My habits for having a productive year (2016)

2016 was professionally a very good year and it was because I was exceptionally productive. The TL;DR (aka too long; didn’t read) is that I became obsessed with writing down my goals and checking them off. When I reflect back on what changed this year, it is that I picked up a couple of new habits that profoundly impacted my own personal accountability. Below are the 3 habits that set me up for success:

  1. Get an annual planner. I use a Volt Planner (aka Spark Planner). It is a simple 6″ x 8.5″ black notebook that can be easily carried anywhere. The advantage of using this planner is in the functionality that it provides to plan out the year. The planner opens up to a set of pages to document your annual theme (aka, what is it that you want to accomplish this year?) and the 5 big goals to support that theme. The planner is then broken down into the traditional 12 months, each with a personal challenge for the month. And each month is further broken down into either (A) weekly goals with pre-printed space to list/check-off goals and write your accomplishments, and (B) weekly outlooks with day parts (aka, morning, afternoon, evening) to plan out each day. More on how I use the planner below. The planner is $75 and available via Amazon for a limited time only starting on 1/6.

    Weekly Outlook view of Volt Planner
    Weekly Outlook view of Volt Planner
  2. Complete 5 big weekly tasks. I spend 30 – 45 minutes every Friday to outline 5 new goals that I intend to complete by the end of the upcoming week. I add these goals to my weekly goals view in my Volt Planner. Having just 5 big goals is more manageable because the goals align nicely with each week day. And at the end of the week I can quickly assess my productivity and determine if I need to refocus (aka, I am not successful if I keep having to move/re-write this week’s goals in the upcoming week’s set of goals). While my list may have a couple of additional, lower-priority goal, I like to remain focused on only 5 because unscheduled work tends to encroach on my calendar as the week progresses. Additionally, I use the weekly outlook view of the Volt Planner to layout tasks by specific client. I also designate a miscellaneous category as a “catch all” bucket for tasks and a at home for personal tasks. So as an added bonus, the planner helps me organize both my professional and home life. 🙂
  3. Track your time. I use Dave Seah’s Emergent Time Tracker spreadsheet to track how I am spending time during the work week. The spreadsheet breaks down my 12-hour day into 15 minute increments. Each week day I use one spreadsheet and assign 15-minute increment to either a specific project/task/client or one of the following 4 “catch all” categories: email time, internal time, existing client time, and drive time. Because I am responsible for helping my clients grow their digital business, the majority of my time is spent either on email/existing clients.
    Emergent Taks Timer
    Emergent Taks Timer

    This spreadsheet has been my go-to time tracking solution for 6+ years. You can learn more about it and even download a copy via my better time management blog post.

It astounds me how the smallest change can make the biggest difference. With that in mind, I am looking forward to revisiting my habits at the end of this year and sharing what additional adjustments I’ve made to make the next year even better. I am also curious about the habits that have shaped your productivity so please let me know via the comments.

NOTE: Big thanks to Chris Spears for his influence and contributions to making 2016 a more productive year!

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