July 26, 2017

Do You Have What You Really Need?

Without a strong foundation, you are going nowhere

We love learning new tips and strategies for making the things we do every day more efficient.

But we were thinking about something different this week:

We talk to so many people who are concerned about optimizing certain parts of their day in order to get more done. But when you really dig down in conversation, you discover what’s keeping them from being productive is usually something so much more basic than how they organize their planner.

Time. Sleep. Energy. Goals.

If you don’t have the basics down, there’s only so much that productivity tweaks and strategies can do for you. You will always be starting a few steps behind.

Success begins so much deeper down. When you have a strong foundation, everything becomes easier and your work has more power behind it. That’s when tips for optimizing the details of your day really start to matter — but not before then.

So this week we are asking: do you have what you truly NEED to succeed?

1. Take a look at your time

Do you start every week playing catch up from last week?

Do you end every week feeling like there is so much left you wanted to do?

Your time is your most valuable resource. If you do not treat it seriously and set yourself up to have enough of it, you will always be falling behind.

Setting yourself up with a good foundation every week is essential. Flying by the seat of your pants usually means having your schedule dictated by the needs of others, which keeps you from making progress on the things that will move you forward.

Here’s how you can do it:

  • Do a weekly ninja planning session. Every week, sit down and have a strategy session with yourself about your time. What is most important to accomplish this week? What do you still need to do from last week? Block this all off on your calendar. (For a detailed ninja planning how-to, read this article!)   
  • Time block your days. Goals are good, but a plan is better. Look at your days as chunks of time and block off each chunk for a different activity. Aim for blocks of time, rather than trying to plan out every 15-minute interval of your day; a too-detailed schedule is too easy to derail and isn’t realistic about how most days go.
  • Overestimate how long it takes you to do things. We all have so much to do. But realistically, if we are making real concrete progress, we can only do a couple of things every day. Pick the ones that are really important, and drill down on them. Prioritize their time. Trying to do it all often ends in simply putting out fires and doing what is easiest.  
  • Embrace repetition and predictability. Getting into a rhythm actually trains your brain to be prepared when you need it most. Embracing recurring meetings (whether with a team or just with yourself) is a great way to reduce variables and decisions you need to make week-to-week. Plus it lets you predict exactly what time you’ll have free every week so you can make plans that don’t get changed last minute.

When you make your time a priority and have a schedule in place every week that works for you, you will get more of the important stuff done.

No one else will ever treat your time as preciously as you will. Are you letting other people or situations run your life, or do you own your time?

2. Start getting enough sleep, seriously

You’ve heard this a thousand times. It is time to actually do it.

If you’re someone who consistently does not get enough sleep, you are undercutting your own abilities. You are choosing to be less successful than you could be.

Without adequate sleep, your stamina decreases. Your ability to make decisions decreases. Scientific studies have shown that a lack of sleep is equivalent to being drunk. You wouldn’t show up to work expecting to shine if you were drunk, so why do the exact same thing by showing up without adequate rest?

Stop treating sleep like it’s optional. It is critical to human survival, and by depriving yourself of it, you are not proving how much better you are than everyone else. You are only forcing yourself to start many steps behind where you could be every single day.

But how do you get enough sleep when you’re really busy? If it’s not already happening for you, then you have to prioritize it and make it happen. That is how anything gets done — you decide it is important enough to make time for. It is literally as simple as that.

If you need help making sleep a part of your schedule, here are some tips:

  • Gradually adjust your bedtime to be earlier. If you normally go to bed at 1:00am, don’t try to suddenly force yourself to sleep at 10:00pm. Instead, try stepping up your bedtime by 15-30 minutes every night until you’re at a better earlier time. This will help you slowly modify your schedule to make more time for sleep, and to reorganize the other activities that used to cut into your sleeping time.
  • Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Most people thrive with around 8 hours of sleep a night. Set up a bedtime and wakeup time that will allow for that amount of sleep. Don’t think you have time for that much sleep? Try cutting just 15-30 minutes of pre-bedtime activity for a week and go to bed a little earlier every night. It will get easier over time.
  • Leave time for a winding down ritual. If you need to be asleep by 11:00pm to get 8 hours of sleep, set aside the time from 10:30-11:00 for winding down so that you are in a restful mindset when you arrive to bed. This means shutting off screens, doing a quiet activity like reading, brushing teeth, etc. Treat it like any other appointment, and stop trying to rush it in at the last minute. The more of a ritual you create around peacefully going to bed, the better trained your brain will become to be ready for sleep at this time.
  • Disengage from the internet well before you get into bed. Getting a work email right before bed wakes up your mind, making you stressed and alert, and less likely to fall asleep (even if you don’t reply), so stop checking your phone or computer 30 minutes before bed. If you get sucked into Facebook or the news before bed, try replacing that time with reading a book instead, which won’t trigger the same subconscious emotional chemical responses as social media and make falling asleep easier. (Plus, those aren’t productive activities, so you’ll benefit from simply cutting that wasted time out of this part of your day anyways!)

Why undercut your ability to be the best you can? Why show up to anything without having done everything you could to be your best?

3. Clear non-essential responsibilities from your plate

Successful executives and celebrities may look like they “do it all”, but the reason they are able to appear that way is because they actually are NOT doing it all — not even close.

There are a million other demands on successful people’s time that they must delegate — otherwise there is simply no time left for the work that matters and the things that make them truly successful.

There are many things like this in your life that you are doing, that you should stop doing. You are wasting your energy on things that could be done alternatively, and there are no prizes for doing it all by yourself.

“Doing it all” should not be a point of pride. It just slows you down and makes you less effective at the things that matter. The real goal is to only do the most important things yourself, and get rid of as much of the rest as you can.

To do this, you need to know your priorities. What is most important to you in your life? In what areas will success make you feel like you are living your best possible life?

And then — what is getting in the way of your time spent on those things?

For me, one of these things is food. Left to my own devices, I will waste hours trying to figure out what to make and often will end up just grazing or eating nothing at all. This is bad for several reasons:

  • Hours spent distracted thinking about food are not productive
  • Not eating well leaves me lethargic and depleted of energy for other things
  • Feeding myself does not move the needle forward on the most important things in my life; rather it is a means to an end

So in my house, my husband cooks. At first I felt guilty about giving up on contributing in this area, but ultimately realized it was a better use of everyone’s time if he cooked, because he likes it, he is good at it, and he can seamlessly make it part of his day (unlike me).

To balance out the chore load, I found a task that worked that way for me: cleaning up after meals and doing dishes. For me, cleaning isn’t torture the way cooking is; it actually is productive time where I can take a mental break and work through ideas.

What is your THING that you get stuck on? What is the chore or task that always feels like a burden, that wastes time, and that does not absolutely have to be done by you? How can you reallocate resources to prioritize not wasting time on that task anymore?

Brainstorm possible solutions. For me this could include:

  • Try meal planning (spending 1 day per week planning and preparing meals for the rest of the week, so that your food is basically already ready when you want it)
  • Join a meal delivery service
  • Partner with a friend who hates cooking to swap a few meals per week
  • Reconfigure my budget to allow for eating out more, so I don’t have to cook

When you eliminate that thing from your life — time spent worrying about it, working on it, being slowed down by it — you create time for the things that matter. It is like a gift.

4. Treat your body nicely

Your body makes everything you do possible. The better it functions, the better you function.

Getting enough sleep is just one way to make sure your body is operating at the highest possible level. There are so many ways to ensure that the vehicle literally carrying you through the day is functioning as effectively as possible.

  • When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that make you happy. This makes you a nicer person to work with (which makes your coworkers want to help you succeed), and naturally helps you bring energy and creativity to your tasks.
  • When your blood is pumping healthily throughout your body, oxygen is getting to all the important places it needs to go — like your brain. Working out regularly (even just brisk walking every day, if it’s all you have time for) is one simple way to keep your systems operating effectively.
  • Different foods have different effects on your body. Whereas simple sugars and caffeine give you a temporary boost, they slow you down over time. On the other hand, vegetables and proteins actually help your cells grow and function, which in turn, helps you grow and function too.
  • Even simple things like posture can affect your ability to succeed. If your back hurts all day, it’s harder to focus when you’re in pain. Doing check-ins to see how your body is feeling overall helps you tap into the places where you need a little help; when you find an issue, try a few solutions like stretching, adjusting your posture, getting a massage, or even talking to your doctor if it seems serious.

It’s easy to not take this stuff seriously. After all, if you wake up in the morning and can get to work, you’re doing alright — right? But just because you might not have visible issues or ones that significantly impact your day, doesn’t mean they aren’t there slowing you down.

Improving the way your body functions will show marked improvements in the way you are able to get things done and the way you feel while you work.

Start with everything you need – don’t hold yourself back

Small improvements only work when they are building on something solid. Take time to assess yourself and your life this week. Do you have what you really need to succeed? Are you done playing catch-up and trying to just get by?

Start with your foundation. Build from there. Once you have that, you can do anything.

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