Every ambitious person is on a constant quest to accomplish more every day. However, rather than just striving to get more done, the most successful people focus specifically on enhancing their personal productivity.
Personal productivity involves strategically planning your tasks and schedule to maximize the time spent on your priorities - both professional and personal.
A study from the University of Chicago found that happiness is directly linked to higher levels of productivity. Thus, investing time in activities that you’re passionate about helps create a positive feedback loop where you become more efficient at work while simultaneously allowing you to foster an increasingly enriching lifestyle.
Here are three fundamental ways to maximize your personal productivity and achieve meaningful success.
1) Align Your Personal and Professional Goals
The first step in striving for meaningful success is aligning your personal and professional goals. There are two primary ways to do this:
- Pursue professional goals that are strongly aligned with your values. You’ll be much happier and motivated if you work for a couple whose ethics are similar to yours and on projects that allow you to make meaningful contributions.
- Involve your coworkers in pursuing your personal goals. Chances are, at least a few will have the same interests as you and engaging with your coworkers is a powerful way to boost your personal productivity. According to the Havard Business Review, people who have strong relationships at work are seven times more likely to be fully engaged and get more done.
f your personal goals are vague and value-driven (Ex. you want to become more involved in your local community, reduce your environmental impact, mentor young people, etc. ), setting professional goals that align with them is an effective way to boost your satisfaction and productivity.
To do that, determine your top three personal goals, then brainstorm ways you can incorporate each of them into your current work projects and/or new projects you can launch. Don’t hesitate to try ideas that are beyond your current responsibilities or switch jobs if your current one lacks opportunities for you to adapt your work to fulfill your values.
Taking on the extra work may be challenging, but the benefits will outweigh the extra time you spend.In addition to allowing you to fulfill your personal aspirations, implementing your ideas will boost your performance by allowing you to work on more impactful projects.
If your personal goals are mostly recreational, it may be impossible to incorporate them into your career. So, use them to create bonding experiences with your coworkers instead.
Here are some examples:
- If your personal goal is to run a marathon...form a running group at work and plan some friendly competitions.
- If your goal is to start volunteering at least twice a month...try to plan a couple of company volunteer half-days.
- If you want to reengage with an old hobby...ask around to find out if there is anyone else who’s interested in it and make plans to do it together.
2) Pursue Milestones that You Can Complete in a Quarter or Less
According to the bestseller, The ONE Thing, the key to success is identifying the single goal that best embodies what you are trying to achieve and pursuing it relentlessly.
While this approach is typically used to focus individual’s and company’s long-term strategies - not short-term personal goals, the underlying idea is that you should only focus on one goal at a time.
Applying this principle to short-term milestones has two key benefits that increase your likelihood of success:
- It forces you to focus on a narrow set of activities. This is important because prevents you from being stretched too thin and making progress on lots of projects but never completing any of them.
- It maintains your motivation by giving you frequent small wins. It’s much easier to stay committed to long-term goals when you can see the tangible progress you’re making.
To act on this, you need to break all of your long-term goals into measurable milestones with firm deadlines that are no longer than a quarter. Combine those onto a list with the goals that you can complete in a quarter or less.
Take that list and spend time prioritizing which goals you want to complete in the short versus long-term.
Remember, to maximize your personal productivity, you should only focus on one goal at a time.
3) Incorporate Your Personal Goals into Your Productivity System
The psychological researcher, Dr. Jim Taylor, has found that the only way to be satisfied with your professional success is to simultaneously pursue activities that let you act on your personal interests and values.
People know this intuitively; however, it’s common to get stuck in the habit of focusing so much on work that, by the end of the day, there’s little time left for other activities.
If you currently don’t use a productivity system and you feel like your operating at close to maximum capacity by focusing solely on work responsibilities, you may want to adopt one as you start to add personal goals to your schedule.
Here are some easy and effective options to start with:
Getting Things Done
If you need processes and structure to stay on top of everything, the GTD system may be a good option for you since it combines standard to-do lists with calendar management to ensure you complete all the items on your list.
It has five steps to maximize your personal productivity:
- Throughout the day, add every task that comes to mind to a to-do list app, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting anything.
- Every morning or evening, review your list and eliminate items that don’t support your priorities, immediately do any tasks that can be completed in five minutes or less, and block off time on your calendar to do the remaining things.
- Create lists for your various types of tasks such as family, long-term work projects, one-off work responsibilities, home maintenance/improvements, etc. Then, arrange all of to-do list items onto these separate lists, so you have an organized view of all of the things you need to get done.
- Frequently review your lists to eliminate tasks that aren’t necessary, delegate ones that are but don’t require your authority or expertise, and clarify vague items, so you always have a clear idea of what you need to do.
- Finally, focus on getting stuff done. Follow all of the time blocks you put in your calendar and, in your remaining time, complete additional tasks from your lists.
If you love to-do lists and struggle to follow the strict structure of most productivity systems, then this option is a good fit. The Systemist method is an advanced to-do list that uses categories to ensure you’re focused on the projects that drive your success.
Here’s how to use it:
- Use a to-do list app such as Todoist or Anydo to keep track of every task that comes up throughout the day. Break large projects into smaller items that you can complete in an hour or less. Aiming to ensure every activity on your list can be finished in a single sitting helps you track what you need to accomplish each day.
- As you add tasks, use color or text labels to distinguish how crucial it is. Limit your categories to five or less, so it’s easy to differentiate the importance of each item.
- Throughout the day, continuously return to your list and complete the most urgent tasks first, followed by assignments in progressively less critical categories.
- At the end of every day, review your remaining tasks and eliminate or delegate anything that is not absolutely necessary for you to do. Then, recategorize the rest of the items as needed.
The Eisenhower Matrix
If you’re most productive when you have a clear idea of what you need to accomplish every day, the Eisenhower Matrix is a good option for you.
This system improves your personal productivity by having you spend categorize all of your all your responsibilities by their urgency by their urgency and importance on a daily basis. Once you’ve finished classifying, you can use it to plan your day’s schedule.
Here’s how the categories work:
- If the task is urgent and important, put it on your list activities to complete first.
- If the task is important but not urgent, plan to complete it after all of the items above are complete.
- If the task is urgent but not important, delegate it to someone else.
- If the task is not urgent and not important, don’t do it.
For best results, strictly adhere to this structure and refuse to work on any projects before completing your important tasks.
Bottom line: Personal productivity is the key to achieving meaningful success. To improve yours, you need to incorporate your passions with your professional goals so that you can maximize the benefits you obtain from both areas of your life.
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About the Author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.