Charles Duhigg released his second book, Smarter Faster Better, which is a wildly entertaining read. As someone who has read an unbelievable number of productivity books, this book is incredibly entertaining and full of stories and anecdotes that pull you in and keep you coming back for more.
The book takes a unique approach to exploring productivity, specifically investigating it within organizations and teams, rather than personally. So when you’re reading the book, I would recommend “pairing” some of Duhigg’s bigger ideas with a few specific productivity tactics, to spur your productivity efforts.
The chapter of the book I selected to discuss in this post is goal setting. In my view, productivity isn’t about how much we produce—it’s about how much we accomplish, and setting goals ensures that we spend our time on the right things.
In Smarter Faster Better, Duhigg recommends that we set two types of goals:
▪ Stretch Goals: Big, overarching goals that sound improbable on the surface, but not so impossible that they become discouraging when we think about them (e.g. running a marathon in six months).
▪ SMART Goals: SMART goals bring our Stretch Goals down to reality so we can act toward achieving them. SMART is an acronym for Specific (e.g. running exactly five miles by the end of the week), Measurable (measuring your distance through an app on your phone), Achievable (detailing a plan to work your way up to 5k), Realistic (scheduling all of your runs), and on a Timeline (building your way up to a 5k over six
These two types of goals become more powerful when we pair them up. And there are countless strategic things we can do every day to achieve the goals we set. If you decide to set both Stretch and SMART goals—and I’d argue you should—here are a few additional strategies to take these objectives even further, to invest in your personal productivity, and work toward them every day:
▪ Minimize time towards important goals. This sounds like counter-intuitive advice, but when you limit how much time you spend on your most important goals you force yourself to expend more energy over that shorter amount of time to get it done. And you also prevent the task from expanding to fit how much time you have available—which bold projects tend to do. This tactic works hand in hand with setting stretch goals: stretch goals make your goal bigger, and spending less time on these goals helps you bring even more energy to them in a more focused way.
▪ Work when you have the greatest energy. As I wrote in a previous LinkedIn post, our energy per hour isn’t steady, and therefore, our productivity isn’t, either. When we step back to take stock of when we naturally, consistently have the most energy, we can bring even more energy and focus to our goals, instead of just spending more time with them.
▪ Set three daily objectives. While setting a new SMART goal every day might be tedious—I like to set them every couple of weeks when working on a big project—one of the best ways to work more intentionally every day is the Rule of 3. Here’s the rule: at the start of each day, you fast-forward to the end of the day, and ask what three things you’ll want to have accomplished by the time the day is done. The rule is deceivingly simple: it helps you clarify what’s important from what’s not; helps you consider daily constraints; only takes a minute, and helps you work more deliberately toward your goals every day.
▪ Disconnect from the Internet. The Internet is likely fundamental to your work—but one study found that we spend an average of 47% of our time online procrastinating. Since bigger, more intimidating goals are more likely to push us to procrastinate, when we completely disconnect from the Internet while we’re working on our goals, we reclaim a ton of our time and attention. Being extremely busy is no different from laziness when it doesn’t lead to accomplishing anything—and this applies especially to the busywork we often do while online.
Because productivity is such a wide-ranging topic, it’s impossible for anyone book to cover all the best practices and tools out there. If you pick up a copy of Smarter Faster Better, I highly recommend these simple but effective tactics to pair with it!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author. CPSA does not endorse any of the companies, products and services mentioned within this article.