Main-te-nance (noun): work that is done regularly to keep a machine, building or piece of equipment in good condition and working order.
Considering the classic car in your driveway, the issue of a tune-up is a no-brainer. No one would risk ruining such a finely crafted machine by neglecting routine—but critical—maintenance.
Ah, but when we turn our attention to the finely crafted “machine” reading this article, YOU, the “tune-up” might now sound so logical. The same principles apply though: Maintenance is what it takes to keep us “in good condition and working order.”
Step #1 in any productivity tune-up has to start with a quick assessment of where you stand today.
- What’s frustrating you?
- Where do you feel you are failing, or just failing to achieve your potential?
- What are the sources of stress?
Next, take a hard look at the source of these problems. Or, as productivity expert Julie Morgenstern puts it, answer the question: “Is it me, or is it them?” Taking a hard look at these issues will help point out what needs attention. You can often trace your productivity challenges to ADHD, but I still encourage you to dig deep and learn more about what is causing your challenges.
- Is there too much on your to do list?
- Are you unable to focus at work?
- Are you unclear on your priorities?
- What else is going on for you?
Then consider some of these tips and resources from well-known productivity experts to identify ways you can accomplish more while reducing stress and putting some enjoyment back in your life.
Keep track of your most important commitment—the one you make to yourself.
Productivity guru David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, contends that commitments to yourself are qualitatively different than those you make to others because your conscious mind can essentially “lose track” of them. While your boss will remind you of your commitments to her, your mind doesn’t know your email address. What Allen calls your “mental RAM” (also known as working memory) will continue to expect those commitments to be fulfilled, but you may have forgotten about them amidst the clamor of your work life. The result is the worst kind of stress, because you feel the pressure but you can’t quite figure out where it’s coming from. In his most recent book, Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life, Allen offers several effective tips for capturing these “open loops” and closing them, either by completing, canceling or renegotiating them. My favorite is to cancel the lower priority items. You make your to do list smaller and you don’t even have to do anything!
Invest in Your Health
This goes without saying, right? Actually, for most of us, it also goes without doing. Yet, apart from the obvious benefits of better health, increasing your physical well-being can yield tremendous benefits in terms of your productivity at work. In the view of Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of The Power of Full Engagement, it is managing your energy—starting with your physical health, including diet, sleep and exercise—that is more important than managing time in improving your personal productivity. Pretty bold statement, but it makes sense as a foundational element of productivity doesn’t it?
USE One Planning System
How many different places do you squirrel away information? Email? Yellow pads? Daily planner? PDA? Post-it Notes around your computer screen? All of these different sources of information are distracting and make it impossible to prioritize the things you need to do. Each of the productivity experts referenced here, and the hundreds of others in the bookstore, will claim their system is the best. But most of them also acknowledge that any system that you actually use is going to be better than no system or the hodge-podge that so many of us fall into. As Allen puts it, in choosing an organizer, whether high-tech or a stack of 3×5 cards, go for “simplicity, speed and fun.” (Don’t forget to check out my guide to choosing a planner if you need help deciding.)
Wait, did that I just say “fun”? Another important tune-up is to get reconnected with what’s happening to your personal life. Maintaining your personal relationships, relaxing and—gasp!—having fun are critical to your mental health, which, in turn, affects your energy, creativity and productivity.
But the most important tip of all is to build a regular “Tune-Up” into your calendar. Schedule it. Place it on your priority list, assign time to it, and give it your attention. Your time will be well spent.
Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications
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