You have these big goals but how are you actually going to get them done? You start the day with good intentions but before you know it, the day is over and you have nothing much to show for it. But what if you could improve your work performance to start hitting those goals? What if every day could be like that one day when you really smashed it and got all those things done? How amazing would you feel! Well, there’s no magic formula but here are the things high performers do to increase their work performance.
1) Get ultra-clear on your goals
Having some vague goals you’d like to accomplish one day is not the same as really knowing your goals. If someone asks you what your goals are for the next 3 months could you tell them? What about your 1 year or 2-year goals? If you can, congratulations! But most people don’t do this and then, of course, they’re not spending their days in the pursuit of anything in particular.
There are lots of resources on how to set goals, but the key is to actually do it. Don’t just read another article on goal setting, take out a pen or open a new document and start writing.
Pat Flynn talks about an airport test which is good for this. Basically, imagine yourself bumping into a friend at an airport in two years time. They ask the obvious question: “So, what have you been up to?”. What would you like to be able to say? Frame that response as a goal.
Knowing your longer-term goal, what does that mean for your next 3 months? Frame that response into a goal too. Don’t be tempted to have lots of goals as the more you have, the less likely you are to actually achieve them.
2) Plan each day the night before
Instead of letting the days just happen, be deliberate about what you will (and won’t) spend your time on. Each night, review your goals and really take a moment to ponder; “what small action could I take that would move me closer towards this goal?”.
Don’t just copy over all the outstanding to-dos from yesterday. Really consider what the most important thing is to get done. Consider the softer side of things too – maybe the most important thing is to have coffee with a team member or reach out to a new contact.
3) Create a daily action plan
If you’re reading an article like this, you probably use a to-do list. But I’m guessing you’ve also noticed it’s not all that effective in helping you actually do the most important things. That’s because you actually need a to-do list AND and an action list.
Your to-do list is your repository of all the things you want to get done. You put them there so that you don’t forget about them. But your action list is about getting strategic and proactively designing your day.
Your action plan is where you write a very short list of 3-5 small but important things that will actually move you closer to your goal. This is known as the Ivy Lee method as this consultant famously gave this same advice to Charles Schwabb and his executive team at one of the biggest steel companies in America in 1918. Lee asked to be paid what Schwabb thought it was worth – and after three months, he was sent a cheque for the equivalent of $400,000.
Remember, it’s not the number of things you get done, it’s all about doing the right things.
Avoid the temptation to come up with a shopping list of things you’d like to do, and instead, restrict yourself to just 3-5 small things. Each action should be achievable in under an hour. (For example, it could be just; create a draft of something, review something, give feedback on something, contact someone, etc.)
Don’t think you’re being lazy. We’re actually being lazy when we don’t force ourselves to decide what’s the most important!
4) Take focused action
Get into the habit of starting the day by working on your first, high priority action. You decided that’s what you’ll work on, so now’s the time to do it. Work on just that one thing until it’s done (you know that multi-tasking doesn’t work).
Important actions are usually challenging in some way – which means that you’ll probably want to stop and change tasks. Resist the urge and force yourself to stay with it until it’s done or there’s a real reason you can’t finish it. Block out distractions and less important tasks. Shut of your browser tabs and give all your attention to that one thing. Just focus on that thing, and once it’s complete, then take a break.
5) Work in sprints
Use focused sprints to tackle each of the items on your action list. You can use the Pomodoro technique, but I prefer to have the end-point determined by you actually finishing your action. Once you can tick one off, allow yourself 10-20 minutes of downtime to do something else (respond to emails, check statistics, get a coffee, read an article that’s caught your eye, etc).
These types of things can feel like work, but in fact, they’re not the things that create high work performance and they can easily take up your whole day. In fact, I call these types of things “fake work”. You probably can’t (and shouldn’t) remove them altogether, but you can make sure they fit in around your most important actions.
After a short break, go back to your action list and get started on your next item. Focus on that until it’s done, then take another break. Maybe this break is for a coffee or lunch or something else that is rewarding but you can hold off until you’ve done your second important action for the day.
Continue this way until you get all your planned actions done. Once you get into the habit of actually doing your action items, you’ll see why you only need a few to be effective!
6) Use the power of accountability
The reason most people work together and have regular meetings is because accountability works. Most people are far more likely to do something if they’ve told other people about it. In fact, the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) did a study on accountability and found that you have a 65% of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95%.
If you work with a team, you can use this to your advantage (and increase team productivity at the same time!). Create a system for sharing your intentions and results each day that help you to make two statements; “Yesterday I accomplished…..” and “Today I will……”.
It’s really that simple but it’s incredible how this works when you share it with others. (In fact, the Scrum meeting structures are based on this method.) Having a system for sharing your work is one of the keys to teamwork online.
Your system could be a team productivity tool, or it could simply mean that you all get into the habit of using your chatting tool (eg Slack or Hipchat) or email to accomplish the same thing. A project board (like Trello or Monday) can also give team members a better understanding of what everyone is working on.
If you work alone, your team members could be a regular client, or you could create an accountability/mastermind group for the sole purpose of improving your outputs. Let others know your intentions (then don’t let them down).
It feels weird at first but soon others will come to expect this. Be brave! Use positive peer pressure to achieve your goals. Putting yourself on the line sounds good but it can feel uncomfortable. Embrace the fear and do it anyway! You’ll see what a difference it makes.
7) Build momentum
Managing your mindset is just as important as finding the right tool or system. When the method you use is self-reinforcing, your motivation stays high and makes you want to continue the next day. So knowing this, build in a way to give yourself recognition for all the important actions you’ve already completed.
As ambitious humans, we have a tendency to focus on all the things that still need doing. But seeing your growing list of accomplishments gives confidence and builds a momentum that keeps you going.
Did you notice that improving work performance doesn’t necessarily mean getting up at 4am, developing a sophisticated process for triaging emails, or delegating everything off your plate? Of course, these things might work well for you, but the way to improve your work performance is really about the fundamentals; get ultra clear on your goals, plan each day the night before, create a daily action plan, take focused action, work in sprints, use the power of accountability, and build momentum.
Or as Donald Coduto said; “ The most important thing is to keep the most important thing, the most important thing.”
Fiona Adler writes about entrepreneurship at DoTheThings.com and is the founder of Actioned.com – a productivity tool for individuals and teams. With an MBA, multiple business successes, and a family living in a foreign country, she enjoys pushing the envelope to get the most out of life and loves helping others do the same.