Related Subtopics:  > Goal Setting > To-Do

I've been struggling with my productivity lately. When you build a website around a central tenant of being more productive this qualifies as A Very Bad Thing. I could go through the list of the list of excuses, but that's exactly what they are. Time to man up, admit that I wasn't living up to the expectations I set for myself, and be better...

Living the Video Game Life

Living the Video Game Life

It's easy enough to type that. Living it is a horse of a different color. What I need is a way to stay motivated and accountable. The first thought that came to my mind is that I should take a commitment contract out against myself. This would help ensure that I stick to my plan. I was in the process of doing just that when I realized that would have to quantify my productivity. (Remember "Measurable" from our SMART Goals).

Fortunately, I happen to have a handy tool to quantify my productivity. I can simply refer to my prioritized to-do list. Each day, I will keep track how many points I've completed in a spreadsheet. I could even run some statistics on the data and create some graphs. The possibilities are endless.

Rate My Life

All problems are solved, right? Well not exactly. As we all known life intervenes with work sometimes. Earlier this week, I had to take time off to do my taxes. On my conventional business to-do list, this would have scored low. On my, "I like to stay out of jail" to-do list, it ranked high. There are a lot of items like this. Walking my dog comes to mind immediately. Then there are the times where I take some extra time make a healthy meal. This lowers my productivity, but it is also a worthwhile trade off. The last thing that I want to do is to become a slave to my productivity charts and graphs.

I needed to do a little tweak. I created a spreadsheet for several areas that I want to be better in. Here's a representation of that spreadsheet:

CategoryMax ScoreToday's RatingToday's Score12345678931TotalAverage
Money1033
Health1033
Productivity1055
Social Good1022
Family / Fun1088
Totals21

The categories were ones that were just off the top of my head - most of them pulled from the goals of this site: Money, Health, Productivity, Social good, and Family / Fun. The idea here is to rate myself each day on this criteria. If I eat tons of fast food and don't exercise, I'm going to get a low health score. If go crazy and buy a bunch of tablet computers for every room in the house, I'm going to get a low score in the money category (and perhaps an increased score in the likelihood of getting divorced column that isn't present here). I don't think I need to explain each category... I trust you get the picture.

You may wonder why I have a Max Score, Today's Rating and Today's Score column. As I've explained it thus far, I could just put a number from 1 to 10 for each day of the month, and have the same result. Did you notice above that I said this graph was a representation of my spreadsheet? My actual spreadsheet is a lot more complex. I didn't want to melt your brains.

My Life as a Video Game

My spreadsheet breaks down categories into specific tasks. So walking the dog gets points in both family/fun and health. I have exercise and diet tasks in the health category. If I have the best workout, I can earn 10 points there. If I have an excellent diet, that's another 10 points. I often forget to floss, so I'm giving myself an extra point. What I have now is a Health Category with a Max Score of 21. If I put in above average workout (6) with above average diet (6) and floss (1), I will earn 13 of 21 possible points. When I skip the gym, I likely won't get out of the single digits. Thus my life as a video game is designed to score points. That may sound a bit a crazy, but it's quite sane in a world of where winning is living the Charlie Sheen life.

As long as I keep the system in balance, this seems like a great way to stay motivated throughout the day. Scoring points allows me to set measurable goals. Best of all, I can put a reward system in place. It may take a little negotiation with my wife, but I think I could talk her into agreeing to let me get one tablet computer if score enough points. I've been eying the HP TouchPad coming out this summer, we'll see if I get there.

Photo Credit: Raja Nicholas Fletcher

This post involves:

Mind, Motivation, Productivity / Organization

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If you are anything like me, you can't get to the bottom of your to-do list. It's one of the reasons I created this blog. What can I say? I'm just a boy who cain't say no. I'm going to leave "learning to say no" for another day, but today, I'd like to talk about to-do lists and getting the right things on it done.

A decade ago, I worked for a top 20 Internet company managing one of its most profitable properties: Search. It was a lot of pressure for me at 24 years old. Fortunately, the Vice President of Content had a lot of confidence in my abilities and we really clicked. It wasn't too long after we started working together that we came across the problem that everyone encounters at one point or another. The VP had a bunch of things he wanted to accomplish and I was just one engineer. With limited time and resources, something had to give.

To-Do List - Get Things Done

Using a To-Do List to Get Things Done

I suggested that we try something very different. I told him to make a list of all the tasks that need to get done. Separately we tackled that list in a couple of different ways. I went through and estimated how easy the task was to accomplish. He gave each task on the list a score based on how important it was to the business. We each used a 10 point scale - 10 was "easy" on mine and 10 was "very important" on his. Then we simply multiplied our scores and sorted on the result in descending order. The bottom 30% of the list got tabled indefinitely as not worth the effort. The easy stuff with the big impact to the business bubbled up to the top 30% of the list. In a few days, I implemented all these features and the bosses were really happy with what we accomplished. The middle 40% took me another month, but it was a quiet month as the bosses moved on to torture harass supervise other projects.

Recently I was reading Never Check E-Mail In the Morning and Julie Morgenstern suggested a similar thing.

I decided to resurrect that idea, incorporate it with the ideas from the book and came up with a new way of managing my to-do list. As I've found in the past, Excel (or spreadsheet equivalent) is the right tool for the job.

Here is a snapshot of what it looks like:

TaskCategoryRevenue RelevanceTime to CompleteROIDeadlineValueNotes:
Collect money from TonyFinances88995184
Read Erica.biz' Guest Post SecretsPromotion66761512
Write PostsProduct Development9296972
Update Ad Sales BooksFinances2685480
Guest Post for Get Rich SlowlyPromotion5295450
Add My Photo to ThemePromotion2863288
Ask others about possible Guest Post openingsPromotion2972252
Find a Twitter list of Productive BloggersPromotion2952180
Create a Facebook PagePromotion2752140

My metrics are:

  • Revenue Relevance - It's hard to downplay the actual money factor.
  • Time to Complete - My original idea of quantifying how hard something is.
  • ROI - This is the impact to the rest of the business. A guest post isn't going to directly bring in revenue, but it is very important to the growth of the business.
  • Deadline - This is another tip from Morgenstern. In the blogging business there are few deadlines. However, in this case, I really need to complete the paperwork to get the money from Tony sooner rather than later.

You'll notice I have a couple of other columns as well. I like to have a Category column to sort by. This way, if I feel like my business is in need of promotion, I can work on that. If I start seeing a number of finance tasks piling up, I can focus on those even if those other categories may technically be more important. You'll also notice a Notes column. In this case I didn't add any particular notes, but often I have notes. For example, if I had an outline of what to write for my guest post on Get Rich Slowly, I would put it here.

In Never Check E-Mail In the Morning, Morgenstern suggested that the impact to the company's revenue should be the metric for "important to the business." At the time I was reading the book, it made sense, but in applying it to my business, I started to disagree. I'm keeping it in my spreadsheet for now, but I'm thinking of combining the ROI and the Revenue into the same column like I did 10 years ago. This means tasks with big revenue impact would just have a big a ROI impact as well. One of the problems I have with the focus on revenue is that it would push necessary evils like security of my web server towards the bottom. It may not seem relevant to your revenue until there's an emergency - and that's often the worst time to deal with it.

I should also emphasize that this is my business to-do list. I've thought about shoehorning personal tasks into it, but I don't see how it would work. It seems like comparing the business impact of doing laundry can't (and shouldn't) be compared to writing blog posts. Laundry would almost always lose out unless it started to really pile up and I'm working on a more general one.

Photo Credit: Richard Dingwall

This post involves:

Productivity / Organization, To-Do

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With the first week of the new year over, most of us have put our nose to the grindstone (Who thought of that saying? Sounds painful!). The question is: 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 at least 40 articles completed for this website. I have zero. What I do have is about 90 articles outlined with a ton of research. That doesn't count for much.

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 will-power. When we are presented with a few mental distractions we don't have the will-power 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 fridge. 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 - I trust you can figure out the best way to do that. At the end of the article, I'll give you a tip on how to bring in the support of family and friends. Before we get to that though, let's 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

Are Taylor Lautner's Abs Attainable?

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 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 lose 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 work with other priorities. Perhaps after I lose the 25 pounds, 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 spend 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 5 pounds by the end of the month.

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.

Before I turn it over to you for comments, I have to make good on my promise above to give you a tip to bring in friends and family to help you.

Motivate yourself with a commitment contract for better results:

It's great to have goals, but often the biggest barrier is having motivation to get them accomplished. Some people are naturally motivated. Others need a little more help depending on the task. If you find yourself in the latter group, I highly recommend making a commitment contract.

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Goal Setting, Productivity / Organization

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As I mentioned in our Welcome post, each Monday I'll be covering topics relating to productivity, organization, and simplicity. I realize it is a broad topic... it should keep me writing for years. However, I've found this to be a key pillar in being successful at almost anything you do. It is certainly at the core of my goal to Be Better Now.

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.

Here are just a few of the areas that I expect to cover (this is definitely not inclusive):

  • 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.

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.

This post involves:

Productivity / Organization

... and focuses on:

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