Have you ever fallen back on that habit where you write another to-do list – almost identical to the last – hoping that it will somehow magically make you more productive? I can almost see you from here: Organizing your lists, re-writing some projects that are hanging on, even forwarding an email to yourself to “kick it back to the top of the list.” This isn’t productivity. It’s a waste of time, and worse, a waste of focus.
Let me show you how you can take control of your workload at the beginning of the day, or even regain control if a day is spinning out of control. I will ask you to write some things down; each of the activities below is designed to not just get you focused on success, but to give you a shortcut to a more productive day. Pick any one of these prompts, grab your favorite pen and a notebook, and watch your day get better.
1. Make a list of your best (and favorite!) customers. Remember learning about the Pareto Principle in high school economics? I do. (For those who need a quick refresher, the Pareto Principle states that 80% of the effects of an event stem from 20% of the causes.) In fact, out of everything I remember from those four years of high school, it’s one of the things that most stands out in my memory. I remember thinking, “80% of why I’m coming to school is to spend time with 20% of the people here.”
That brings me to your first activity: Make a list of all the customers you’ve done business with over the past few days. (If you run a high-volume store, consider asking your staff to help out with this.) If possible, get this list to 50 or even 100 names. As soon as you have that list, see if you can identify the top 10-20 customers who you enjoy serving, who bring you repeat business, or who refer you to others. Then, over the next month, find several ways to wow them. For example, I recently sent copies of a mentor’s book (“What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There,” by Marshall Goldsmith) to 10 of my own clients. I added a little note, letting them know how much I appreciate working with them, and how I hope they get one or two ideas from this amazing book on goal setting and goal achievement. According to Pareto’s Principle, you will have just made strides to strengthen your relationships with the top 20% of your customers who contribute to 80% of your business.
2. Write a letter (handwritten card or email) to a vendor. It’s my own belief that we live in an acknowledgment-starved society. Seriously, when was the last time someone called you just to say how awesome you are or how much they appreciate what your company does? I know that when I get one of those kinds of letters, I cherish it! It goes on my desk or up on the whiteboard, and I may even share it with my staff. One of my company’s principles is that, “People do business with people they like.” So, I have a daily routine: Each day I sit down to write one handwritten thank you card to someone. Usually, I send a card to someone I’d met, worked with or someone who’d helped me that week. I don’t expect anything in return (and no, I don’t put a business card in with the thank you card), I simply want to let whomever I’m writing to know that I appreciate them. Try this over the next month: Write one thank you card a week to a vendor, and just see what happens.
3. Create an inventory of what’s NOT working. It’s time to be honest – with yourself, with your team and with your customers. Sit down and do some deep thinking. Ask yourself, “What is getting in my way of being as productive [effective, efficient, successful] as I believe I can be?” Write the answers so you can see them there in black and white. Once you have this list, reach out to a mentor or business coach and schedule time to review your notes and brainstorm solutions. By objectifying – and then discussing – these kinds of topics, you make it easier to clarify the resources you need and the appropriate action to take.
Let me share an example: Quite some time ago I realized that after facilitating workshops for growing teams that there wasn’t a 100% buy-in on the recommendations we were making during and after our meetings. So, I had a talk with my mentor; over six months I was able to build a follow-up and client engagement program which has noticeably enhanced the momentum created during onsite visits. Now, teams are getting more done and we’re working more efficiently through team building and workplace performance exercises.
4. Write a first draft of (just one) Ideal Day. I have written about many “Ideal Days.” These could be about days at work, on vacation, visiting friends, racing in triathlons – whatever you would like. Take a pen or pencil; grab a piece of paper and for 15 minutes write about a day in the future you imagine going exceptionally well. Add details: What does it look like, sound like, feel like? Who is there? What are they doing? Are you wearing a special outfit, or is an everyday dress kind of day? This short exercise is remarkably effective. Not too long ago, I received an email from a reader who said that he was writing one Ideal Day narrative a week. After just six weeks, he had to acknowledge that more of his days were approaching his ideal – a radical turnaround from the feelings and experiences he had about work (and life) before he started this exercise. The purpose of writing these Ideal Days in detail is to get your mind working toward outcomes that may seem out-of-reach right now, but which will, if you stay persistent, come true in the near- to long-term future. In goal-setting language, we say this is an activity where you can “see it before you see it.”
As you can see, a little extra effort today spent completing these activities could result in a substantial payoff tomorrow, and the momentum you generate may just carry you into a future of more productive days. Do let me know, in the comments area below, how these prompts worked for you.