Tuesday, May 5, 2015

21: Ron's Top Ten Secrets for Personal Productivity

There are many theories about what makes some people more productive than others. Some say it is the ability to multi-task, while others say productive people focus and don't multi-task. Some say it is scheduling time to return e-mail, while others say return e-mail promptly as a means of enhancing communication. I believe the keys to productivity may be different for every person. Having said that, here's my countdown of my “Top Ten” secrets for my own personal productivity.
What are the long-term major goals in your life? Then, how does what you are doing now relate to the accomplishment of those goals? Once you've figured out your lifetime goals (which some may regard as discovering "the meaning in life"), you can then make day-to-day decisions much better.
Personally, I'm a very fast typist. But most other professionals are not. The solution for them is likely a dictation system (such as Siri or Dragon Naturally Speaking), or recording and then sending audio files off to be transcribed (there are many services available for this; some rely on software to transcribe, others rely on cheap overseas labor).
In the workplace, if you are not skilled at properly delegating to others, then you are not properly skilled. This only applies in college if you are working with a group of students on a group project.
Have no one to delegate to? In the early steps of one's career, one is usually the person who someone or everyone else delegates to. As you gain experience, however, you need to focus on your "unique abilities" (as Strategic Coach founder Dan Sullivan) calls them. You need to create time for yourself through delegating tasks someone else can do just as well or better than you.
Interestingly enough, as a professor I have found there is much I would like to delegate, but the delegatee options are few. The solution for me is two-fold. First, I work smarter by creating less work for myself.  Second, I occasionally hire an assistant, out of my own funds. (Why? - What's more important? The money I spend out of my own pocket for an assistant, or my time?)
Don't have time to delegate?  STOP.  Schedule a focus day (another Dan Sullivan task). A day in which you spend the entire day prioritizing, creating systems that shift work away from you, training others, and/or delegating tasks.
Can you afford to attend a conference? Can you afford to take a course for certification designed to make you in your profession? Or take a class to expand your knowledge?
Here's a better question, can you afford not to?
Nothing beats going to industry and continuing educational conferences in person. On my iPad, by the end of the conference, I have dozens of new ideas written down. Most of these are from hallway conversations (or over lunch or dinner) with colleagues and some are from the presentations themselves. But then comes the next step. Narrow the list of ideas down to three and only three items to accomplish.
Yes, conferences are expensive, but if you do them with a purpose and come back with great ideas and new knowledge, then they are worth your time and money to attend.
Education does not begin and end with formal schooling or with conferences. If you are not reading at least five hours of professional material a week, then you'll likely never really master the craft of your profession.
Better yet, spend ten hours a week educating yourself in a particular subject and you'll likely, over the course of several years, become “the expert” whom others will turn to.
Don't try to work and accomplish three things from one list, then turn your attention and accomplish two things from another list.  For me, at least, it is far better to focus an entire day on a particular project.  Most days, my focus is on teaching.  But at times, my focus is on my financial planning practice. On other days, I devote myself to research and writing.
Of course, this item might be personal to me as I have a hard time “shifting gears” from one segment of my life to another without coming up with an excuse to "blow off" the second segment.  So rather than fight this temptation, I just avoid it by seeking to arrange each of my days around a different segment of my life.
Also, for me, I am most productive in the morning.  I try to get to work by 7am (and am often to work earlier).  Then I will save some projects for late in the day, which require less creative thought.  But again, that's just adapting my personal schedule to take advantage of my personal traits rather than fighting against my personal tendencies.
This is very essential. It is another concept I learned from the publications of Dan Sullivan (Strategic Coach).  These "free days" are the days when we focus on family and personal relationships. These are the days when our passions take over with a plan for doing so.
Want to have a really free day? No cell phone. No e-mails. No web browsing. And nothing related to any work activity.
That's not to say that the day is not planned out. It may be a day for shopping, going to see a movie, going out to eat, walking, mowing the lawn, or reading a (fiction) book. It might be traveling, or sailing, or kayaking, or playing tennis or racquetball, or several of these things. It might be socializing with family and/or friends.  Whatever it is, the day's focus is entirely about these things.
The result? Relaxation, as the day goes on. And with relaxation comes greater creativity. I'll frequently get ideas (work-related) as I relax, but on these free days I just jot them down to consider further on another day.
Revise it DAILY.  If you don't have 5-10 minutes to update your “to do” list each day, then you are out of control.
My "to do" list begins with this message at the top: "Make Each Day Count."
I've tried a number of software programs and different methods for keeping a “to do” list, but I keep coming back to a simple Microsoft Word document. In this manner, it is easy to move items up, or down, and add items during the days, etc.
I actually keep several to do lists, all on separate pages of one Word document. I have a list of upcoming tasks for each class I teach, another for my financial planning practice, another for my professional growth and development, another for personal matters to attend to, and yet another for each committee I serve on.
This is about NOT doing something. Let's see, if one spends two hours watching TV a night, five nights a week, then that's 10 hours a week. What was gained?  Sure, there are some shows that are educational in nature and perhaps worth watching. And I'm all for moments when one needs to "gel" or "escape."  (Walking is better for “gelling,” by the way.) But I've never had any client tell me near the end of his or her life, that he or she wished they had watched more TV.  They have a lot of other regrets, but none about missing a TV show.
What is the best way to begin to minimize? Limit yourself to one or two television series to follow. Anything else you watch must be a one-time event such as a sports event, movie, or a mini-series.
If you play video games, set a timer so you know when to quit that compelling video game.
Want to watch TV or play a video game as a way to relax before going to bed? Not the best idea, according to academic research. Part of the light emitted in video monitors and TV screens act to trigger your brain into thinking that it is daylight. Hence, it will keep you awake.
If you need to relax before bed, read a book.
In the end, it all comes down to your ability to sacrifice the present in order to gain more in the future.  To get the (truly) important things done first, before doing other things.
Self-control can be taught, but it must be continually practiced. Even vacations should have a plan. You can have "free days" too, but those should be planned as well. Having free days takes self-control, too!
Self-control begins with getting enough sleep. A study (by Dr. James Maas) has shown that the average college student needs 9 hours 15 minutes of sleep every night. Most people over estimate their abilities, even when it comes to how much sleep they need. I try to get the amount of sleep I need for my age, which is eight hours of sleep a night. And I often get nine hours of sleep. If I'm drowsy during the day (even after lunch), it means I'm sleep-deprived and I'm likely suffering a decline in personal productivity of 20% to 30% or greater.
Of course, I'm by no means perfect at exercising self-control. It takes continual practice. It means doing things that are good for me and conducive to productivity, such as working in my university office (not at home, where distractions are potentially many). It means limiting who has my phone number and encouraging e-mails as a means of contacting me. I practice the ways that help me to maintain focus and avoid distractions.
In my role as a financial advisor, I act as financial life coach to my clients. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t need one, too.
Hire a coach to assist you personally or your practice. Consider rotating coaches every year or two to get fresh perspectives.
Practice and personal coaches usually pay for themselves many times over in terms of propelling you, professionally and personally, to greater and greater success.
Interested in these concepts, and want to learn more?  Try the following. Dan Sullivan, How the Best Get Better - book and CD set: http://www.amazon.com/How-Best-Get-Better-book/dp/1896635296  

Dr. Ron A. Rhoades is an Asst. Professor of Finance at Western Kentucky University's Gordon Ford College of Business, where he chairs the (B.S. Finance) Financial Planning Program. An innovative, passionate teacher, he is the author of Choose to Succeed in College and in Life: Continously Improve, Persevere, and Enjoy the Journey (2014)from which many of these blog posts are derived.

Dr. Rhoades also serves as a consultant to the Garrett Planning Network, a nationwide network of independent, Fee-Only financial planners making competent, objective financial advice accessible to all people. He is the author of several books, dozens of articles, and he is a frequent speaker at financial planning and investments conferences. He is the recipient of many awards for his advocacy on behalf of the fiduciary standard. Dr. Rhoades is also a member of The Florida Bar, and he practices estate planning and transfer taxation for select current clients.

Dr. Rhoades and his wife, Cathy, reside in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
To contact Dr. Rhoades, please e-mail: WKUBear@gmail.com

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