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I made one simple change to my work habits this week and my productivity skyrocketed.

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Boosting Productivity

This week I’m going to give you a quick tip that helped me boost my productivity, and could do the same for you.

Tell me if you identify with any of the following characteristics, whether you’re an entrepreneur or not:

– You always have tons and tons of ideas, and want to do them all at once
– Your life operates from a series of to-do lists, to the point where you’re writing and re-writing your lists all the time, and setting various priorities
– You also live by your calendar, with dozens of events and meetings and so on pulling you in every direction
– You’re prone to procrastination, with social media and email and the rest of life distracting you from what you want to do

Personally, I can identify with all of those items.

Let me start out by saying I think I’ve been pretty good at setting major goals and working hard to achieve them. When I look back at my life, things like becoming an Eagle Scout, graduating college with honors, moving to another city to pursue my dream job, getting a book published, and even producing this podcast every week for many years is something to be proud of. If you’re a Type A, high-achiever, I’m positive you have a similar list.

But I know there are many more things I want to get done.

It frustrates me to no end when I see them sitting on my to-do list unfinished, mocking me.

But as I spoke with my business coach recently about the topic, here’s where it gets interesting. While I think I’ve done pretty good in committing to things myself, I realized I am loyal to a fault when it comes to supporting others. I rarely, rarely let anyone down. It kills me to do so.

If you ask me to do something and I commit to a deadline, set it in stone. If I put something on my calendar, from volunteering to speak at a conference to a simple birthday party get-together, you can guarantee I’ll be there for you.

So why am I so committed to tasks for others, but not for myself?

Promise Tracker

So last week I made a subtle change.

Sure, I still had my basic calendar and my larger to-do list. But I added a new twist. My coach sent me a simple template with the title “Promise Tracker.”

The sheet was really simple actually, with three items:
– An area for each project
– The days of the week you were promising to work on them
– A “percent win” result, where you had to calculate how many promises you kept vs. broke

I ended up printing out three different sheets:
1) My major projects (This blog/podcast, salary negotiation speaking/courses, and my Reboot Conference)
2) Very important, but short term speaking projects (Presenting at the Mediabistro Bootcamp, New York Creative Interns Find and Follow Conference, a negotiation class at The Hired Guns, and my class at NYU)
3) Personal goals of going to the gym 5 times in the week, waking up before 8am, and being accountable for the updates.

This ended up having a huge affect on my attitude and productivity.

No longer were the items on my to do list and outline for what I was HOPING to get done this week, now I had a list staring me in the face of what I had PROMISED myself I would do.

Suddenly I was holding myself responsible to the same level of dedication that I had when committing to something with other people.

One really interesting twist was on the accountability bullet point I mentioned. The previous week, my coach asked if it would be helpful if she sent me a text or email checking in on me, to make sure I was keeping up with my to do list. She did so a few times and it was somewhat helpful, knowing that I would be letting her down if I had to reply and say “not done yet but working on it” or “shoot, something came up and I’ll do it tomorrow.”

The shift we made around this, was that I had to be the one sending HER a check in email with my what I had done or missed. In some cases it was the end of the night, and I was about to send the email, and I realized there was an item or two that I hadn’t done yet. It motivated me to shut off the TV, log out of Facebook, hang up the phone, whatever, and do that item before sending the email.

Here were the results:

– Not only did I get up before 8am every day and thus get an earlier start on my day, but one night I was out later than normal and feeling tired, so I allowed myself an extra bit of sleep time and set my alarm for 8:30. I ended up waking up without the alarm at 7:59am.
– Because I was up earlier, I had more time to go to the gym or run, and that energy carried over to my working day
– I made fantastic progress on the online course I am creating, having calls with the video producer, honing the script, and planning out the launch
– I completed and rehearsed my presentations for all 4 speaking events days in advance, which meant I was far less stressed about working on them at the last minute

In the end, I accomplished 31 of the 34 items on the list (91%) on the day I promised myself to complete it, with the three I missed having to be rolled over to the next day and completed then.

Of course, one week does not a habit make. Perhaps it was a situation where a) my schedule was pretty free, especially after the storms in NY, friends in town, and other things going on and b) I’ve been really focused on the projects I need to get done now.

However, there definitely was a mindset shift and accountability factor here, and it’s something definitely worth trying.

Is it something I’m going to try again this week? Absolutely. I promise.

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Examples:
– When you send an Outlook email with a read receipt, you know someone has read your email
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– Many dating sites show who has looked at your account
– The holdout is Facebook. While there are some apps out there that claim to do this, it is against their privacy policy. Would that affect snooping on that ex girlfriend or old coworker if you knew that they knew you were looking at them?

My take is that it seems OK from a business perspective, but gets tricky when it gets personal. For example, when I invoice someone via Freshbooks, it gives you a timeline of when the invoice was created, sent, viewed, and paid. For me, I like the feature since there will be times where a payment is late, and the way you approach it would be very different if they haven’t viewed the invoice (perhaps the person is out of the office or they didn’t receive the email) or they have (and are taking their time getting you your money).

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