Consider your day right now. What’s getting done that needs to get done—and what’s not?
Do you find yourself at the end of a long day without your most important tasks completed? Do you keep pushing your long-term goals further and further into the future?
The legendary business philosopher Jim Rohn said, “If you don’t produce, you won’t be happy.”
Productivity is essential to our feeling of self-esteem, accomplishment, and hopefulness. Without it, we gradually sink into a state of frustration, hopelessness, and regret.
If productivity is so important to success, it’s time to consider that while you’re probably working hard and giving it your best shot, you are the one killing your productivity.
No one else is responsible for your productivity but you. You are the one who has to get out of bed each day and decide how to spend it.
Sure, there are facts of life beyond your control, but for the most part, if the day isn’t going the way you want it to go, you are the only one who can do something to change that.
First, let’s get clear: You’re not alone. Most people work in a way that sabotages their best efforts. You have likely spent years tackling projects and working with clients, so you have well-rehearsed patterns of behavior. Those habits, however, are at the root of why you’re killing your productivity instead of boosting it.
Those same habits are the reason you feel defeated when you look at your long-term goals. Why you feel frustrated at yet another day gone by without real progress toward your biggest dreams. And why you work and work and work, only to find yourself in the same place today that you were a year ago.
Second, let’s get real: It’s going to get worse unless you do something different. More days of fruitless effort are not going to help you live the life of your dreams.
Spending one year spinning your wheels or even backsliding is tough enough. But continuing to get more frustrated, more behind, and more defeated will cause your productivity to dip even lower. A person who feels they aren’t aiming toward a realistic goal is a person without motivation. And a person without motivation is a person who is not productive.
So we need to look at what productivity is and how your choices can massively impact your level of productivity almost immediately.
What is productivity really?
Jim Rohn said, “Activity leads to productivity.” That means your activity is just the starting point, it is the essential element in the making of productivity. It is the minimum requirement, you could say. Without activity, productivity cannot exist.
But producing something worthwhile takes more than just busyness. We can all find something to keep ourselves occupied during the day.
You might spend too much time answering emails or skimming social media or putting out every minor fire that pops up during the course of a workweek. None of the busy work we can find to occupy ourselves is productive—unless it’s part of a larger strategy.
Productivity requires skill, strategy, and focused effort.
If you’re working with those three essential elements together, consistently, you’re maximizing your productivity. It’s like a recipe for creating exactly what you want to create and doing it with excellence.
So ask yourself, “Am I working with skill, strategy, and focused effort on a consistent basis?”
If you’re answer is no, then evaluate the areas where you need the most help and start finding some new ways of doing business.
Without some level of skill in your industry, you’re not going to get far. Most people have one of two problems in this area:
- They think they have more skill than they do, so they stop learning. We all meet people who think they have it all figured out, who believe in their perspective or methods to the point of being outdated, outrun, and outclassed. The question is, are you a know-it-all?
If you’ve stopped actively seeking new ways of doing things or seeing things, it’s time for some self-reflection. There’s a good chance you’re subject to the delusion that you don’t need anyone else’s help to get ahead in your field. But let’s be realistic. Yes, your years of experience and hard work have certainly given you an excellent level of skill, but the people who stop learning, growing, and keeping up with advancements are eventually left behind. And too often, they’re the last to know it.
Becoming stagnant is just as detrimental to your success as not being productive. Don’t fall prey to the assumption that you’ve got nothing left to learn. Even the greatest masters have mentors. Find a mentor who has the depth of knowledge you need to guide you into further mastery.
- They think they have less skill than they do, so they never stop learning. On the flip side, you probably know someone who is continually signing up for lectures, who is always seeking an outside view on the best way to accomplish their goals, and who is spending most of their time absorbing knowledge.
Learning is vital to our continued growth, but learning without implementing what you learn is useless. Stop storing the knowledge you absorb and start to experiment with it; listen to your inner guidance on what fits your circumstances and put to use what you’ve learned. It’s important to find a source for growth that also helps you put your new knowledge into practice and to take the time to practice regularly so you can create new habits.
Related: Jim Rohn’s Guide to Goal Setting
If you’ve got the right skills, the next step is to develop the right strategy.
“Success is 20 percent skills and 80 percent strategy,” Rohn said. “You might know how to read, but more importantly, what’s your plan to read?”
A frenzy of activity does not necessarily lead to a lot of real results. Days when you are totally exhausted, stressed, and frustrated but have no real progress toward your goals are evidence that it’s time for a strategy update.
What if you don’t develop a strategy and just keep moving in random fits and starts toward your goals? You’ll likely get three long-term results:
- A higher stress level
- A lower level of satisfaction and happiness
- A sense of failure at not accomplishing your dreams
You may already feel this way. But you don’t have to stay here. With a strategy, your productivity and your results could drastically change, and that translates into a brighter future. You could end up with:
- Joy in your daily work
- A regular sense of satisfaction and pride
- The life of your dreams
All of this is the result of a strategic approach to productivity and growth. The first place to start with strategy is a set of written goals. Sketch out where you’re headed in each area of your life. Don’t neglect your personal life for your professional one; remember to include some fun.
Once you have a strategy, you can create focused effort to execute it. Remember, it’s not about how many hours you work, but about how much you create in each hour. As Rohn said, “You don’t get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour.”
Spend some time evaluating the kind of tasks you take care of on a daily basis. How are you using your hours? Do you find one or two things consistently pop up and steal your focus?
Ask yourself these questions to see how great your need is in the area of focus:
- Are you spending more time on tasks than you originally planned?
- Do you get interrupted multiple times a day?
- Are you personally answering every request for help or information you receive?
- Do you have multiple projects going at the same time?
If you answered yes to any of these, you could benefit from a refocus. Work with a mentor to further evaluate where your time is going and how you can narrow down your list of to-dos so you’re focused on what really matters.
Of course, one super-focused day is not enough to get you where you want to go. You’ve got to show up consistently and stay focused over the long-term to reach those big goals.
“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment,” Rohn said.
It’s not glamorous, but discipline is the heart of real progress and productivity.
Imagine what your life and business would look like if you could consistently work in your area of expertise using your highest skills, and executing an ambitious but realistic strategy with focused effort.
Imagine the sense of self-esteem you’d gain, the freedom and prosperity you’d earn for yourself and your family, and the joy and peace you’d feel in your work.
Now imagine that all of this is possible for you. Because it is. “Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practiced every day,” Rohn said.
How we approach the consistency in our lives is key. Establishing a few daily habits could make all the difference between expanding your goals further and actually meeting them.
Sometimes, you know what you need to do to achieve the big picture, but you don’t have any idea where to start. So what’s the next step to amping up your productivity?
Take another look back through the essentials above and determine your most vital need. What’s the one area that, if you could reverse your self-defeating habits today, would clearly propel you toward your dreams?
Here’s where a mentor can help. Ask someone you trust or find an established expert with wisdom to share. Look for someone who has a system of productivity and success that you can emulate and apply to your own circumstances.
Even Rohn didn’t become a success overnight. He started as a stock clerk for Sears, an average guy on an average path. But the difference between Rohn and other stock clerks who remained stock clerks was that Rohn was willing to learn. He attended a lecture by the man who would one day become his greatest mentor.
Again, Rohn wasn’t just another person in the audience at that lecture. He was willing to put into practice the principles and wisdom he learned from that mentor. He went on to gain and lose a fortune before finally working out his time-tested success principles and living the life of his dreams.
Today, Rohn is considered a legend in personal development and business philosophy. But it all started with his willingness to seek help and follow direction.