Productivity

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As an entrepreneur, one of the hardest things to figure out is “What should I work on?” This is also true while working for someone else, but for those of us on our own, it can seem even more daunting.

Here’s a quick strategy I use when trying to figure out what to work on; I call it the Prioritization Matrix.

Step 1: Create a list.

You should already have a task-list of things you want to / could do floating around in Evernote, Trello, or any of the thousands of To-Do list apps. That’s great, but for this exercise, start a new list.

Off the top of your head, name 10 things you could be working on. I recommend listing off the top of your head versus reviewing your existing lists because these are the things that are top of mind, and, at least for me, tend to be the things that are most important because I’ve been thinking about them recently.

For me, while writing this article, my list looks like:

prioritization matrix step 1

Wow, that’s a lot that I could be doing. All of which (save #10), could contribute to my business in some way. It’s at this point you might start to feel overwhelmed, but worry-not, just move to step 2.

Step 2: Assign value to each task.

Now, with the list in front of you, assign value from 1-10 (10 being the highest) to each of the tasks you’ve come up with.

You have to determine what drives value for you; is it exposure, credibility, money? Hint: as an entrepreneur, money is a good one.

prioritization matrix step 2

As you can see, this isn’t a ranking of the list, so it’s OK if two or more entries have the same value ranking. Now if they all have the same value, you have to be more honest with yourself as to which are truly the most valuable.

Step 3: Assign difficulty to each task.

The next step is to think about how hard each task is going to be to complete and assign it a number from 1-10 (10 being the hardest).

Note that the difficulty assignment should be based on your ability (and motivation) to do it. It doesn’t matter if entering numbers in a spreadsheet is technically easy, if you despise it and find it a challenge for you to complete, then give it a hard ranking.

prioritization matrix step 3

Step 4: Calculate the priority score.

Once you have both a Value and Difficulty score for each task, calculate their priority score by dividing the Value by the Difficulty.

So, for example, if a task has a Value of 8 and a Difficulty of 4, the Priority score is 2.0.

prioritization matrix step 4

Step 5: Re-order the tasks according to score.

The final step is to re-order your list of 10 things to do by Priority Score, with the largest value going up top. Congratulations, that’s the task you should be working on.

prioritization matrix step 5

A Few Notes About the Process

The whole point of the Prioritization Matrix is to make the process of prioritizing tasks a lot easier. That being said, there are a few things to consider:

  • The value of the Matrix is that it takes a look at both Value and Difficulty. Just because a task is valuable, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to work on at that time (or for you to do it at all, see below). Just because a task is easy (such as watching Rick and Morty) doesn’t mean it’s where you should focus your efforts. Productivity lies in finding the tasks that are valuable and easy enough to do that you actually do them.
  • Just because something has a score < 1.0 doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, it just means that it’s harder for you to do than the value you can get out if it. If it’s not a task you’re willing to delete (aka not do at all), it means it’s a perfect task to consider outsourcing or delegating to someone else. For example, determining my Perfct Day app strategy is very valuable, but it’s hard for me to decide. So I’m going to request assistance from some smart friends to help me figure it out.
  • This is just one way to think about the work you need to do. If through this exercise you realize you really want to work on Task #2 instead of #1, great, do that. That you do something is better than what you do.

I hope that helps you with the prioritization process. You can find an example copy of the spreadsheet I used here: Prioritization Matrix Example. Share any feedback or questions in the comments.

Traveling can be stressful. There’s planning to be done, pictures to be taken, social media to be shared, and relaxation to be had.

Here’s a list of the apps I use to make that all easier:

Travel Planning

The most important travel app for me Google Maps, followed closely by the combo of Foursquare / Swarm (though I’m still not entirely sure why they separated the two).

Foursquare allows me to check out what’s good in a new city and gives me personalized recommendations based on what I like, and Swarm allows me to remember where I’ve actually been.

The full list of travel apps include:

  1. Google Maps – For figuring out how to get to where I want to go. (Android | iOS)
  2. Foursquare – For personalized recommendations of what to see / eat in a new city. (Android | iOS)
  3. Swarm – For checking in so I can remember all of the places I’ve been. (Android | iOS)
  4. Trip Advisor – For finding the super popular things to do and get some tips on how to make it better. (Android | iOS)
  5. Orbitz – For checking out the prices and availability of hotels and booking flights. (Android | iOS)
  6. AirBNB – For finding a local spot to stay in. (Android | iOS)
  7. Budget – For getting a rental car when needed. (Android | iOS)

Social Connectedness

Even if you are anti-social websites, social apps are vital to staying connected with friends and family while traveling the world. Facebook is still probably the top dog (mostly because the majority of my friends and family are connected there) but I only use the mobile site and not the app. Instagram has also been a lot of fun for me.

The full list of Social Apps include:

  1. Facebook – For staying connected with people and serving as a hub for all of my other social media. (Android | iOS)
  2. Whatsapp – For chatting with people from other countries and avoiding texting fees. (Android | iOS)
  3. Twitter – For making jokes and reaching out to people I wouldn’t otherwise be able to contact. (Android | iOS)
  4. Instagram – For sharing “1,000 words” in a single image of what I’m up to. (Android | iOS)
  5. LinkedIn – For making business connections and finding additional engagements while I’m traveling. (Android | iOS)
  6. Snapchat – For silly quick jokes with friends. (Android | iOS)

Productivity

Being on the move means that you have to learn to be productive on your phone as you won’t always have the luxury of your laptop right in front of you. Evernote is the supreme king when it comes to Productivity Apps because it basically serves as my memory.

The full list of Productivity Apps include:

  1. Evernote – For capturing all of my thoughts, including training outlines, meeting notes, and blog post drafts (like this one!). (Android | iOS)
  2. Perfct Day – For tracking my daily habits. (Perfct Day is currently private beta, launching soon!)
  3. Tasker – For automating certain tasks to free me from unnecessary key strokes and app selection. A future post will share some of my top automations. (Android | iOS not available)
  4. Gmail – For getting through the slog of the minimally productive business necessity of eletronic mail. (Android | iOS)
  5. Trello – For capturing todo lists in a Agile-like method (I’m still working on using this well). (Android | iOS)
  6. Dropbox – For accessing presentations and proposals on my phone for review. (Android | iOS)
  7. 7M Workout – For a “it’s better than nothing” workout when you’re short on time and space. (Android | iOS)

Fun and Relaxation

All work and no play made me very stressed out. There are some great apps for strategically disengaging, including my favorite, Word Mix, a fun word game that makes you feel like you’re maybe-kinda-learning something?

The full list of Fun and Relaxation Apps include:

  1. Word Mix – A scrambled letter game where you find all the words. (Android | iOS)
  2. Quora – For reading / answering questions that make you feel semi-productive. (Android | iOS)
  3. Amazon Kindle – For catching up on business books or the occasional fictional tale. (Android | iOS)
  4. Pocket – For reading long-form articles that sometimes make you feel smart. (Android | iOS)
  5. Dots – For mindless creation of squares to try to get points. (Android | iOS)

I’m sure there are a few other apps that I use but none on a regular basis. Have an app you enjoy? Let me know so I can check it out!

If you’re wondering, yes I’m still doing that Quality Day thing. Have no idea what I’m talking about? Here’s the write up from last year:

As some of you may know, I’ve developed my own productivity system where I shoot to do 5 habits every single day. I track whether or not I complete each goal; if I complete 3 of the 5, I consider it a “Quality Day”; if I complete all 5, I consider it a “Perfect Day.”

(Read more about the system here: How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions).

My 5 goals for 2013 are shared below, along with the number of days I completed them.

  1. Wake up without hitting snooze. 283 days (77.3%)
  2. Publish something for HTW. 289 days (79.0%)
  3. Exercise for at least 20 minutes. 305 days (83.3%)
  4. Eat at least 4 servings of fruits or vegetables. 290 days (79.2%)
  5. Reconnect with someone. 360 days (98.4%)

I finished with 365 Quality Days (100%!), with 183 of them being Perfect Days (just over 50%). That said, I dropped in each of the categories except snooze and reconnecting, so there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

I’ll be continuing the system in 2014 but switching up the daily habits. More on that to come (maybe).

If you’re interested in trying this system out yourself, check out How to Set Up Your Quality Day System or send me a message and I’d be happy to help you out.

Note: I’ve shared some of these things with people before. Some people think it’s cool and give it a try themselves. Others learn how truly devoted I am to my planning / productivity. And a handful consider me somewhat of a psychopath (in a good way I think?). So I guess read at your own risk of your opinion of me.

As some of you may know, I’ve developed my own productivity system where I shoot to do 5 habits every single day. I track whether or not I complete each goal; if I complete 3 of the 5, I consider it a “Quality Day”; if I complete all 5, I consider it a “Perfect Day.”

(Read more about the system here: How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions).

My 5 goals this year are shared below, along with number of days I completed them:

  1. Wake up without hitting snooze. 273 days (74.6%)
  2. Write at least 100 words. 358 days (97.8%)
  3. Exercise for at least 20 minutes. 298 days (81.4%)
  4. Eat at least 3 servings of fruits or vegetables. 313 days (85.5%)
  5. Monthly Focus (See below). 303 days (82.8%)

The last one I gave myself the option to switch it up every month. Towards the middle of the year I found a habit that I wanted to stick with for most of the rest of the year.

  • January = Exercise voice at least 5 minutes. (23 days / 74.2%)
  • February = Play guitar at least 10 minutes. (22 days / 75.9%)
  • March = Improvise a song. (18 days / 58.1%)
  • April = Exercise voice at least 5 minutes. (15 days / 50%)
  • May to July = Reconnect with a friend / family member. (87 days / 94.6%)
  • August to September = Connect with someone old or new. (61 days / 100%)
  • October to November = Connect with someone new. (47 days / 77%)
  • December = Connect with someone old or new. (30 days / 96.8%)

As I share in the write-up, my goal really is to just hit a Quality Day (aka it’s ok if I don’t do something). Ideally these 5 habits are challenging enough that it’s not easy to do (my thinking being that if it was easy, then I wouldn’t need a system to help me do it).

Even though there were days that I missed individual habits, I did succeed at reaching a Quality Day for all 366 days of 2012 (for those wondering, I hit 193 Perfect Days, or 52.7%).

All in all, I was proud of 2012, and thanks to this system, I accomplished many of my goals. Here’s to an even more productive 2013 with renewed habits and motivation.

If you’re interested in trying this system out yourself, check out How to Set Up Your Quality Day System or send me a message and I’d be happy to help you out.

create-consume totalsA little more than a month ago, I went through a huge life-change: I left my corporate job to focus on Humor That Works full-time.

One of the most challenging adjustments to working for yourself comes from lack of structure–you no longer have a set schedule where you are expected to be in an office during specific hours and no one checks up on you to make sure you’re actually doing work.

While I definitely welcome this freedom, I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste my time away catching up on TV shows I’ve missed (I’m just discovering that Parks and Rec is a really good show) or getting sucked into the 3600 hours of streaming Olympic coverage.

Thankfully friend and fellow improviser, Matt Shafeek, announced an awesome challenge for July. The challenge was called Create / Consume and it was a huge help in keeping me productive with my free schedule.

The Create / Consume Challenge

The concept of Create / Consume is simple: for an entire month, spend more time creating than consuming. As far as rules go, that’s it. What you define as creating and consuming is up to you. How you track your time is up to you. The rewards for completing the challenge, also up to you.

That said, Matt does share some tips and tricks on the Create / Consume site, as well as the rules for him personally. The most important thing is finding a process that works for you and identifying the things you want to do more of (creating) and what you want to make sure you limit (consuming).

My Create / Consume Rules

Matt and I are similar in that we both work on a lot of different things, we’re both improvisers and we both love measuring our productivity. And yet we managed the challenge slightly differently.

While Matt used a timer on his phone to track time, I estimated the time I spent on various activities at the end of each day. While this isn’t as accurate, it was easier for me and meant that I actually stuck to the program (more accurate numbers aren’t helpful if you always forget to press start on your timer).

My list of creation and consumption is similar to Matt’s: anything that builds towards one of my key goals was marked as creation–even if it was technically consuming something.

As an example, doing research for a blog post may be “consumption” because I’m reading instead of writing, but it’s done with the intention of helping me create (as opposed to the consumption of reading for pleasure, such as reading A Bad Idea I’m About to Do for fun).

Here’s how I defined the 4 categories listed on the Create / Consume site (Creation, Consumption, Gray, Neutral):

Creation

These activities are related to helping me achieve one or multiple goals that I’ve established for myself.

  • Writing — blog post, chapter for my book, creating a new presentation
  • Performing –on stage for improv, stand-up, storytelling
  • Coaching — improv, individual clients
  • Practicing — improv, stand-up, storytelling
  • Training — humor in the workplace, improv, interview skills
  • Planning — for Humor That Works, ComedySportz (CSz), general business
  • Researching — necessary / relevant info for writing

Consumption

These activities are related to me decompressing and taking in content created by other people.

  • Browsing — the Internet
  • Watching — TV, Movies, LiveStreaming Olympic Coverage
  • Reading — newspapers, books, magazines (for pleasure, not research)

Gray Area

These activities could fall into both creation and consumption. The biggest example here is watching improv: a lot of the improv I watch is because I am performing later in the same show or am there to support the community. I often watch improv with an eye for what I would do if I was performing / what made people laugh but it’s still not the same as creating improv magic myself. Thus, gray area.

  • Watching — Improv shows
  • Networking — with new people or old acquaintances

Neutral

These activities don’t really fit in either category, though after a month of tracking, I might consider moving Exercising to Creation and Email to Gray. Items that were neutral meant that I didn’t track them at all (though the data analyst inside me wished I did).

  • Emailing — reading, writing, organizing
  • Exercising — working out, playing sports, running
  • Cooking / Eating — food & beverage
  • Socializing — with friends
  • Sleeping

Results

So how were the results of my first month of tracking? Not too shabby. I successfully completed my goal of creating more than I consumed (89 hours creating vs 37 hours consuming vs 28 hours of gray-area):

create-consume totalsTaking a look at my Creation, you can see a majority of it came improv (Practice at 24.5 hours and Shows at 17 hours, with writing at #2 with 17 hours).

creation type breakdown

And now looking at Consumption, the main categories were Internet, TV and Movies (oh and a whopping 5 minutes if playing Word Warp on my iPod). The scary part about Internet usage was that, when it came to Consumption, 90% of my time was spent on Reddit, ESPN and Facebook. As for the TV / Movies, the majority was Parks and Rec plus re-watching Independence Day and seeing The Dark Knight Rises.

consumption category breakdown

Looking at the Gray Area results, everything was entirely from watching improv shows (meaning I saw 28.5 hours of improv in the month of July).

Another point of interest for me was regarding time-of-day: when am I most productive and when do I decompress. As you can see in the graph below, middle of the day is the most productive time while late at night is when I do most of my consumption.
time vs activity count

Key Insights

Based on the above analysis and some additional number crunching behind-the-scenes, here are some of the interesting things I learned about my creation and consumption in July:

  • I’m happy with my first month of tracking. Almost at a 60/40 ratio is a good start, though I do want it to get better. For August, I’m going to shoot for a 70/30 split.
  • The single activity I spent the most time on was browsing the Internet at 20:15, followed by Watching CSz Matches at Championship (13:oo) and teaching CSz Workshops (12:30). The first Humor That Works related activity was at #5 with working on a specific training at 7 hours and 45 minutes.
  • The activity with the greatest average time per instance (so the average length I spent on an activity non-stop) was Parks and Rec (3 hours 37 minutes per session aka 2 binge sessions to finish Season 4), followed by Watching CSz Matches at Championship (3:15), watching movies (Independence Day and The Dark Knight Rises both around 3:05) and facilitating a training (3:00).

Based on the analysis, the key actions I want to take include:

  • Dedicating more time to Humor That Works. For July, 67% of creation time was dedicated to Comedy (which includes improv performance and shows) while only 23% was dedicated to Humor That Works. Granted this was a special month for comedy (lots of private shows and ComedySportz Championship in Chicago), but good to keep an eye on.
  • Not spend so much time browsing the web. I spent 20 hours on various websites, but 0 hours reading a book for pleasure. That’s pretty sad. As is the fact that my #1 activity out of everything I did was browsing the Internet.
  • Getting more focused during the day. My peak productivity seems to be between 1pm and 7pm–for August I may look at embracing that and seeing if I can get more accomplished by focusing on bigger / more important projects during those key hours.
  • Going to bed earlier instead of wasting time. Most of my consumption came after midnight. That means I’m up wasting time doing nothing instead of sleeping. If I went to bed, I could get up earlier and possibly add a few hours to my productive mid-day.
  • Track more! I love being able to go through all of this data, but I’m sad I don’t have additional details such as the amount of time spent on email, working out and eating. I just have to make sure I find the balance between getting good data and tracking way too much detail…

Summary

So what was the biggest benefit of all this? For me it was giving me insight into how I work and keeping me honest about how I’m spending my time. By having the data in front of me, I can make strategic decisions on things I want to keep or change (such as less time on the Internet).

But perhaps the greatest thing about doing this challenge was that simply knowing I was tracking my time influenced my behavior for the better. Early on when I didn’t have much “creation time” reserved, I did less consumption because I didn’t want to tip the scales. That alone was worth implementing the system.

For those of you with creative ambitions, I recommend you give it a try. You certainly don’t have to keep as strenuous of logs, nor do you have to go into as much analysis, but it is an interesting challenge to at least try for a month.

If you have any questions, let me know. If you have any recommendations on how to track time spent on all of these different activities, definitely let me know as well.

photo by raja4u

With the New Year right around the corner, some 100 million Americans will be making Resolutions for the year. Sadly half of them won’t keep those resolutions more than 6 months. However, for those that do make resolutions, they are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t make any resolutions at all. (source)

In a three part series, I’ve shared my process that helped make 2011 one my of most productive years yet. Each part builds off the other (so it’s important to start at the beginning) and by the end, you’ll have a system in place to help make sure you keep your resolutions and achieve your goals for the upcoming year.

Here’s how to do it:

Part 1: Why People Fail New Year’s Resolutions

Part 1 sets the stage for keeping your resolutions by sharing the five main reasons people fail at keeping them.

Part 2: Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Quality Days

Part 2 introduces the concept of Quality Days and the five components that make it successful.

Part 3: How to Set Up Your Quality Day System

Part 3 walks you through the five steps to establishing daily habits through the Quality Day System.

If you have any questions or ideas for improvement, feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email. Have a great productive year!

Note: 5 Steps to Establishing Daily Habits is the third of a three part series on creating and sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions. Before continuing, check out Part 1: Why People Fail New Year’s Resolutions and Part 2: Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Quality Days.

Now that you know why people fail new year’s resolutions and the theory behind how to make sure you keep yours this year, it’s time to create your system to establish daily habits. As a reminder, the five steps to keeping your resolutions are:

  1. Think Quality and Perfect Days
  2. Pick Five (and Only Five) Habits
  3. Make the Results Binary
  4. Track Daily
  5. Review Weekly / Monthly

The five steps for establishing daily habits stem directly from these steps. Let’s take a look at how to complete each one.

photo by moorhigan

Step 1: Create your goal for Quality Days in 2012

The first step is easy because I’m going to assign it to you. Your goal for 2012 is to reach 250 Quality Days. If you want a second, more advanced goal, you can also shoot for 125 Perfect Days (which also count as Quality Days).

Now I know what some of you overachievers are thinking, “But Andrew, I’m an overachiever and awesome at this, shouldn’t I shoot for 300 Quality Days, or even 366?” And the answer is “No” for 2 reasons:

  1. If you set the goal too high, it seems unachievable and can be de-motivating. If your goal is 366 and you miss one day, mentally you feel like you’ve failed since there is no way you’ll be able to achieve your goal.
  2. The daily habits should be challenging and therefore unlikely that you’ll be able to do them everyday. If you can already go a year without hitting snooze, then don’t have “don’t hit snooze” as one of your habits. These habits are meant to challenge you, help you grow and align with your long-term goals and resolutions.

So, step one is already complete: shoot for 250 Quality Days.

photo by LittleMan

Step 2: Choose 5 Daily Habits

The second step is to decide on what five habits you would ideally complete every day (or at least 250 days of the year). As mentioned above, these should be things that challenge you and align with your longer-term goals.

If you’re having difficulty coming up with your habits, here’s a list of the most common New Year’s resolutions. From your long-term resolutions you can create your daily habits. As an example, if your goal is to lose weight, you can have a daily habit of exercise.

Just as above, for you overachievers, no, you can’t have more than five habits. More than five is harder to track on a daily basis and you’re less likely to complete any of them, let alone all 7, 8 or 15.

For those of you new to setting goals, you could set fewer than five, but I challenge you to shoot for five (and even if you only ever achieve three in a single day, it’s still a quality day).

photo by mexikids

Step 3: Make the Habits Actionable

The third step is to phrase your five daily habits in a way that they are actionable and binary–meaning it’s easy to say “yes” or “no” you completed them. The more defined you can make them, the better.

For example, “Eat healthier” is far too vague to be actionable or trackable. “Eat at least 3 servings of vegetables” is much better because it is quantitative and you can easily say at the end of the day if you’ve completed it. This does take some thought because you have to make the goals specific to you. For you, eating healthier could mean cutting back on fast food or limiting your salt intake.

The basic formula for a simple actionable goal is VERB -> QUANTITY -> NOUN. E.g. “Eat 3 servings of vegetables,” “Exercise for 30 minutes,” “Hit Snooze 0 times.”

That last one, “Hit snooze 0 times” sounds a bit weird (rather than “Don’t hit snooze”), but where possible it’s better to frame the habit positively rather than negatively. The reason is that studies have found that it’s harder to “fix” a habit than it is to just start a new, healthier one.

So if you always eat chocolate after dinner, the habit might not be “don’t eat chocolate” but “eat 1 piece of fruit after dinner.” Sometimes this is difficult to avoid, such as when quitting smoking, but when possible, frame the habit positively.

photo by bjearwicke

Step 4: Create a Tracking System

The fourth step is create a system that allows you to track your progress on your daily habits on a daily basis. That’s right, you should track how you are doing every single day.

Since this is something you’ll be doing a lot, the tracking system should be as simple and easy as possible. It should take less than 5 minutes to track so you don’t have an excuse not to do it. Once you get the hang of it, most systems take less than a minute.

There are 3 ways you can track:

1. Using a Paper Calendar

This is how I started tracking in 2011, using a big calendar that I hung on my wall. My roommate and I shared the calendar, where we marked each day of the week which of our five habits we completed.

I created humorous symbols for each of my goals to make it a little more fun while tracking. As an example, my symbol for having done at least 20 minutes of physical activity was OK, because if you tilt your head to the left, OK looks kind of like a stick figure.

You could do the same thing with your personal calendar or even a notebook, it’s just important to have a spot for every single day of the year.

2. Using Excel

Half-way through the year, I switched to an Excel document to make the calculations easier. I created a single tab Excel document that had a row for every single day of the year and a column for each of my five habits. I would then mark an ‘X’ for each habit I completed that day.

From this I could create an easy formula to tell me which days of the week I had a Quality and Perfect Day, and the quantity of each for the week.

3. Using an Online Tool

Finally, towards the end of the year, I switched to an online site for tracking. The biggest advantage to using an online site was that I could log in from my mobile phone and update my tracking. This meant I could check off each habit as I completed them throughout the day, not just at the end of the day when I was home.

I currently use an app we developed for Humor That Works, called 5 Daily Habits. There are others out there, but we created this one to define all of the things we were looking for. Learn more about achieving goals through daily habits.

photo by shadowkill

Step 5: Review Weekly & Monthly

The fifth and final step is to create a process to review how you are doing on a weekly and monthly basis. This is probably the hardest step because it requires the most discipline to maintain after you’ve started.

To help me, I already have time on my calendar marked for weekly and monthly reviews. Sure, they’re likely to change, but since they are on the calendar I’ll simply move them as needed, rather than not do them at all.

The weekly review is pretty simple. I do mine on Sunday evening (right now I do it while watching Sunday Night Football). It takes me about 10 minutes; I simply go back and review how I did for the week, filling in any days that I might have forgot to track (shh! don’t tell anyone).

I then think about if there are any adjustments I want to make. Have I been hitting snooze a lot and therefore need to consider going to bed earlier? Have I missed my daily goal for fruits and vegetables all week and need to go to the grocery store?

For the monthly review, I spend a little more time to really make sure I’m on track. Usually on the first of the month I’ll spend around 20-30 minutes reviewing the previous month and looking at larger changes I may need to make.

Again, doing a review takes discipline but it’s incredibly important that you do it. These reviews are what allow you to make adjustments, or if you’ve been succeeding, allow you to be proud of what you’ve accomplished. There’s nothing wrong with spending 10 minutes each week giving yourself a pat on the back for actually completing your goals.

The Quality Day System

That’s it. Those are the five steps to establishing daily habits and setting yourself up to keep your new year’s resolutions. If you have any questions or suggestions on how it can be improved, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or shoot me an email. Here’s to having a great 2012!

Note: Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Quality Days is the second of a three part series on creating and sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions. Check out Part 1: Why People Fail New Year’s Resolutions, or check back soon for Part 3.

In the last post, we talked about five reasons people fail New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. They have an all or nothing mentality.
  2. They make too many resolutions.
  3. Their resolutions are not specific.
  4. They don’t track how they’re doing.
  5. They don’t make adjustments.

So how do you avoid these mistakes and keep your New Year’s resolutions? By establishing “Quality” and “Perfect” days.  First a little history…

photo by ba1969

A New Year of Resolutions

At the beginning of 2011 I decided there were five things I would ideally do every day, five daily habits I wanted to establish:

  1. Wake up without hitting snooze.
  2. Complete a task for Humor That Works.
  3. Do at least 20 minutes of physical activity.
  4. Eat at least 2 fruits and/or vegetables.
  5. Spend at least 30 minutes strategically disengaging.

In years past, I would have considered a day “successful” only if I had done all five habits that day (the all or nothing mentality). The problem is that the #1 habit on my list is the hardest habit I’ve ever tried to instill AND it happens first thing when I wake up.

If I had an all or nothing mentality and hit snooze once in the morning, the rest of my day would be toast. There would be no point in completing any of the other four because I couldn’t be “successful” no matter what I did.

But logically we can see that doesn’t make sense. Doing the other four things, or even one of them, would be better than none of them. So I developed a system that worked for me, one that involves five components.

photo by michelini

The Five Components of the Quality Day System

1. Quality and Perfect Days

Rather than try to strive for perfection every single day, my goal was to shoot for achieving a majority of my daily goals: 3 out of 5. If I completed any 3 out of the 5 habits, I considered it a “Quality Day.” If I completed all 5, I considered it a “Perfect Day.”

The mentality behind this system is that even if I hit snooze in the morning, I still had something to shoot for: a Quality Day. Sure it’s not perfect, but it is significantly better than accomplishing 0 out of 5, or even 3 out of 5 and feeling bad about myself. I changed my mindset to say I don’t need to be perfect, I just want to be “Quality.”

2. Five (and Only Five) Habits

While there are a number of other things I’d love to do every day (play guitar, stretch, and hundreds of other things), I knew that if I tried to do too many of them, I’d likely end up doing none of them. Tracking them would be a pain and there would be no way I could consistently complete 10+ goals every day.

Instead, I decided to be selective and choose the five goals most important to me. Why five? First, it’s a small enough number to easily remember (I can count them on one hand, and yes this was taken into consideration). Second it was a large enough number to challenge me and diverse enough to cover the important facets of my life (business, health, personal).

Finally it gave me variety. Some days you just don’t feel like exercising. On those days, I had four other things to choose from to still get a quality day.

3. Binary Habits

The only criteria I had for creating or specifying my goals was that they had to be binary–I wanted to be able to say at the end of the day, without any thinking, either “yes” or “no” I completed each habit.

This forced me to make specific, yet simple goals. Rather than just say “do physical activity” I specified that it was “20 minutes of physical activity.” That way I didn’t waste time trying to decide if whatever I did was “enough” physical activity to count. Was it at least 20 minutes of physical activity? Yes or no.

Similarly I specified that it was at least 2 fruits and/or vegetables a day, but I didn’t count how many I ate. Sure there were days I had 4, 8, 12 servings of fruits and vegetables, but I didn’t want to add the cumbersome process of tracking how many I actually I had. At the end of the day I just ask, did I have at least 2, yes or no.

4. Daily Tracking

By using binary goals, it was easy to track my progress for each day. At first I started tracking on a paper calendar in my office. I created an icon for each habit and would mark that icon for each day I completed it. Half-way through the year I switched to using Excel (this allowed me to calculate the number of Quality/Perfect days more easily). Now I’m using 42goals.com to now track my daily progress (more on 42goals in the next post).

The point was I wanted a system that would allow me to quickly and easily track my progress for a day. For the most part, I tried to track my status at the end of each day (when it was fresh on my mind), but I’d be lying if I said I did it every day. There were many a-time where I had to go back and add how I did for the last 6 or 7 days (another advantage of only having five to track was actually being able to remember what I completed).

5. Weekly / Monthly Reviews

The last part of the system was to review my current progress during my weekly and monthly reviews (I take 20-minutes every Sunday night to review the week / take a peak at what’s to come the following week; I take about 40-minutes to review my progress on the first day of every month).

By tallying up the totals and reviewing them by habit, I could see which habits were consistent and which ones were tougher to complete. As a result, I could make adjustments.

During one particularly bad stretch of hitting snooze, I decided to make sure I was going to bed earlier just to try to get back on track (more intentional focus on that habit). It meant missing out on physical activity on one or two nights, but I wanted to make sure I gave dedicated attention to snooze so I could re-establish my no-snooze ways. And since I was shooting for “Quality Days” it was OK for me to miss some physical activity in lieu of more sleep.

photo by Egahen

The Success of 2011

So has it worked? Considering I’m writing an elaborate article on what I did, you probably already assumed that it did, and you’d be correct.

My goal at the beginning of the year was 250 Quality Days. Notice that it wasn’t 365. Again, I didn’t want to miss one day and then never come back to it because I couldn’t achieve my goal.

Why 250? Because that’s the assumed number of “work days” in a year (if you assume 5-day work weeks and 2-weeks of vacation, you get 5 days a week X 50 weeks = 250 days). That would give me license to take off the weekends if I wanted to.

Also I didn’t set any goals for Perfect Days. I didn’t want to put undue pressure on achieving perfection, I merely wanted to track it for analytic purposes (what was my hardest habit, easiest, etc). It’s nice to know but it isn’t my goal.

So, with a goal of 250, how have I done this year? Not counting today, there have been 348 total days in 2011 so far. Of those 348, I’ve had 345 Quality Days (99%) and 175 Perfect Days (50%). The three days I missed were days I was sick and couldn’t have cared less about completing three of five goals.

But this hasn’t just worked for me. I’ve shared this idea with some friends and family and they too are finding success. Not everyone is accomplishing everything they want, but they’re all making progress towards their goals and they’ve all said it’s been a helpful process.

Why It Works

Is this process guaranteed to work everyone? No. This might be too simple for some people, or too complex for others. But for me and the people I’ve shared it with, it seems to work. And for good reason too.

First, it helps to re-frame the definition of success from “perfect” to “quality.” Sure perfect is great to achieve, but quality is pretty darn good too. Second, it forces you to choose your top priorities and limit yourself to a manageable number of daily goals. Third, it ensures you have specific goals that are easily measured, and fourth it creates an easy way to actually do the measuring. And finally, it allows you to see where you need to make adjustments, and gives you the flexibility to change your priorities based on your needs.

If you’re ready to give the Quality Day System a try in 2012, be sure to check our next post on How to Set Up Your Quality Day System.

Note: Why People Fail New Year’s Resolutions is the first of a three part series on creating and sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions. Check back soon for Parts 2 and 3.

The start of the new year is now a month away, which means New Year’s Resolutions are just around the corner. Sadly, most Americans who make resolutions never actually keep them, and here’s why.

photo by karlchen

1. They have an all or nothing mentality.

The number one reason people fail their New Year’s Resolutions is that they have an all or nothing mentality. They believe they have to do everything  perfectly or there’s no point in doing it all.

If you’ve read my post on How to Stop Hitting Snooze and Wake Up Early, you’ll know I’ve had a long, arduous battle with the snooze button. Though I’ve certainly gotten this under control, I’m by no means perfect–there are still days I embrace the sweet embrace of the snooze. But I’m much better at returning to no snooze than I used to be.

I used to think “I hit snooze on Monday, I might as well do it the rest of the week,” or even “I hit snooze once already this morning, I might as well hit it 8 or 9 more times.” It was all or nothing, either I never hit snooze or I always did.

But now I realize it’s not about being perfect. It’s about getting back up. If I miss a step, it’s OK, as long as I start taking steps again. For your own goals, whether they are to exercise every day or never smoke again, remember the most important thing is to get back up if you happen to fall.

photo by g-point

2. They make too many resolutions.

Along the same lines of all or nothing, when people create New Year’s Resolutions, they try to make their lives “perfect.” It’s not that they just want to lose weight or get out of debt; it’s that they want to lose weight AND get out of debt AND find a different job AND get more organized AND find a significant other AND AND AND.

They try to change too many things all at once, rather than changing one or two things at a time and then moving to the next one after it’s a solidified habit. Let’s be honest, changing habits can be hard. To think that we can change every single bad habit we have at one time is unrealistic. Combine that with an all or nothing mentality and you’re almost guaranteed to fail, e.g. “well I didn’t lose as much weight as I wanted to so I might as well keep smoking and not date anyone.”

photo by rawkus

3. Their resolutions are not specific.

The goals I listed are intentional–they’re commonly among the most popular resolutions every year. The problem is that they’re all terrible. Not that getting more organized is a bad resolution, but how it’s phrased isn’t actionable. How do you know when you’ve succeeded?

Resolutions that are not specific are hard to achieve because you don’t know when you’ve achieved them. Even something like “lose weight” isn’t very helpful. Does lose weight mean 100 pounds? 10 pounds? .00001 pounds? And does it account for the fact that, depending on your exercise plan, you may put on muscle?

Better is to have specific, measurable goals that you can easily determine if you’ve accomplished. This past year I wanted to “eat better” but I know that’s far too generic to know if I actually succeeded. So instead my goal was to eat at least 2 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Is that the recommended amount? No, but I know it was a challenging but achievable goal that I could easily measure.

photo by mela

4. They don’t track how they are doing.

It amazes me how few people actually track their progress against their resolutions. They plan their goals at the beginning of the year and never really check in to see how they’re doing. Life is busy and very distracting, if you aren’t paying attention to how you’re doing, what are the chances you’re going to succeed?

As the business maxim goes, “what gets measured gets done.” At a minimum, you should review progress every month or even better, weekly. The absolute best? Daily. Daily tracking creates a habit that is much easier to sustain than once-a-week or once-a-month.

Also, it’s important to note when you’re successful and when you’re not. Not only does this keep the habit for tracking, it also gives you statistics that can help you understand when you’re successful and when you’re not. Again, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about getting back on the horse.

photo by branox

5. They don’t make adjustments.

Building off of the tracking, once you have an idea of when you’re succeeding and when you’re not, you can start to assess what works and what doesn’t. By tracking and assessing your progress, you can start to identify Motivators and Demotivators that can help improve your chances of success.

As an example, one of my goals this year has to work on at least one task for Humor That Works every single day. At the beginning of the year, I noticed I was failing this daily goal more often than I would have liked. I thought about the days I was successful and the days I wasn’t, and tried to find root cause for both. I learned that there were certain things that motivated me (e.g. looking through reader’s comments, checking Google Analytics) and things that demotivated me (thinking about all of the tasks I “had” to do or browsing ESPN.com in the morning).

Once I tweaked my behavior, I became much more successful at accomplishing this goal. Not every day was perfect, but again that’s not what’s important (sorry to beat a dead horse, but seriously, it’s the number one reason people fail).

So if these are reasons why people fail their New Year’s Resolutions, what can you do to be successful? That’s the topic of the next post, Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Quality Days.

effective-executivePeter F. Drucker’s The Effective Executive is one of the best-known, oft-cited books on management ever written.  Since it’s publication in 1967, it has transformed regular managers into effective executives by answering the question, “What makes an effective executive?” The book is filled with insights and perspective and is still just as applicable today, 40 years later.

Here are 12 lessons in effectiveness I learned from The Effective Executive.

1. Do What Needs to Be Done

“The first practice is to ask what needs to be done. Note that the question is not ‘What do I want to do?'” (page XII)

It’s not good enough for you, the effective executive, to get things done. You must also get the right things done.  By looking at the needs of the business, you have to determine where your contributions will make the largest impact, and  then execute, delivering for the business what needed to be delivered.

The truly fortunate, and effective executives are those who can answer both of the above questions with the same answer.  If what needs to be done matches what you want to do, you’ve found the work that is right for you.

2. Exploit Opportunities

“Problem solving does not produce results.  It prevents damage.  Exploiting opportunities produces results.” (page XVIII)

When you are trying to determine what needs to be done, you should look for opportunities, not problems.  Problems can usually be solved through delegation, but opportunities require the know-how of the effective executive to be fully leveraged.

The key is often to be able to distinguish between a true opportunity and a problem that through corporate speak is being called an “opportunity.”  A broken copier is not an “opportunity” to get a new copier, it’s a problem to be solved.  Creating a new part that prevents the copier from breaking down is an opportunity (if you work in the copier-making business) that could be exploited to create a new, more durable copier.

3. Direct Yourself

“The knowledge worker cannot be supervised closely or in detail.  He can only be helped.  But he must direct himself, and he must direct himself toward performance and contribution, that is, toward effectiveness.” (page 4)

If you are an executive, you can’t be told what to do.  If you can be, the person telling you what to do is an executive, not you. You can only be assisted in finding out what needs to be done; everything else is up to you.

That is why it’s so important you are effective, because it is your job to be and no one can do it for you.  Take ownership of your work and direct yourself to success by focusing on opportunities and doing what needs to be done.

4. Develop Practices for Effectiveness

“Effectiveness is a habit.” (page 23)

The ability to be effective is really just the use of efficient practices.  Consistent use of these practices become habits, and these habits lead to effectiveness.

That means there’s no massive undertaking you must complete in order to be effective, just small, daily practices that when added up over time equal being effective.  “You are what you repeatedly do…”

5.Manage Your Time

“Everything requires time.  It is the one truly universal condition.” (page 26)

The most important thing you can manage is not people or budgets, but time.  Depending on your role, you may need to manage people or budgets, but you will always have to manage your time.  And what you do with that time determines how effective you are.

Time management must be conscious for time is a non-renewable resource.  You must make choices about what you will and won’t do, knowing that every decision you make has the cost of time associated with it.

6. Focus on Contribution

“The focus on contribution is the key to effectiveness.” (page 52)

To be effective, get in the habit of asking yourself “What can I contribute?”  Whether it’s in a meeting, during a crisis, or when responding to email, ask yourself this question and you’ll be working as effectively as possible.

By focusing on the work you can do, and not the power you’re supposed to have, or whether or not it’s in your job description, you weed out the unnecessary and make room for the effective.  You also recognize what you can’t do, and through delegation with an emphasis on contribution, you make others effective with you.  It’s not about getting something done, it’s about getting the right things done.

7. Organize for Excellence

“The test of organization is not genius.  It is its capacity to make common people achieve uncommon performance.” (page 80)

As an executive, you are part of an organization, either as a leader or an integral part of it.  That organization’s task is to help ordinary individuals achieve extraordinary results.

To achieve excellence, you must look to leverage people’s strengths, not try to fix their weaknesses.  You could try to teach Joe Montana to throw left-handed, but why? Staffing from strength is taking advantage of the talent you have to build an effective organization.

8. Desire Greatness

“To be more requires a man who is conceited enough to believe that the world really needs him and depends on his getting into power.” (page 87)

Having confidence in yourself and your decisions is vital to becoming an effective executive.  An unsure person wavers on decisions and second-guesses their actions, but an effective executive is constantly moving forward.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be humble or admit mistakes, but that you focus on what you can actually change or do.  Dwelling on past mistakes is not actionable.  And you know that even if you have made mistakes in the past, you have the know-how and capacity to make up for them and still obtain incredible results.

9. Concentrate Your Efforts

“If there is any one ‘secret’ to effectiveness, it is concentration.” (page 100)

Multi-tasking may be the norm these days, but it is single-tasking that makes you effective.  You have far more to-do than can reasonably be done, and the fastest way to get from one task to another is to focus on that one thing until it is completed.

By setting priorities, as well consciously choosing what not to do, you’ll also know that the single item you are working on is the most important contribution you can be making right now.

10. Be Courageous

“Scientists have shown that achievement depends less on ability in doing research than on the courage to go after opportunity.” (page 111)

When you are deciding on which tasks to focus, choose the one that will have the biggest impact and will make a difference.  Often times this will take courage as the biggest opportunities come with the biggest perceived risk.  But your job as an effective executive is not to play it safe or maintain the status quo, it is to strive for excellence.

Concentrating your contributions to those opportunities that can make a difference makes all the difference in your level of effectiveness.  The Fortune 500 favors the bold.

11. Decide Sparingly

“An executive who makes many decisions is both lazy and ineffectual.” (page 129)

Well managed organizations are “boring” because few crises occur and “fire drills” are limited to actual test of a building’s fire system.  That’s because as an effective executive, you have to create a set of rules or processes that manages for the predictable occurrences.  If you are constantly making decisions, it’s because you haven’t looked at the big picture and established guidelines.

If something out of the ordinary does arise, or circumstances change, you should make the decision that is both best for the situation and that can be reapplied again if necessary.  Making the same decision twice is redundant, inefficient and redundant.

12. Learn to be Effective

“Effectiveness, while capable of being learned, surely cannot be taught.” (page 166)

Effectiveness is not like a subject in school that can be taught from a textbook.  It is a self-discipline that must be learned over time and through experience.  The guidelines provided by Drucker certainly help you in the right direction, but you must ultimately direct yourself.

You will make mistakes.  There will be things you could do better.  But if you follow these guidelines you’ll be on the path towards success, and to becoming an effective executive.

Let me know what you learned The Effective Executive.  Still haven’t read the “definitive guide to getting the right things done?” Pick it up at Amazon.com: The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker

To be more requires a man who is conceited enough to believe that the world really needs him and depends on his getting into power.