I was in my teens the first time I read Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and the wonderful chapter
that’s in it titled “The Bold and Arduous Project of Arriving at Moral
Perfection.” I loved Franklin’s idea about tracking his performance so he could
From then on, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m not after moral perfection, I
just want to do more important things better. Here are some things that I’ve
found work for me. Some of them may work for you, too.
Schedule important work for when you’re at your best. I work
best in the morning. I get more done when I schedule important, especially
creative, work for that time of day.
Carve out blocks of uninterrupted time. I learned this one
from Peter Drucker. It’s a strange calculus, but you won’t get as much done in
six fifteen-minute blocks as you will in an hour and a half of uninterrupted
time. Shut, the door, turn off the phone, close your email program, and work.
Follow the Raymond Chandler Rule. Chandler’s rule for writing was
simple. If he set aside time to write, he didn’t have to write, but he
wouldn’t allow himself to do anything else. When it’s time for important work,
don’t check your stock portfolio, decide where to go for lunch, or catch up on
your email. Work. Or just sit there. You’ll work soon enough.
Take breaks. Human beings were not meant to work all the
time. We break down when we do. You can take a break by switching tasks or
changing position. Take big breaks, too, for time with family or to pursue other
Feed your head. Every day you’re offered opportunities to
feed you head with quality ideas, or Charlie Sheen’s latest rants. Guess which
are more likely to help you succeed. If you aren’t disciplined about this, it’s
not likely to happen.
The body counts, too. I’m at my best when I’m exercising
regularly, eating sensibly, and (especially) getting enough sleep. I also do a
lot of work at a standup desk where my physical energy feeds my mental energy.
Have a limited To Do list. I limit mine to five items a day
that will help me make progress on goals and projects. Because I’m very
self-competitive, I score my performance on the list. The top item is worth 50
of a possible 100 points.
Checklists will set you free. There are all kinds of things
that you have to do every day or week or month. I use simple checklists to
remind me what should be done. Checking off items makes me feel good.
Automate everything you can. Virus scans, bill payments,
backups and more are automatic and I’m looking for more things to handle that
Capture your good ideas. You’re human and that means you’ll
come up with ideas. Some of them will be good ones, but you won’t be able to
evaluate and use them if you don’t remember them. I use a small digital recorder
and index cards to capture ideas as they fly by.
I don’t think that anything here is magical. What I know is that they all
work for me. Your mileage may vary. As with anything, you will improve your
personal productivity if you make a conscious effort, track your performance,
and make changes based on what works and what doesn’t.
Now, what has worked for