Personal Productivity: What Is It, How Can You Improve It, and How It Can Change Your Life
“I think lots of people have lots of great ideas, but very few people actually go out and try to put them into practice.” – Richard Branson
When people ask me how they can improve their personal productivity, I can’t help but think of this piece of advice from Richard Branson. Love him or loathe him, he has created an empire that has made him very wealthy.
But he hasn’t done it because he had a head start in life or was born with any special talents. He worked his way up from a student magazine, to a single record store and is now worth over 5 billion dollars.
What has been the key driver to his success?
Branson knows exactly what he is and isn’t good at. He understands how he personally adds the most value to his achieve his goals.
Everything else? He delegates that stuff out to others.
“I know I’m a good entrepreneur, but I’m not sure that I’d be a very good manager and there is a difference. My mind is always thinking ahead and wanting to create new things.” – Richard Branson
Branson and his Virgin Group have started and been part of over 400 different businesses. Branson doubled down on his core skills—creating and starting something meaningful—and left the rest to other people.
He is the true definition of personal productivity.
So how can you become more productive too?
Let’s take a look at what it actually means.
What is personal productivity?
Just because Branson was good at starting businesses doesn’t mean you need to follow in his footsteps exactly. Success must be personally defined in order to be meaningful and authentic to you. Blindly following in the footsteps of those hailed as “successful” is a common trap—one that inevitably leads to long-term disinterest and dissatisfaction. Creating a personal definition of success and productivity that feels good to YOU is essential.
The definition I use for personal productivity is the following:
“Personal productivity is completing the actions that move you closer to accomplishing your goals.”
So what are your goals? Do you want to start a billion-dollar company, lose weight, or get a promotion at work? If you are completing actions that are taking you closer to these goals, then you could say you are heading in the right direction, but that isn’t the full story.
I might want to write a book, but writing 1000 words once a week isn’t going to get me closer to finishing that 60,000-word book any time soon.
If you want to measure how productive you are, you can use the following equation:
Input divided by output = productivity
Let’s look at that example again. If my definition of productivity was writing a 60k-word book in two months, then who’s more productive in these two scenarios?
A person who writes several thousand words a week and finishes the book in 60 days?
Or the person who writes 1000 words a week and finishes the book 60 weeks?
Of course, it’s the first one. The first is averaging 1000 words a day; the other is barely averaging 142.
These seem obvious, but for a large percentage of people, it’s the difference between actually reaching their goals and spending their life thinking about reaching their goals. So what stops us from being productive? Why can some people get more done than others?
Think back to the Richard Branson example. He knows exactly what his high-value activities are and spends more time doing those—but everything else is delegated out to others.
I like to think of productivity like the diagram above; it can be looked at in layers. I call this the ‘Circle of Productivity.’
Your goal is right in the middle—this is your benchmark of being productive. If you are moving closer to this goal, then the faster you go, the more productive you are. This is surrounded by the tasks that you need to complete to achieve your goal. These are your high-value tasks and are directly linked to achieving your goal. Some of these will be small tasks you can check off in a day, others will be large and will need to be chipped away at every day, but every task has a value and is a good use of your time because it brings you closer to your goal in the middle.
I like this approach because, while you might be getting a lot done, it doesn’t always mean you are moving closer to your goals. When your goal is firmly positioned in the middle, you can focus on the activities that are directly linked to that goal.
Likewise, creating your first website and finding your first customer are both tasks directly linked to starting a business, but finding your first customer will add much more value. You should start with the highest value tasks. Identify the ones that give you the best return on investment of your time and results.
These are the tasks that stop you from being productive and are unique to everyone. This is the next layer of the circle of productivity. If you want to become more productive, you need to limit or eliminate as many of these low-value tasks as possible in the least amount of time.
The more time you spend on these low-value tasks, the less time you have to take action on your high-value tasks, thus delaying your progress against your goals. Low-value tasks have a way of making us feel productive and busy, but we are really just chasing our tails and never making significant progress. Make a list of all the low-value tasks that clutter up your day. This can be anything from general chores to answering emails, to managing social media—anything that is not your core skill where you personally deliver value. Now implement processes to reduce or eliminate these tasks from your day. This could mean hiring a VA (Virtual Assistant) to manage your social media, write blog posts, and answer emails. Or it could mean hiring a cleaner to take over your chores at home. If marketing, editing, writing, accounts, or any other time-consuming task is not your forte, find a way to delegate it to others. It can be hard to let go and give control to someone else, but it frees you up to tackle the real work and make progress on your goals.
As Branson said, you should only focus on what you are good at, if your strengths lay elsewhere, then get someone else to do the stuff you’re not good at.
How can personal productivity change your life?
You can use the circle of productivity for any goal. It is a great way to prioritise what you really should be doing today, and a visual way to identify exactly what is getting in the way of achieving your goals.
The difference between Branson and all the other aspiring billionaire entrepreneurs?
Branson knows where to focus his strengths—and you should too!
“I just think once I’ve set something up, it’s better if someone else runs it. I can dive in and out and be a pain occasionally, but the day-to-day business is better for somebody else to do.” – Richard Branson.
We all have the same number of hours in the day as the people who have already achieved our dreams and goals. The difference? They have spent more time focusing on their highest value activities.
Question: What are your high-value tasks that will help you achieve your goals?
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