life, such as James Clear.
In the end all of that learning means next to nothing unless you put it into action and see things work. So that’s what I did next.
Fast-forward 5 years and here I am writing a blog post about productivity.
Truly being productive is an ongoing battle, but at its core there is something that makes it extremely simple.
To be productive you just need to have the willpower to say no.
Seriously, that’s it.
Say no to anything that is incongruent with your goals. Watching that YouTube video, going to that dinner, replying to that time-wasting email… They are all choices you make on a daily basis that inhibit your ability to be productive and get more things done.
Learn to say no to the goal-detractors, and yes to the things that will progress your objectives, and you will be, by my definition, more productive.
So what does this all have to do with calendar chunking?
Calendar chunking is a productivity tactic that encompasses this concept of saying no to your goal-detractors. It’s a tactic that I found to provide the most significant improvement in my daily productivity levels.
The idea is that you assign a very specific task, or a group of closely related tasks, to a ‘chunk’ of time in your calendar. During that time you will give that task 100% of your attention. Everything else that could possibly distract you during that time is pushed to one side, and you are solely focused on that one activity.
The art of effective calendar chunking is to assign time slots to ALL of your priorities. That way, while you are immersed in your assigned task you won’t have a desire to think about anything else, or feel guilty that you aren’t doing something you need to be. Because that ‘thing’ has its own time in your calendar.
So how do you use calendar chunking to be more productive?
Let’s take a look at a 5-step process to do so…
Step 1 – Set goals
If the definition of productivity is all about the accelerated progression towards your goals, then you need to have goals in the first place.
If you don’t have a set of goals to move towards, then you won’t have any way to understand if you are progressing towards them, or being productive in the process.
Documenting your goals can also help you turn them into something quantifiable, realistic and time bound. These three elements are what make for the most compelling goals.
The way I like to set goals is with a level of hierarchy. For example, you start with a high-level ambition or vision… Something like “Be the best in customer service”.
That ambition alone is where a lot of people stop, but it’s not the type of statement that is going to hold you accountable to anything. What ACTUALLY needs to happen for you to achieve that ambition, and how long will it take?
Once you have an idea of the general direction of where you want to go, then you can set goals that will help you define what that end outcome actually looks, smells and tastes like.
In the customer service example, here are four goals that may contribute to that overall ambition of being the best in customer service:
- Reduce churn rate by X% within the next 6 months
- Increase average customer value by $X by the end of the year
- Attain X more customer reviews within the next 6 months
- Increase customer referrals by X% by the end of the year
Do you see how all of those goals are very specific, measurable and time bound?
For every ambition you have, be it with work, your social life, or health and fitness, you should document a set of goals just like this that guide your activity.
Step 2 – Determine priorities and assign time units
Based on your goals and responsibilities, it’s now time to determine your weekly priorities and set some rules.
For most of us, we have more than just one category of ambitions. For example, you may aspire to achieve things with your career, in your business, with your health, and with your lifestyle or hobbies. Each of these categories will have its own set of goals.
The problem is we all only have so many hours in the week, so you need to get your priorities straight.
How much time are you willing to commit to your work-related goals in a week? (Usually the biggest chunk) What about your health?
The tricky part comes when you are trying to assign time units of priority to each category of your goals and it starts to become evident that there simply isn’t enough time in the week to achieve the things you aspire to within the timeframe you have set.
If this is the case, don’t be afraid to go back a step and re-set your goals with more realistic measures or deadlines.
The outcome you are looking for from this part of the process is to outline a breakdown of how much time each of your ambitions is allocated in any given week. Think of your whole week as a pie chart, and divide it up based on your priorities and responsibilities.
My goals are broken down into four categories, for example… My pie chart looks like this:
It might seem like overkill, but you could actually create a new individual pie chart for each of the separate categories to break down your priorities even further.
Step 3 – Get a digital system
The hard truth is that your brain, or the back of a napkin is not a trusted system for tracking everything you need to do in a week. It might have worked back in high school when your realm of responsibility was narrow and focused, but as you progress in your career or with your business, that realm can quickly get out of control.
To stay on top of it all you need to log everything you do in an electronic system that works for your rhythm. When I say everything, I actually mean EVERYTHING. Every meeting, every new idea, every small little task… everything.
The beauty of creating an electronic system that you can rely on is that it removes a significant amount of stress from your brain. It saves you from worrying about every little thing because you know that everything important is saved, and scheduled to be done at some point.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your email inbox is the right place to manage your tasks. This is a sure fire way of getting distracted and significantly decreasing your levels of productivity.
I personally choose a combination of Basecamp and Google Calendar. I’ll talk more about how Google Calendar plays a part in the next step, but here is an inside look into how I use Basecamp…
Basecamp is built as a project management tool for teams, but it also serves as an amazing platform for managing your important tasks and progressing towards your goals.
At the core of the Basecamp system is what they call ‘Projects’. These projects can be anything, but in the context of this process they are all of the ‘chunks’ within your week that contribute to the goals you have set.
For example, client retention was big on the agenda for my business in 2017 and hence I have a different project set up for each one of my clients. But I also have projects set up for new ventures, marketing campaigns, the sales agenda, my fitness goals and much more.
These projects also have a place in my calendar, based on their priority and assigned time units.
Within each project, Basecamp has a number of sub-sections that help you collaborate with others or manage your individual tasks, such as a to-do list for the project, a message board, automatic check-ins, a schedule, and a place for relevant documents and files.
But one of the coolest things about this system is seeing all of your tasks lined up in a list that is broken down by due date.
This list will correlate with my Google calendar in terms of the priorities I have for every day of the week.
How you structure Basecamp will depend on your specific situation, but it provides peace of mind that everything you need to get done is in a system that you can trust and rely on.
Step 4 – Plan your week
This part of the process adds a more tangible layer to the projects you have in your digital system. It’s where the calendar chunking actually kicks into gear.
You are literally using a calendar of your week – Monday to Friday – to ‘chunk’ out all of the important activities from your digital system, that contribute to your goals, and align to your assigned time units.
The beauty of doing this in a calendar is that your goal-related tasks are given just as much prominence and importance as physical meetings or phone calls. You are booking appointments with tasks, rather than people.
It’s never going to be perfect, and of course there are times when you will need to break an appointment. But I have found that this ritual can exponentially improve your focus and productivity from day-to-day.
Here’s what my weekly calendar looks like:
An interesting thing to note from this visual is that I actually assign time for checking email, and exercise.
Step 5 – Stay on track
It’s fairly easy to plan and put these systems in place, but much harder to stay on track.
You need to strike a balance between pressure and patience. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve everything you want to in a week. But in the same respect, don’t accept mediocrity.
Crave the pressure of pushing yourself and achieving more, but show patience and commit to the long-term journey of small daily improvements.
The reality is that the pursuit of productivity is a lifetime journey. It’s hard, and quite often you will be thrown a curveball that bumps you off track.
To help you stay on track, look to create mutual accountability with people you trust. For example I share my goals with my employees. I have them posted on the wall in my home office, where my friends and family can all see them loud and clear.
How will you create mutual accountability for your productivity objectives? How will you keep the train moving when you hit a snag?