Welcome to Be Better Now Productivity.

Productivity is critical to living the best life possible. I never hear people say, “I wish there were fewer hours in the day.” If I ever did hear that, I’d find someone new to listen to.

If you are new to Be Better Now Money, I recommend you start off reading about the importance of Productivity, Organization, and Simplicity.

Being productive can mean many different things to many different people. Many people have the same problems. Do you find yourself distracted by Facebook? Do you find your mornings slip by and you’ve only got some emails to show for it? Do you find yourself shutting down at 2:30PM?

Below you’ll find articles about why this happens and how we can be better.

Related Subtopics:  > Planning

Summary: How is that New Year's Resolution going? 88% of them fail. Increase your odds with SMART goals (Tweet This!)

With the first few weeks of the new year over, most of us have put our nose to the grindstone. (Who thought of that saying? Sounds painful!) It's a good time to ask: how are your New Year Resolutions going? If you are like many, they are already starting to fade away. In fact, statistically, around 88% of you are going to fail at your New Year Resolution. If you are like me, you may have stumbled onto the road of failure by accident. By this time, I had hoped to have 60 articles completed for this website. I am lucky if I have a third of that. What I do have is about 250 articles outlined with a ton of research. That doesn't count for much, unless I get to writing them.

This website isn't about dwelling on the past. We aim to be better than that. How can we do that? According to the article, we should focus on being self-aware. We know what our problem is and now we know it is going to be difficult to tackle it. It turns out that people have limited willpower. When we are presented with a few mental distractions we don't have the willpower to concentrate on our goal. One way to limit the mental distractions is to practice a lot of the productivity tips we'll cover here over time.

While that 12% success rate sure seems daunting, another study showed that it can be improved upon. Men are 22% more successful when they engage in goal setting or kept an eye on the prize. If my goal is to save up enough money for a new car, I would be best served by setting up a financial plan for how much I'll need and putting a putting a picture of the car on the refrigerator. Women are 10% more likely to succeed when they have the support of their family or friends.

I'm not going into how to go about keeping your eye on the prize here. We'll cover staying motivated in other articles. I trust you can figure out the best way to do that. . Instead, we'll cover goal setting. It is one of those things that make you want to scream, "Why didn't they teach me this in school?" One of the best ways to set a goal is with SMART Goals.

Setting Goals the SMART Way

taylor-lautners-abs

Picture of Taylor Lautner = wrote this originally in 2010

Some of you have heard about SMART goals before. For those who aren't familiar with the term it is simply a mnemonic device to remember a set of steps crucial in setting goals. There is some debate about what SMART stands for, but it usually goes something like:

  • Specific - What is the goal? You don't want to set a broad goal such as "be healthier in the new year." You want a better goal such as "lose weight this year."
  • Measurable - My goal above of losing weight this year, was specific, but it wasn't very measurable. A measurable goal may be to lose 25 pounds by the end of December.
  • Attainable - Is my goal reasonable? I think losing 25 by the end of December is quite attainable (depending on how much they currently weigh). However, if my goal were to have Taylor Lautner's abs, I may find that the exercise time necessary doesn't fit with my other priorities. Perhaps after the 25 pounds weight loss, Mr. Lautner's abs becomes my next goal.
  • Relevant - Does the goal matter to you? Is it something that's really worth working for? I think for many people losing weight is a relevant goal. If you are already in a healthy range, your effort may be best spent elsewhere.
  • Time-bound - When do you expect to reach this goal? Our goal of losing 25 pounds by December is indeed time-bound, so it technically passes the test. However, I would suggest smaller goals like losing 4 pounds by the end of the month. (Yes that should sound familiar.)

That gives us a good template for goal setting. However, let's get a little greedy and see if we can do a little better. Some people suggest that you can make your goals even SMARTER.

Setting Goals the SMARTER Way

You can take a SMART goal and make it SMARTER by adding a couple more steps.

  • Exciting - You should be excited by your goal. I've found that the first step to success in almost anything is being excited about doing it. Losing 25 pounds may not sound all that exciting. I imagine that's why many people fail to lose weight. However, many people get excited to play tennis or going for a hike. Those are a couple of ways to make losing 25 pounds a bit more exciting.
  • Recorded - The idea here is that you record your progress as you go along. This provides you with great feedback. If you are falling a bit off track and are recording your progress, you'll be able to make the necessary adjustments.

Now it's your turn, what do you to master the art of setting and attaining goals?

This post involves:

Mind, Planning, Productivity

... and focuses on:

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Summary: If you scheduled your ideally productive day, what would it look like? Take some time and write it down. (Tweet This)

OctoMom

You want more hours in the day? I can’t do that. However, I can give you the next best thing. I can show you how to get more out of the hours you do have.

Better yet, I’m going to show you how to do it without burning out. Because, let’s face it, burn-out is not productive.

I’ve been working from home for a few years now. During that time I’ve learned there are a lot of temptations to take me away from work. Some of those temptations seem to eat minutes without me even realizing it. I was stuck at the end of the day thinking, “Where did my day go?” and “What did I really accomplish?”

It changed for me a few months ago when I implemented this trick. Even if you don’t work from home, perhaps it can work for you.

What’s the trick? I create my own perfect daily schedule. Here it is, with explanations on why I do what I do:

6:00AMWake-upGetting up early is often cited as a habit of very successful people
6:00-6:10Eat breakfast
6:10-7:00Work on my most difficult projectWorking for around 50 minutes at one time is scientifically ideal. Why the most difficult project? In the morning, you have the most willpower.
7:00-7:15Break from workDo some kind of household chore such as fold laundry or emptying the dishwasher. I listen to Pandora for a further change of pace
7:15-8:00Work
8:00-8:50KidsGet the kids up and dressed, driven, and checked into day care
8:50-9:30Work
9:30-10:00Walk the dogUse my smartphone quickly scan email and delete anything that it unimportant. Quickly check my stock portfolio to see how the market opened. (This isn’t ideal, but I’m human).
10:00-10:50WorkThis is usually a good time to catch up on email, the first check of the day.
10:50-11:10Lunch
11:10-12:00Work
12:00-12:20Break from workThe first 10 minutes might be some kind of physical work with music. The last 10 minutes might be reading something fun like a few stories about the New England Patriots or the latest technology news.
12:20-1:00Work
1:00-1:30Walk the dog
1:30-2:10WorkGraze on a snack such as a KIND Bar or air popped popcorn
2:10-2:30ShowerSometimes take a bath with a smartphone reading my RSS feeds via Feedly
2:30-3:15SiestaTime to replenish my willpower. I'm also looking into meditation for 15 minutes here and get back to work
3:15-4:00WorkSecond round of email
4:00-5:00Dog ParkSometimes replaced by another dog walk and more work.
5:00-5:40KidsPick up kids at day care
5:40-6:45DinnerIncludes time to prepare and eat it.
6:45-9:30Family timePlay with kids; watch Jeopardy/Wheel of Fortune; watch Red Sox; do something else that is entertaining and not necessarily “productive."
9:30-11:00Light WorkWife and kids go to sleep (she works very early most days). Usually, by this time I don’t have too much more “work” left in me. This is a good time for a third round of email. It’s also good for setting up my goals next day. And of course, there’s hitting those RSS feeds… reading gives me articles ideas.

What’s Wrong with the Above Schedule?

Did you notice that there’s no time for going to the gym. There’s no time for any weightlifting. While I can get walking and even running with my dog, I need to schedule time maintain and build muscle. This is why I get to the end of the day and say to myself, “I didn’t get a workout in today. There's always tomorrow.”

Tomorrow never comes. I need to schedule it in today. If I did 15-20 minutes of exercise that focuses on big muscle groups (squats and such) after lunch that would be an improvement. The new schedule looks something like:

10:50-11:10 - Lunch - Perhaps a burrito: high protein, good fiber (beans), some starchy carbs allowed.
11:10-11:30 - Weight-bearing workout
11:30-12:00 - Work

Layer Your Schedule

I layered several different goals through this schedule. In general, these are work, responsibilities, health, and rest, and happiness.

Work

I get 8 periods of work in, or about 6 hours. That’s not counting the last couple of hours at the end of the night.

Maybe some will say, "Ha! Only 6 hours! I work a lot more than that." If you do and that’s what you are interested in, that’s great. I've read enough studies that say that this balance is more productive overall. I'd simply encourage you to look at the balance you have and see whether it works. Some of my "work" comes with running a household, managing kids, dog, and dinner, etc.

In any case, the main point is to avoid the Peter Gibbons' 15 minutes of work a week.

Health

There’s a mix of diet of exercise scheduled into my day.

For exercise, I average around 13,000 steps on my Fitbit, most of that coming from the dog walks. With the tweak above, I get some strength-building in as well.

For diet, I try to keep some meals high protein and low carbohydrate. I also work in snacks that are low on the glycemic index, lots of fiber, and/or have very little sugar (KIND Bars).

In a future post, I'll detail a list of foods that I eat throughout the day. It could be called, "Planning your most nutritious day."

Rest

I have a number of breaks in there to keep my willpower strong throughout the day. I find this really helps make my work productive. Unlike the Office Space quote from Peter Gibbons above, I avoid “just sorta space out for about an hour.”

One thing to note is that many of rejuvenation breaks are simply different kinds of "work." Taking my dog for a walk is a "quadruple dip" of productivity. It gives me:

  1. Exercise
  2. Exposure to fresh air and sun (sounds silly, but when you work on a computer these are very good things)
  3. Necessary care for a dependent (if Jake doesn’t get his walk, he’ll let you know about it).
  4. The rejuvenating break from work

Happiness

I eliminated most of the entries from 6:00PM until 9:30PM. It is best summed up by calling “family time.” It can vary quite a bit, especially in the summer when there’s more time for outside activities.

Adapt the Principles to Your Schedule

I realize that few people work from home. Some people don’t have dogs. Some people may not like omelets or carrots.

This schedule isn’t meant to work for everyone. I’m sharing it in hopes that it will inspire some ideas (and hopefully some discussion below).

Take a few minutes and write down your schedule. I’ll wait. Done? I bet you didn’t do it, but we’ll continue on anyway. You can always write it down when you see where this is going.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • Am I eating the right kinds of foods? Am I eating them at the right times?
  • Am I getting enough exercise? Am I getting both aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
  • Am I getting enough accomplished in my professional life?
  • Am I taking the necessary breaks that allow me refocus and be more productive?
  • Am I putting time aside for the family and friends and the social ties that contribute so much to our happiness?

You Are Not a Robot (Robots: Please disregard this section)

While I put hard times to everything in the schedule, it isn’t meant to be rigid and inflexible. Life intervenes. We own real estate properties and sometimes work needs to be done on them. Sometimes the wife, kids, or dog gets sick. Sometimes I get sick. In March, some of my “work” has to be devoted to getting tax information together.

Setting a schedule isn’t an exact science. Even if it were possible to make it one, I don’t think I’d like that much. Doing the same things, day in and day out, can get boring and lead to burn-out on a long-term basis. That’s why it is important to be mindful to take vacations and work those into your plans.

Share!

I’ve opened up my life and what works for me. It would really help me (and others) if you could share with me what works for you in the comments.

Anything is open game. Do you find that you work longer or shorter? Do you have your own “quadruple dips” of productivity like the dog walking mentioned above? (Bonus tip: Mowing your own lawn is another one. Think about it.)

This post involves:

Planning, Productivity

... and focuses on:

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Summary: When we understand what slows us down, we can take action to eliminate the problem at the root. (Tweet This)

There are entire sections of the bookstore devoted to being more productive. I'm going to try to break all that down into a one tiny article. I'm lying, it's a huge article. I'm also going to cheat by linking to many other blog posts.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours of time curating hundreds of productivity tips. So it's guilt-trip time. Just imagine how much productivity I will have lost if you don’t read and use these productivity tips. The least you can do is invest a few minutes reading them, right?

I wish I could say that I've designed the perfect organization system for all this information on productivity. I am fairly confident that I have not. This guide will be evolving year after year as I get wiser and you continue to give me constructive feedback.

Get the Day Started on the Right Foot

Determine What Matters

Harvard Business Review tells you how to spend the first 10 minutes of your day. The suggestion is to determine what matters most for a successful day and creating a plan to execute on it.

"Production has really perked up since we installed the coffee pots."

It also means breaking down complex tasks to simple specific actions. For example, I never have "Work on Be Better Now website" on my to-do list. I have specific things such as "Write a few sections of an article on Productivity."

Part of determining what matters is eliminating the things that don't matter. You want to avoid getting bogged down with things that have little impact. I don't know anyone who wakes up and says, "I hope I accomplish email today!" Yet many people wake up only to check their email and begin their day responding to them. An hour later, you finish up only to have the responses from the first emails start to trickle in starting the whole cycle again. If you do this, don't feel too bad, I do it too.

Instead, we should start off your day by figuring out what you want to accomplish and writing it down. If you are really on top of your game, you might have done this before you went to sleep last night.

Create Weekly and Monthly goals

Remember last week when I set goals for January 2015? For now I'm still going with monthly goals, but I am starting to think more and more about setting weekly goals. My suggestion: Experiment with each and see what works for you.

Schedule Your Day

One of the most important things is to have structure to your day. Many people have a lot of meetings that provide that structure. I work from home, which means that I have a very flexible schedule. Most of the time it is as wonderful as it sounds. A lot of the time it could use more structure.

Here are some tips that I've found helpful:

Plan to Take Breaks

It’s tempting to dive in and work, work, work. However, working too long without a break can cause burnout... and that’s not productive. Studies show the most productive people take regular breaks. That's really good news as it means you can get more done in less time.

The study cited above concluded that the ideal amount of work is 52 minutes, followed by a 17 minute break.

If that’s a little specific for you, many find the Pomodoro Technique helpful. It suggests that one should work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. After a few cycles of this, you can take a longer 15-30 minute break. If you want to give this a try, you may find it helpful to download a Pomodoro application for your smartphone.

Take Productive Breaks

For me a break is "something different than writing articles on a computer." Perhaps it's better to call it a "change of pace." I've found a few "breaks/changes of pace" that are productive in a different sense.

I've found that a 15-30 minute break is perfect for walking/running with my dog, Jake. It gives me exercise and time to clear my head. It’s a great change of pace from typing at a keyboard all day. If I have 5 minutes, I might empty the dishwasher. If I have 15, I might also fold some laundry. I also try to schedule my shower as a work break.

Being "differently productive" during a work break is one of the greatest benefits of working from home.

Willpower is strongest in the morning

Studies show we all have limited willpower. You wake up with a bunch of it, but as the day goes on, it gets sapped. If you are like me by the end of the day, you just want to watch a Seinfeld rerun and sleep.

If you have a difficult task that you’ve been putting off, the best time to do it first thing in the morning. Once you complete it, you not only don't have it hanging over your head anymore, but you can be comforted knowing that the day is only going to easier.

Eliminate the Easy Stuff

Use productivity guru David Allen's 2-Minute Rule to slice through much of your to-do list. If it can be done in 2-minutes, simply do it right away. If you are like me having a long to-do list gets mentally exhausting. Having 10-12 items on it can be so overwhelming that I want to simply take the whole day off.

However, I find that even if I can finish 20% of them in 15-20 minutes, I will feel so much better. I get a tremendous boost from seeing the progress made as I cross off the items on the long list.

Limit Email Checks and Crush It Quickly

There is certainly a time for email. Most experts recommend doing email twice a day. Personally, I find that the best times are around 11AM and 3PM. By 11AM, I’m thinking about lunch and this gives me a transition to that. At 3PM, I’m thinking about a snack to carry me through to dinner.

Like many, I am an avid Gmail user. One of the fastest and most productive ways to churn through most of your email is to use This Email Game, which was once awarded Time Magazine’s Top 50 Best Website list.

Set Yourself Up For Success Tomorrow

Remember at the beginning when I said that you should create a list of things that you want to accomplish to start the day. What if you spent a few minutes putting it together the night before? Then you’d save yourself the ten minutes in the morning. You could jump right in and start doing that most difficult thing.

Productivity is a State of Mind

Clear your Mind

If you are anything like me, you've got a billion things running around in your head. Having all that in there is like a computer hard drive that hasn't been defragmented in years. It just clogs everything up. I can't focus on one task, because I've got all this other stuff going on in the back of my mind.

The solution: Off-load all that stuff in your head into a note taking application (Evernote is the most popular followed by Google Keep), a to-do list (my current favorite is Wunderlist, and/or a calendar (I use Google Calendar).

Get Motivated

Sometimes you just need that boost to get started. I like to focus on a few things that are quick and easy. It gets the productivity snowball rolling down the mountain.

Other times, I use music to get me going. For example, how can be a lump after listening to The White Stripe's Seven Nation Army:

Meditate

I'm just starting to learn about meditation. So far it looks promising. The idea is to take a planned break. However, instead of the productive breaks I mentioned above, you simply focus on the idea of taking a break. It may sound like hippy, mamsy-pamsy stuff, but there's real science behind it.

Make Technology your Friend, not Your Enemy

As I mentioned above, I do much of my work on a computer. Unfortunately a lot of requires me having access to the internet. This means I'm always fewer than 5 seconds away from learning about the latest Boston sports news. (It's vital to know if Gronk has a hangnail.)

Here are a few tips and tricks that I've invaluable:

  • Pocket or Instapaper - Each of these applications save articles for later. So rather than have a browser tab stare at me saying, "Read Me!", I tell it goodbye. At the end of the day when I'm winding down, I can catch up on these at my own pace. With my smartphone, I can even catch up with them when I don't have my computer such as at the dog park.
  • Disconnect from the Internet and churn through as much as possible - This is often called the airplane trick. I don't know who realized it first, but people found that when they don't have access to the Internet on airplanes, they can churn through work. I've found that it works for me as well. While I often need the Internet to look up something for an article I'm writing, I've started to make a note of it and continue writing. I find that I get a lot more words written when I focus on writing. Funny how that is.
  • Track or Eliminate Computer Use - Personally I've been scared to take this step, but there are applications that will tell you how much you spend in certain applications. The most famous is RescueTime. MakeUseOf has a a couple of suggestions

Get a Second Monitor

While on the topic of technology, a variety of studies that show having a second monitor is very productive. Here are the best selling computer monitors on Amazon.

Putting it All Together

When we understand what slows us down, we can take action to eliminate the problem at the root. In a few minutes we learned:

  • why it is important to get started early in the morning
  • what tasks we should and shouldn't tackle in the morning
  • how to use technology to our advantage instead of distraction
  • how to get going when we lack motivation

... and much more.

Further Reading: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity - This is the definitive book on productivity in my opinion. With over 1300 reviews and an average rating of 4.4 stars on Amazon, it seems that most people agree. With a current price of less than $10, it represents a tremendous value in terms of investing in yourself.

This post involves:

Productivity

... and focuses on:

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Summary: Don't live a complicated life that is inefficient and constantly full of clutter (Tweet This)

As I mentioned in our Welcome post, one day of most weeks, Be Better Now will cover topics relating to productivity, organization, and simplicity. This is an extremely broad topic... some experts have written many books on the topic. I'll try to boil down all the advice I find and things I learn into the best guide on the Internet.

In many ways the three concepts stack on top of each other. When you live simply, it is easier to be organized. When you are organized, it is easier to be productive. When you are productive you save time and money, two resources that you can apply in other areas of your life, such as getting healthy, spending time with family, or just giving your brain a chance to relax.

This is the synergy concept at the core of Be Better Now. When all the pieces come together, we are at our best.

Here are just a few of the areas that I expect to cover:

  • Digital Clutter - As a technology early adopter, I have hundreds of accounts with websites that I don't use. They all want my attention and access to my email box. Beyond that, my other blog has gotten popular enough that every company with a new product emails me asking for me to promote their product. The digital clutter expands from beyond my email box, to my desktop, and my computer itself.
  • Organize My Home - Each weekend I sigh when we think about the mess. You don't want to see my office desk, trust me. To put it simply, I have acquired things that have no homes. I need to be better at finding homes for these things or getting rid of them. I also need to be better at putting away those things that do have homes.
  • Getting Things Done - At the risk of using David Allen's copyrighted term, I need to find a way to cut through my "To Do" list. I don't think I have ever gotten it halfway completed. I'll do a lot of research on why that is, and what I need to do differently.

Each of these add up to quite a bit of mental strain and add stress to my life. When I should be relaxing and watching a movie, I'm thinking, "Ugh, I really should be doing [Project X]." It's time to slice through that and start being better.

In the end, I simply can't live the life I want to live if it is inefficient, constantly full of clutter, and complex processes that take up precious brain cycles.

This post involves:

Productivity

... and focuses on:

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