Five keys to getting things done

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We all know people that seem unbelievably productive and we know people who just don’t ever seem to get much done at all. Have you ever wondered what the difference is?

I don’t have all the answers and I am pretty convinced that there is no one secret formula. Some people are ultra-productive because they are very smart. Some have a lot of energy. Some are just very talented.

But assuming you are just an average person like me that is not really blessed with enormous amounts of intelligence, energy or talent, I have some thoughts on how to get things done from my own experience as well as watching highly productive people. It all comes down to these five things in this order.

1) Vision

There are a lot of people who just tread water, trying to survive what life throws at them. Highly productive people are not like that. They know what they are supposed to be doing with their time on earth.

2) Confidence

I know the “power of positive thinking” gurus have sketchy reputations and maybe deservedly so. But I also know this: if you don’t believe you can do something, you almost certainly won’t. Believing in yourself and believing in God’s ability to work through you is a large part of the battle in itself.

That belief has to remain unshakeable even through tough times and failures because those are inevitable. Positive thinking means getting up off the mat time after time believing that the next time will be different.

3) Plan

Highly productive people are about developing and executing plans that align with their vision. They know the things that need to be done and they know the order those things need to be done in. They assign themselves deadlines. In other words, highly productive people are disciplined.

Don’t get me wrong. Those plans do not all look the same. Sometimes, they are ultra organized in sophisticated software. Sometimes, they are just task lists on a yellow pad or Evernote (my favorite). ¬†Sometimes, those plans only exist in a person’s head. It does not matter what the plan looks like. What is important is that there is a plan.

4) Focus

Highly productive people are not necessarily busier than other people. The difference is that they do different things–they do the important things.

I know that reality TV is not really reality but I am sort of addicted to those reality business shows like Shark Tank and The Profit. In The Profit, Marcus Lemonis goes into struggling businesses and attempts to fix them. You always see him do the same thing. He finds what he thinks are the one or two top problems in the business and focuses on solving them. In other words, he is always focused on doing what will make the biggest difference in the statistic that matters most: the profitability of the business.

Businesses get into problems because their owners don’t think like Lemonis. They spend time on things that don’t matter like letterhead and business cards when they should be focused on selling something. Their problem is not their lack of dedication or discipline; their problem is misplaced focus.

When you decide what to do with your day, you always need to know what tasks will make the biggest difference in the long run. Here is a perspective that I have that I want to share with you. Every day, when the day is over, I want to be able to point to things that I did that day that were not just about treading water but were rather about moving forward in executing my plans that align with my vision.

My day’s task list is not ultra organized. It is just a list of tasks in Evernote. They are grouped into two categories: the important things that are plan-related and the other things that just have to get done to tread water. My goal every day is to cross off at least one important task from the first category and at least three of the easiest/quickest tasks from either category.

5) Sacrifice

There is a downside to being highly productive. Look at any highly productive person and you will see that downside. They have to sacrifice things because they know that being focused on the right things means they have to give up other things. Sometimes, those other things are good things; they are just not the most important things.

I wish I could tell you it was different but it isn’t. Highly productive people are not the ones that seem to have lots of free time. They are not the ones that chat at the water cooler very much. They are not trying to work while carrying on texting conversations with six friends. They say no when you ask them to play golf.

There are dangers to this of course: imbalance and a shallow life that comes from a focus on accomplishment rather than other rich things in life such as relationships. So watch out for that. But sacrifice is not a bad thing in itself; in fact, it is a necessary thing if you want to be productive.

So there are my five big things you need to become more productive. No fancy systems or software are necessary. You don’t have to pay self help gurus either. Just work on making sure your mindset is right. That is where it all starts.