For my last book I interviewed over 200 successful entrepreneurs and I asked a simple, open-ended question, “What is your number one secret to productivity?” After analyzing all of their responses, I found 15 unique themes. In Part 1, we’ll discuss the first seven.
Secret #1: They focus on minutes, not hours.
Average performers default to hours and half-hour blocks on their calendar. Highly successful people know where are 1,440 minutes in every day and there is nothing more valuable than time. Money can be lost and made again, but time spent can never be reclaimed. As legendary Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller told me, “To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute by minute.” You must master your minutes to master your life.
Secret #2: They focus only on one thing.
Ultra-productive people know their Most Important Task (MIT) and work on it for one to two hours each morning, without interruptions. Tom Ziglar, CEO of Ziglar Inc., shared, “Invest the first part of your day working on your number one priority that will help build your business.” What task will have the biggest impact on reaching your goal? What accomplishment will get you promoted at work?
Secret #3: They don’t use to-do lists.
Throw away your to-do list; instead schedule everything on your calendar. It turns out only 41 percent of items on to-do lists are ever actually done. And all those undone items lead to stress and insomnia because of the Zeigarnik effect. Highly productive people put everything on their calendar and then work and live from that calendar. “Use a calendar and schedule your entire day into 15-minute blocks. It sounds like a pain, but this will set you up in the 95th percentile … ”, advises the co-founder of The Art of Charm, Jordan Harbinger.
Secret #4: They beat procrastination with time travel.
Your future self can’t be trusted. That’s because we are “time inconsistent.” We buy veggies today because we think we’ll eat healthy salads all week; then we throw out green, rotting mush in the future. I bought P90x because I thought I was going to start exercising vigorously and yet the box sits unopened one year later. What can you do now to make sure your future self does the right thing? Anticipate how you will self-sabotage in the future, and come up with a solution to defeat your future self.
Secret #5: They make it home for dinner.
I first learned this from Intel’s Andy Grove, “There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done.” Highly successful people know what they value in life. Yes, work, but also what else they value. There is no right answer, but for many, values include: family time, exercise, and giving back. They consciously allocate their 1440 minutes a day to each area they value (i.e. they put it on their calendar) and then they stick to the schedule.
Secret #6: They use a notebook.
Richard Branson has said on more than one occasion that he wouldn’t have been able to build Virgin without a simple notebook, which he takes with him wherever he goes. In one interview, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis said, “Always carry a notebook. Write everything down … That is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!” Ultra-productive people free their mind by writing everything down.
Secret #7: They process email only a few times a day.
Ultra-productive people don’t “check” email throughout the day. They don’t respond to each vibration or ding to see who has intruded into their inbox. Instead, like everything else, they schedule time to process their email quickly and efficiently. For some that’s only once a day, for me, its morning, noon and night. I specifically call it my 321Zero system to get to inbox zero.
Stayed tuned for Part 2 in which the will be the last eight secrets.