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What is Productivity?
Productivity is a measure of doing things efficiently. It is the rate at which you deliver work.
We adults constantly worry about our productivity.
I wake up to a long to-do list. By the end of the day, I have only picked a few items from the top. Even after working all day long, everything important still seems to be in the queue.
Rather than thinking about what I have done, I think of the work I haven’t done.
One blog post is published. But what about its marketing? I made that phone call. But what about the email I had to send?
Some days, I don’t work with a task list. On such days, I am hazed in the cloud of things to do and cannot focus on one thing.
Pending tasks hover in the sultry evening, and then it is a never-ending game of self-blame.
We are either overworked trying to do too much but not finishing anything or are confused about what to do.
This is where goals come into the picture.
Why Goals are Important?
Goals are our guiding lights. Once we know our goals, we can focus on the important work and shoo away that falls out of line.
Goals set our field of vision.
If you never have goals, you have nothing to achieve. You might be successful, but your success wasn’t part of your plan.
Jeff Bezos planned his success. His only goal was to deliver good products on time so that the customers return.
J. K. Rowling never planned to become a popular writer. You can say that she never set a goal but achieved great fame.
You are wrong.
Rowling’s goal was to write the Harry Potter books, and she didn’t stop until she finished.
When I was at school, my goal was to memorize all the questions and answers of my course. If my mother asked me to recite an answer from page three of my notebook, I would repeat all the question-answers until I reached the notebook’s end.
After school, my goal was to crack the toughest engineering entrance exam in India. I was so focused on that one goal that I wouldn’t even shower for days because I thought showering would interrupt my studies. I scored an all India rank of 78 (amongst about half a million students) in that test.
In college, I didn’t make big goals and always remained an average performer amongst a sea of immense talent.
As I started work and realized I didn’t like the corporate world, my goal became to find the one thing that I wanted to do. Switching from ideas of going for a culinary course to opening a restaurant to going for an MFA to finally taking up writing as a career, I didn’t settle until I found my calling.
Now my goal is to write better every day and make my writing reach people. Every morning I cannot wait to sit on my desk. I don’t take phone calls. I feel burdened by the presence of house help. I communicate minimally even with my partner for I don’t want to get distracted from my morning thoughts.
A lot of people say that having goals isn’t enough. That’s true. You need to work to achieve your goal.
But a goal is that invincible force that pushes you towards the one thing you want.
Here is another example of how goals work.
I was working 12–14 hours a day writing, blogging, reading, and doing other administrative work.
Work was overwhelming. As the day finished, I felt more things had piled on rather than getting done.
One day an amazing idea struck me.
Why don’t I set daily goals? Work that I will finish in a day irrespective of how much time it takes. Better. Why don’t I pick up a challenge for a month?
I dared myself to write thirty articles in thirty days of August 2019.
I had recently returned from a four-month trip from the Himalayas. Long-term travel had impacted my productivity.
I needed to write. I needed to focus.
The challenge seemed like a light in the dark.
Starting from August 1, I wrote an article every day.
Soon, I had to cut into the time of my morning trigger routine (read more about routines) — no exercising or meditation or a relaxed breakfast. No phone calls. No late-night drives. No social media. No fear of missing out. No news. No browsing clothes online. No falling in past loops.
Wake up, get ready, work and eat, sleep and dream about unfinished drafts.
I couldn’t procrastinate.
I had a clear goal. I was on it.
Soon impossible seemed possible.
Articles were getting written. Search Engine Optimization was in line. Titles were catchy. Images were edited, uploaded, and inserted. Marketing was done. Freelance work was finished. Guest posts were sent.
Publish. Publish. Publish.
Life was sorted. Except those days weren’t breezy at all.
I was irritable and sleepless from overworking. Eating outside food and lack of exercise made me feel lethargic and fat.
But being healthy wasn’t the goal that month, I later realized.
I wasn’t able to focus on all the genres that I write about.
But being on social media or balancing the genres wasn’t the goal that month, I later understood.
Focusing only on the one thing of writing an article every day was the only thing I should have worried about.
As I got into the groove of writing an article a day, new ideas started springing in my mind before I could finish the piece at hand.
I had started a chain reaction.
Now when I look back, I wonder how could I finish (average)5,000-words researched, search engine optimized, and narrative articles with pictures in a day’s time for thirty days?
My amazement would make more sense when I tell you that in the past six months I have only written fourteen articles. I hadn’t set a goal. The other work that I had to neglect during the 30-day challenge couldn’t possibly take all the residual time.
The explanation of my superwoman productivity isn’t complicated. I had told myself that I had to write an article every day, so I did.
I had a goal. I needed to stop fooling around and achieve it.
Imagine if you didn’t have any goals. What if you never thought that you can be a partner at your company in two years? You would have already missed the opportunity of being a partner for you didn’t put in the effort to become one.
Without goals, you are just getting the work done. If you don’t have goals, you have no way of measuring your progress. You are not setting yourself up for growth.
If you want to achieve anything in life, make a goal. Write it down. Tell your friends and family about it.
You have set yourself answerable. You want to stick to the goal because it is defined.
Now you are not daydreaming about becoming the next Elon Musk. Your definite goal of starting an electric car company is in front of you on paper.
Goals help you walk out of your dreams into the realm of reality.
As you have zeroed down on one or a few important ambitions, you have put the rest out of focus. When you wake up, you say I have to get this done rather than thinking about the hundred things you need to do.
You have already made progress. Now you can keep your head down and finish the task at hand.
When goals are in sight, productivity holds your finger.
How to Set Goals.
Setting achievable goals and short-term goals versus long-term goals.
Writing thirty articles in thirty days was a short-term goal aligning with my long-term goal of writing good pieces.
Your goals align with your values and priorities. They reflect the things you care about and believe at the time. They fit in your path.
How to set your goals in life? Should you think about goals for a day or a month or a year?
Even though we (and the human resource managers of all organizations) think we know where we want to be in five years, we mostly never do.
How we feel today would be different from how we feel a year later. The things that make us happy, which in turn make us do what we do, change with time.1
Remember that you loved coding once? Now you cannot imagine yourself typing one line of code.
The goals (might) change.
Setting short-term goals is better than setting long-term goals unless you are sure about your vision.
I always think about one or two-years goals that are in line with my life values and ideas.
Writing. Reading more. Growing my blog’s audience. Being helpful to others. Staying fit. Traveling — are some of my goals.
These bigger goals are then broken down into smaller goals — yearly, monthly, or daily. Daily goals can even be called tasks of the day.
Your long-term goals guide your short-term goals that in turn create your work schedule.
- I want to publish two books by the end of 2021. My goal should be to write one book per year. [Bigger goal -> Short-term goal]
- You want to become a humanitarian. Your goal should be to start working at a social organization.[Bigger goal -> Short-term goal]
- You wish to become a partner at your firm. Your goal should be to become a team leader first. [Bigger goal -> Short-term goal]
- You want to scuba dive at twenty places in two years. You should scuba dive at ten places in one year.[Bigger goal -> Short-term goal]
Breaking your goals into smaller chunks or steps is an important part of setting goals.
And if you think that our tiny, daily activities or goals do not impact our life at a larger scale, you are wrong.
Even the tiniest goals have a domino effect.
Send a pitch to an editor — get accepted in the magazine — become a regular writer for them — work for other magazines — establish as a voice on culture.
The simple task of sending that pitch today can kickstart a chain reaction kicking more important goals in your life’s journey. Any small goal can ignite this kind of domino effect.
And as you pursue goals that make you happy, you are in turn motivated to further chase those goals.
Traveling to 12 new countries in a year is a goal. Settling down with your parents is a goal. Getting a raise is a goal. Losing 50 pounds is a goal. Improving your living standard is a goal. Coding better is a goal. Helping people is a goal. Improving productivity is a goal.
But while creating goals can seem like the beginning of a new life, you need to keep something in mind while setting goals for yourself.
Eliminate the not-so-important goals to only keep the most important goals — Block the noise.
You feel that all the things you want to do are important. You cannot let go of anything.
Just a few sentences above I told you that my goals are,
Writing. Reading more. Growing my blog’s audience. Being helpful to others. Staying fit. Traveling.
A couple of years earlier, these goals were,
Writing. Reading more. Growing my blog’s audience. Being helpful to others. Staying fit. Traveling. Publishing poetry. Teaching English. Painting. Baking. etc.
The list was so long that I don’t even remember what all it had. The things that I have already forgotten don’t matter. And the goals or dreams that I have listed at the end and am not pursuing are either gone for good or I have postponed them.
I have put off my own dreams. Am I mad?
I am a smart person who knows that she cannot do everything at the same time. When I was planning to do it all, I was always irritable and overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I had to do and I couldn’t do.
Nothing was getting done.
So one day, I postponed some of my dreams to achieve the rest. Else I would have been forever stuck in the misery of not doing enough.
You would have heard this quote by Gary Keller — “Not everything matters equally, and success isn’t a game won by whoever does the most. Yet that is exactly how most play it on a daily basis.” 2
Warren Buffet, Josh Billings, Jonathan Glazer, J.G. Holland, Og Mandino all are (were) great promoters of doing one thing or the minimum number of things at a time.
Contrary to the popular belief, if you put more items on the task list, you wouldn’t get more done. But you would get less done.
The more number of things you have to do, the more you think about getting everything done rather than focusing on the most important items. You get overwhelmed and do less.
Ironical, ain’t it?
Getting rid of the items that seem important but are not — letting go — is pivotal to success.
Take out the goals that are less important than the rest. Focus on the 1–2 most significant ideas.
You set the rhythm of the day when you start your day with the most crucial thing to do. And that is how you can set the rhythm of your life, too.
Goals aren’t everything but you cannot achieve much without setting a goal.
So find your priorities, set clear goals for a year or two, eliminate unimportant goals, break the final ones into smaller goals.
Seems simple enough?
But there is something else.
How to Achieve Goals – Goals versus System.
The system is what you actually do to accomplish your goals.
The system is the doer. Goals are the guidelines.
When you want water from a hand pump, you push the lever up and down. Water flows.
Pushing the lever up and down is your system/your job. As you do it well, you will get water, no questions asked.
The system is your lever to achieving your goals.
Write down your goals. Break them into smaller ones. Write down the tasks or steps needed to achieve each one of these. Assign a timeline to these steps. Fill your schedule with these smaller tasks.
Now you have a system that is made up of smaller goals that in turn make up your bigger goals.
Our goals will keep an eye on our progress while we make progress by following the process.
Rewriting some of the examples from above.
- I want to publish two books by the end of 2022. My goal should be to write one book per year. In turn, I should aim to write 500 words every day. [Bigger goal -> Short-term goal -> Daily goal]
- You want to become a humanitarian. Your goal should be to work in a social organization. In turn, you should reach out to NGOs daily until you find the one you want to work for. [Bigger goal -> Short-term goal -> Daily goal]
- You want to scuba dive at twenty places in two years. You should scuba dive at ten places in one year. In turn, you should plan to scuba dive at one new place every month. [Bigger goal -> Short-term goal -> Daily/monthly goal]
These are tangible goals. You could also have intangible goals. They need a system, too.
- I want to be healthy. Run half an hour daily. [Bigger goal -> Daily goal]
- I want to be the best father. Do one thing a day for your daughter. [Bigger goal -> Daily goal]
- I wish to be happy. Meditate for ten minutes daily. [Bigger goal -> Daily goal]
- I want to become a better coder. Analyze your code every day instead of just getting the job done. [Bigger goal -> Daily goal]
Like the seeds of a pomegranate fill its shell and hold the fruit together, small tasks would fit in with each other to form your goal.
Goals are dreamy. Walking the steps that lead to the goal is the only way to realize them.
Oh, you might be walking down or stumbling or crawling or bleeding, but you got no other way.
You have to do the work.
Sometimes I spend too much time thinking about my goals rather than putting the systems in place. Thinking about the goals gives me a reason to continue, but also distracts me from my daily work making me feel unproductive and inefficient.
This is the time when I rely on my daily habits to bring myself back to my system.
As Gary Keller puts it, “we know something that needs to be done but isn’t currently getting done, we often say, “I just need more discipline.” Actually, we need the habit of doing it. And we need just enough discipline to build the habit.”
Think of your goals, create a system, build habits, live on automated mode.
I told you that Jeff Bezos planned his success, but I said so as I wanted to correct myself here. Jeff didn’t focus on success. He put the right system in place. That’s all he ever did.
Rowling didn’t plan that she would become the world’s best selling author. Without worrying about writing the fastest-selling book, she just wrote.
We all have to treat the system as the fastest way to success even though the system might take us years to get to our goal.
Dream. Make your dreams your goals. But remember that you can only achieve goals whose systems you can control. Circumstantial success is not worth pursuing for you cannot guarantee you will achieve it even if you work hard.
Thinking of becoming the next Jerry Seinfeld? You can’t.
Thinking of writing jokes and becoming a good comedian? You can.
Thinking of becoming the best selling author? You can’t.
Thinking of becoming a good writer? You can.
All our wholesome and larger than life images are built by small tasks done over and over for years. It is as simple as that.
There is no secret mantra. That is the secret mantra.
A goal gives you an edge over everyone else. So rather than thinking there’s a lot to do, find out what is most important to you. Set goals.
But remember that people who fail and succeed both have goals. Only the people who are courageous enough to put in a realistic system and then follow it can achieve their objectives.
So what are you waiting for? Get started today.
Productivity will fall in line, I promise.
- Ideas and facts inspired by the book Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert
- The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results By Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
Watch out this space for the next session when I tell you how to stick to these goals using daily task lists. Making and breaking the system, if you may say.
Do you now understand why goals are good for you?
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