Organize Yourself in 2015–Remember It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

One of the best ways to increase your productivity is to make sure you build some time in your schedule for inactivity, also known as rest.

Remember that when you create your list of categories that comprise your life, one of the most effective ways of making sure all aspects of your life are covered is to use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.    At the very bottom of the pyramid is the most basic need, the need for survival.   I usually put “Health” on this basic level of needs.

Here’s what I recommend you build specifically into your schedule.

1.   Exercise

You need to build time in your schedule for exercise, both strength training and cardio training.  You can do a form of circuit training, which combines aspects of the two, such as in the Spartacus routine described in Men’s Health.   (I have a blog post on this routine, which I use personally, elsewhere on this blog–such put the word “Spartacus” in the “Search” box area and the post will come up.)

2.  Meditation

Meditation is worth its weight in sanity.   15 minutes of meditation in the morning can help you maintain an equilibrium state when all around you there is disequilibrium.

3.  Sacred Space

This does not mean “church”, it means a time of the week that you rope off from your normal activities.   This is when you do the hobby that you love to do; creativity rather than traditional spirituality, is the watchword here.

4.  Inspirational Reading

Although this could be a spiritual book, it is a book which inspires you to not only do more, but become something more than you are.

5.  Sleep

If you overwork yourself, you will under-perform.   Those companies that require you to work more than 8-hour days are short-sighted.   I’m not talking about special projects, I’m talking about overtime (usually unpaid) hours on a regular basis.   Not only does it show poor resource planning on the part of the company, but they will trade short-term productivity advantage with long-term burnout.

So do what you can to make sure you get adequate sleep.   Your company may not own you 24/7 (although they might like to), but you can make a bargain with them in that, although they require 100% of your time, you will get sufficient rest so that when you are at work, you give them 100% of your effort and attention!

These tools will give you the inner strength and stamina to run the race as a marathon, and not as a short-distance sprint.

Organize Yourself in 2015–Gamify Your Goals

The fourteen chapter of Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy is called “Put the Pressure on Yourself.”   It deals with making sure you set deadlines for each of your goals in order to, as the title of the chapter says, put pressure on yourself.

However, I want to take a different approach and to label this “Gamify Your Goals.”   Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems and increase users’ self contributions.   It is being used increasing in team settings such as project management, but you can use it on yourself.

1.  Don’t Concentrate on Finishing a Task, Concentrate on Starting It!

One game you can play with yourself when you have a task that you are dreading to do because of its difficulty or complexity is not to worry about finishing it.   Tell yourself “today I will start the project, do only 30 minutes of work on it, and then quit for the day.”    You see, when you conjure in your mind the image of how complex the project or task is, you are tiring yourself out mentally.   But no matter how bad the task is, you can easily do half an hour’s work, can’t you?

So go into with gusto for half an hour–and then give yourself permission to quit.   Or continue, if you so feel like it!.

The reason is that once you start the project, if you decide to work hard on the task at hand for half an hour, you will find that you get are getting into the flow of the work.   Your first reaction will be, “hey, this isn’t so bad.”   And maybe, just maybe, you will get enough into the task that the momentum will carry you forward.

If it doesn’t, don’t worry.   You see, just the fact that you have already started it will give you a sense of accomplishment, so when you start forth the next day to continue where you left off, the “fear factor” will have greatly diminished, because it was essentially a figment of your imagination

2.   Stick First, Then Carrot

Let’s say there is an activity that you want to do and an activity that you must do that particular day.    Have the pleasurable activity as a reward that you give yourself, for 10-15 minutes, after you do a solid block of work on the task that must be done.    If there is an activity that you want to do that takes more time, like playing a video game or watching a movie then last that be the “end of the week” treat that you give yourself if you have done 5 solid blocks of work on the “A” level tasks during the week.   You will be associating the difficult tasks with the pleasurable sense you get from the reward.

However, you have to make sure that you really earn your reward and don’t cheat on the system!

3.  Badges

On the way towards your goal, there are milestones along the way, and even if there aren’t, you can create them in terms of “percent complete”:  25% done, 50% done, etc.    Make sure on your list of tasks that you have a column that says “DONE” where you can put a circle or checkmark next to the tasks that are complete.   Not only is it immediately satisfying to put a mark next to a task, especially an “A” or a “B” level one, once it is complete, but it serves at the end of the day as a retrospective instant review to see how many “badges” you have collected for the day.

And if you have a really good day filled with many “badges” earned, then brag about it:   on your Twitter account, your Facebook page, or your journal (I have a gratitude journal where I mark down if I am grateful for a particularly productive day).

The voice of achievement in the form of badges, rewards, etc., is an important matter to supply yourself with to keep up your motivation.   Some days you will fly like the wind; other days you may find forward movement like trying to run through water.   It’s on those days that your efforts to gamify your goals will really pay off.    It keeps you to keep on going!

Organize Yourself in 2015–Identify Your Key Constraints

Your plan, combined with your passion, will move you forward towards achieving your goals.   But sometimes on the way to achieving those goals, you encounter something that prevents you from attaining it, a constraint which limits your efficiency.

In the thirteen chapter of his book Eat That Frog! on preventing procrastination, Brian Tracy states this principle of improving your ability to organize yourself, and that is the subject of today’s post.

1.   The Pareto Principle in Action

The Pareto Principle applied to constraints means that only 20% of the limiting factors are external to you or to your organization, which means that 80% of them are internal to you or your organization.   This is actually good news because these 80% are factors which, being internal, are under your control.    You can do something about them!

2.  Examples of Constraints

You should identify goals that you set for yourself in the past which you have not been able to achieve, or those “frog” tasks which you have either put off or not completed.   What’s the limiting factor or constraint which is preventing you?

a.  People

Is there someone’s help you need?   Or someone’s decision you need to get first before completing a task?

b.  Weakness (at certain critical skills)

Is this a task which you don’t want to do or that you don’t feel you can do because you are not sure how to do it?   Then you may need to read a book or watch a YouTube, or get advice from someone who does know how to do it?

c.  Time

Is this a task which you gave yourself an hour to do, and you realized when you got into it that it would at least 4 hours, or even 4 days to do?    Well, here’s where you can invite others to help by delegating parts of it to others.

d.  Cost

It may be that you realize that the materials you need for your task are not at hand and you have to go and purchase them.  Or you go to purchase them and you realize that they are going to be more expensive than you had anticipated.

e.  Fear

Don’t underestimate this as a constraint on your achieving your ambitions!    Let’s say someone says their goal is to be a better public speaker.    I would recommend them to join Toastmasters just like I did a little over 4 years ago now.    Let’s say you join the Toastmasters Club and your task is write your first speech.   But every time you think about being in front of a group of relative strangers and pouring your heart out, your pen freezes up and you can’t think about what to write.  It could be that fear of doing that speech is causing your temporary “writer’s block.”   Try to face your fears, but if you have difficulty doing that, then read the book The Now Habit, by psychologist Neil Fiore, Ph.D., which helps you uncover the psychological reason(s) for your procrastination and helps you to overcome it.

3.  Key Question about Key Constraints

The best way to get the most mileage out of the idea of constraint is to ask yourself the following key question:

What one goal, if I achieved it in the coming year, would have the greatest positive effect on my life?

Determine the one key constraint, internal or external, that prevents you from accomplishing this goal or slows your pace down towards accomplishing it.

Then take one step, any step, towards eliminating that constraint!   You will have done yourself a service the magnitude of which will only become apparent later after you reach your goal, look backwards and say with a sigh, “I made it!”

Organize Yourself in 2015–Leveraging Your Talents

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”


Look at the successes you had last year.   Now bring your focus out a bit more and look at the successes you’ve had in the past five years.   And finally, look back on your entire career and asking yourself the following questions:

What has been most responsible for my success in the past?   What am I really good at?   (Or what have I become good at over the years, even if I wasn’t good at it at the beginning of my career?)

Now switch to thinking of the future:   if you won the lottery or came into an enormous amount of money and you could choose any job or any part of a job to do for the indefinite future, what work would you choose?   (These questions are from Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, chapter 12.)

Of course, in the previous chapters I’ve talked about “frogs”, that is, the most important tasks that you have to do.   As you may recall from previous posts, the whole point of Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog! is that you should shift to doing those “frog” tasks, i.e., those of the highest priority, as soon as possible in the day.   In that way, not only will you continue the day with a sense of accomplishment, but by facing them first thing in the day you will strengthen your “anti-procrastination muscles” in your head.

However, just like in fairy tales, sometimes a “frog” is actually a “prince” in disguise.   There are tasks which are in the areas where you have special talents and that you most enjoy.   The goal in your career is to maneuver yourself in the organization you work for, or in the industry you work in, or in your profession in general, in such a way as to leverage your special talents, where you are a “prince” among “frogs”.

Just to give an example–I found in college that I had a passion for learning foreign language, although my undergraduate major was engineering physics.   By the time I went to graduate school, I decided to parlay my love of foreign languages into my choice of future career, so I majored in Asian Studies and studied the Chinese and Japanese–not just the languages, but the culture, literature, history, and even philosophy from the countries of China and Japan.

When I graduated, I was chosen to be a technical translator at Mitsubishi Motors Corporation in Tokyo.   However, after my first initial years in this position, the HR department had an idea of using me to help with their litigation management.   The details are unimportant, but although I enjoyed what I was doing to a certain extent, the more and more time I spent at Mitsubishi the less and less time I was using my Japanese language abilities.    Then in 2004 when I was laid off from that company, I went to work for an insurance company where I was doing something similar, but for many Japanese manufacturers who were their clients.   In 2010, I was laid off from that position, but couldn’t get a job in litigation management because that kind of position was a relatively niche job and there weren’t a lot of them out of there.    And the places I did apply now made it plain that they required you to have a law degree to enter the position.   I tried taking a step back and offering to do claim management, but was told “sorry, you’re overqualified.”   I couldn’t win for losing.

After a year of networking, I came across people who asked me the same questions I wrote at the top of this post:   What has been most responsible for my success in the past?   What am I really good at?   I responded that I’m good at communication in the sense that I love studying foreign languages and cultures, and I’m good at cross-functional communication, that is, getting lawyers, engineers, and accountants to talk to each other even though they often speak different business languages, so to speak.

So someone suggested project management and I took a community college course, then a course at New Horizons, and finally got my CAPM certification.    I was fascinated, and got to work on using project management for many volunteer jobs, including those at the Project Management Institute itself.    I realized that I am an organized person, so planning is something I actually enjoy doing, but more importantly, when I see problems related to communication such as conflict management, I don’t dread those problems, I relish them because, frankly, I tend to be good at getting disparate people if not to totally respect one another, to at least be willing to work together with them (which is half the battle).

In the same way that I improve my key skills in areas that will make me a better project manager (see previous post), I also look for opportunities to play on my strengths.   Those tasks that I do for work which also coincide with my strengths I call my “prince” tasks, and I love the time I spend doing them.   If you shine at those kind of tasks, sooner or later the people you work for will notice, and will realize that what had the unassuming appearance of a frog was actually a prince (or princess) in disguise!

Now in today’s economy, finding such a position or job is a lucky accident, but you can make yourself more “accident-prone” if you shine at tasks where your natural gifts come to the fore.   So here’s to positioning yourself in 2015 for “lucky accidents” to come your way!

Organize Yourself in 2015–Build Time for Upgrading Your Key Skills

In Stepen Covey’s classic book on self-improvement, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he says that you have to build time in your schedule not just for production, i.e., getting things done, but for building your production capacity.   In other words, you need to upgrade your key skills so that you can get even more done in the future.

However, you have to be willing to sacrifice some production time.   In economic terms, it’s like the production curve we all learned in our introductory economics courses.   If you invest some of that production into research and development, you will produce less in the short term than someone who gives 100% of their resources to production.   However, in the future you will see the production curve itself move outward as the fruits of that research and development increase your ability to produce.

In the eleventh chapter of his book Eat That Frog!, Brian Tracy recommends three general tips for upgrading your key skills.

I will add a prerequisite for this list as my bullet point.

0.  Identify

Of course you need to identify those key skills.   Whatever you do for a living, what are the top three skills you must have to be promoted in your field?   In my case, I want to be a project manager for an international company so the top three skills I concentrate on are:   a) project management, b) communication and leadership skills through Toastmasters, and c) foreign language skills (through Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, and other applications).

1.  Read

Read articles or books in your field, between 30 minutes and 60 minutes per day.   Of the 12 areas of my life that I schedule into my yearly goals, monthly goals, weekly goals, and then daily goals, “Reading” is one of them and I put it right under “Professional Development” and right before “Language Learning.”

2.  Study

Take courses and seminars available on the key skills.   Nowadays you can find more and more webinars that are free, but you should also invest in quality courses which will stretch your knowledge boundaries through interaction with the instructor and the other participants in the seminar or course.

3.  Listen

Listen to audio courses when driving in your car.    When I moved from New York to Los Angeles, the daily commute was quite a culture shock.   As opposed to the subway, where I could read a book, driving took most of my attention and I had a lot of it do, since I had to drive an hour to and from my workplace.   However, I decided to take Brian Tracy’s advice, and I turned my car into a university lecture hall with the various lectures from The Great Courses company, and I practiced my foreign languages with recordings from Michel Thomas, Pimsleur, and the Foreign Service Institute courses that are in the public domain.   I don’t know if practicing foreign languages calmed me down while driving, but at least I had a choice of languages to use to swear at the other drivers if necessary!

Essentially, these three ways to build on your key skills are to mind like daily exercise is for your body.   But like Brian Tracy recommends, you need to build these into your schedule.    Pick at least one extra “area” for you to create goals for, and call it “Professional Development.”   I split mine up into three parts, “Professional Development,” “Reading,” and “Language Learning”, but as long as you put it SOMEWHERE in your schedule, you are making a continuous investment in yourself that will reap dividends in the years to come!

Organize Yourself in 2015–Compose Your Resources, Decompose Your Plan

Let’s say you have made a New Year’s Resolution, say, “I want to lose weight.”

Well, there’s good news and bad news.   The good news is that your mind has thought of a goal to improve yourself, which puts you ahead of people who have no wish or even any desire to improve themselves.   The problem is that, if it stays in your mind, and doesn’t get translated into the real world, it will have the same effect as if you hadn’t made the goal at all.

1.  Improving your resolution by sharpening the focus

Here’s how to improve your resolution:

1)   Pretend it’s at the end of 2015, and you already have achieved the goal.   Write it in the present tense, rather than the future tense.   Say “I have lost weight” or better “I am my ideal weight.”   If you constantly put your goals in the future tense, it is as if you are putting them on the horizon, which doesn’t sound bad until you realize that one definition of the horizon is “an imaginary line at the limit of your vision which goes away from you as you approach it.”

2)  Are there any boundaries or tangible reality to the goal?   In my case, I know that I want to “20 lbs”, so I will put that into my goal.   I don’t say “I want to lose 20 lbs.” either; combining the advice with that given in paragraph 1, I write it “I weigh 200 lbs.” which is the “ideal weight” I have chosen as the goal.

3)  If your goal is a long-term one, then you can break the goal into subgoals.   If my goal is to be 200 lbs by my birthday in May for example, then I can breakdown the 20-lb. weight loss into smaller goals, so that my weight at the end of January is 215, my weight at the end of February is 210, etc.

2.  Compose your resources

One effective weight-loss program I have used in the past is called the Transformation program by Bill Phillips.   It’s a series of 18 weeks where you write down what you eat, you have three regular meals and two smaller snacks in between, and you do strength training on alternate days combined with cardio.   The Transformation program works, but it requires a commitment.   In order to do the program, you have to prepare by setting out your menu for each meal for the week, for example.    This requires you do some preparation before the week starts.

When I did this, the initial investment seemed a little daunting, but then I realized by not creating a menu for the week, I would a) go to the store several times a week rather than just one, and b) I would buy things at the store that I didn’t need.   This initial investment of time at the beginning of the week helped me in terms of time management and money management because I didn’t need to go back to the store more than twice a week (once a week for perishable items, twice a week for perishable ones), and it helped me in terms of money because I wasn’t buying impulse items.   Everything I bought got used up.

So your goals/tasks, especially the major ones, should have a place to write down the resources you will need before you start.   This means that when you are creating the project plan, you will schedule the gathering of the resources before the start date of the work on the project itself.    Many people want to throw themselves into the project right away, but if you start doing so only to find you’re missing something you need, you will be starting the project with frustration rather than flowing right into the work.

3.  Decompose your plan

Breaking the goals into subgoals makes it easier to chart progress, and to see whether you are on track towards completing the goal on time or not.   But you need to break the goal into smaller tasks, so that you are literally only doing one thing at a time.

Multitasking reduces your performance, unless you pick two tasks that don’t require similar parts of the brain.  What we call multitasking is really hopping from one task to another, and this causes a lag as your brain gets used to the new task.   There are some things you can do to train your brain to multitask, i.e., to increases its ability to adapt to switching back and forth between tasks, like Lumosity (which I use every morning before I go to work), but Brian Tracy recommends trying to do what you can to reduce multitasking, so that you have as much of a stretch of time devoted to the really important tasks as possible.

It’s seems a little old-fashioned for people in Generation Y or the newest generation, the Linksters, but I think time will tell that Brian Tracy is correct, and you should try to avoid the multitasking trend.

However, he and other organizational experts would agree with one thing:   it is vital to break down tasks into manageable units, i.e., 30 minutes to 60 minutes of work that can be reasonably done in one sitting, so that you can step back after the work and say, “ah, I’ve accomplished something today.”

The tips above aren’t just what the experts say, I can recommend them from personal experience that they have made me more productive.   Take what is normally “down” time at the end of the day, and don’t just relax, but put some thought into preparing for the next day.    If I have papers or other things I need at work, I put them out the night before so I can just pick them up and go, rather than trying to spend morning time figuring out “now where the hell did I put such-and-such?”

Just think of preparation as “paying it forward”–to yourself!

Organize Yourself in 2015–Make Organization Itself One of Your Goals

In the ninth chapter of his book on preventing procrastination with the whimsical title “Eat That Frog!”, Brian Tracy says that after you list your goals for the year (a process I outline in the first post in this series I did on 1/1/2015), you need to “prepare thoroughly before you begin.”

1.  Gets Resources Ready Before You Start

As a project manager, I know that after the project plan has been created, I have to make sure that the resources are there in order to get the job done.    That will mean resources in terms of the raw materials and components to assembly the product, if you are in working on a manufacturing project.   And, of course, it means the people to do the job.

Let’s consider each of your goals as a project, with yourself as the project manager.   The main person doing the tasks will be yourself, unless you choose to delegate a certain task to someone else.   Your resources will be the time it takes to do the task, and anything you need to get it done (a computer, etc.).

The important point from Brian Tracy’s standpoint is that you don’t want to schedule a task for 9 AM, to have 9 AM come around and then for you to say, “okay, let’s get my resources lined up.”   They should be lined up beforehand.

2.  Get the Plan for Each Day Done the Night Before

This brings me to a suggestion for doing the planning for each time period–it should be done at the end of the previous time period.   So planning for tomorrow will be done the last thing tonight, rather than the first thing tomorrow morning.

The reason for that is at both practical and imaginative.    The practical reason is that you will get up the first thing and do rather than plan.    Second of all, if you do the plan the night before, your mind will have a chance to process the plan during your sleep, and you may wake up remembering something you forgot to put in the plan, or realizing that something has a lot higher priority than you gave it the night before.    This is the real reason why I try to do the plan the night before.    Not only do I have a virtuous night sleep knowing that the plan for the next day is done, but I also know that my unconscious mind will help my conscious mind out by prompting me the following day if there’s something my conscious mind left out.

3.  Make Organization Itself One of Your Goals

Creating an organizational system that works is so important to me that I include “Organization” itself as one of the 12 areas I have goals in.    The goals I have for the Organization category are in the “production” and “production capacity” areas, meaning that there are some things I do as a practice as far as organization is concerned, and there are some things that I do to study the theory of organization.  Two books I can recommend you start with are Goals by Brian Tracy or Getting Things Done by David Allen.   In fact, the posts I’m doing for the first few weeks of the year are riffs on the chapters of these books, with special tweaks that I have made that I have found helpful.

You should be reading one of these books on a regular basis, even if it is just a promise to read one chapter a week and to do the exercises that come at the end of each chapter.    After I complete the posts based on the Goals book by Brian Tracy, I will outline David Allen’s method.

So if you want to know how to get organized, the answer is the same as the one in the perennial vaudeville joke, where a guy who looks lost asks a native New Yorker, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall?”, and the other guy answers back, “practice, practice, practice …”

Organize Yourself In 2015: Delegate and Eliminate

In his books on goal setting, Brian Tracy describes the time-honored tradition of prioritizing one’s tasks into three levels of priority, “A” tasks that must be done in a given time period, “B” tasks that should be done in a given time period if the “A” tasks are completed, and “C” tasks that can be done in a given time period if the “A” and “B” tasks are done.

But he takes this basic framework and expands it in two ways.   One, which is described in a previous post, is to take the “A” tasks and to take 20% of them and label them as “top priority”, or using the idiosyncratic language from the book title “Eat that Frog”, as one’s “frogs”.   These should be done as early in the day as possible.

In this post, I talk about the fifth and sixth chapters of his book, where he talks about two new priority levels, “D” and “E”.   Actually, it would be best to describe these categories as “low priority” levels.

1.  “D” is for delegate

If you are a project manager, it makes no sense for you to have to do all the project scheduling yourself.   You should have a project coordinator who handles the project documentation like the project schedule.   In a similar way, if you are in an organization and there are some tasks that can be delegated to someone else in your group or team, then label them with a “D” and don’t hesitate to delegate.

2.  “E” is for eliminate

Sometimes we do things on a regular basis which really add no value, but we do they because they are entertaining or simply out of habit.   I study 9 foreign languages a day with the language-learning app called “Duolingo”, which requires a total of about one hour a day.   Where do I come up with the time to do this?   Well, I did it by eliminating at least an hour’s worth of things I used to do but found that they don’t add value.

Here’s a list of things I have given up since I have discovered Brian Tracy’s books a few years ago:

  • Watching a lot of television programs
  • Reading the newspaper in the morning
  • Playing video games
  • Listening to the radio in the car while driving

For each of these activities, I found I was spending hours and hours on them and deriving very little value out of them.  So I ended up if not eliminating them entirely, greatly reducing them.   All of a sudden my day had a lot more time in it than it used to have for activities that add value to my life, like my language learning, or, incidentally, the half-hour to an hour I spend every day on this blog.

With this blog, the time I have spent has really given me a lot of return–I am close to a third of a million hits on my blog since I started it a little less than three years ago, from people in practically all the countries of the world.   So when people ask to I miss watching all the latest television programs or playing the latest video games, I can honestly say no because I know for a fact that I have gained a lot instead by giving them up.

And in your daily list, you should try to find 10% of the activities you do on a daily basis, which if eliminated, would either make no negative difference in your life, or which might even improve it by their absence.

By delegating and eliminating, you are reducing the “no value” areas of your time budget so that whatever is left is bound to be more valuable!

In the next post, I talk about how to identify the skills in “key result areas” and to show how you build time in your schedule to improve them!

Organize Yourself in 2015: Use Lessons Learned (and Relearned)

In the past three posts, I have shown how to take your yearly goals for 2015 for the various categories of your life (based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) and to break them down into monthly and weekly goals.

I also talked about prioritizing goals and using the Pareto principle to take the 20% of the goals for each day that give you 80% of the results towards your ultimately yearly goals, and to label those as your “frogs” or “top priority” tasks.   Then you put them towards the very beginning of your schedule.

Okay, that is the basic organizational scheme.   How do you get good at this?   Through practice, and through improvement. You practice is by doing it every week, but you improve by reviewing it every week.

What should you watch for?   The biggest thing you should look out for are “top priority” tasks which have been skipped or remain incomplete.   If you keep putting off a certain task, then this could be because you are unconsciously procrastinating on it.

One of the books I recommend for those who procrastinate is The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore, Ph.D.   One thing that Brian Tracy admits he does NOT do in his book on preventing procrastination, Eat That Frog, is he does not get into the psychology behind procrastination; he just gives practical techniques to try to stop it.   But if you are really having problems with procrastination that have a psychological origin, then Neil Fiore’s book may be for you.

In any case, a review of each week at the end of the week, and then a review of each month at the end of the month, can give you clues into how well you follow your plans, and they can tell you whether you need to redo the plan.

If you consider your yearly goals as projects in and of themselves, then you should do what is called a “Lessons Learned” exercise to improve your performance.   However, one of the new trends in project management is not to wait until the end of a project in a kind of post mortem to figure out what went wrong.   Many project management experts now recommend that you do a “lessons learned” review at several periods during the project.   In that way, if something needs to be corrected, it can be done early on before the project is done, so your wisdom can not only be used on future projects but the current ones you are working on as well.

In a similar way, constant review at the end of any particular time period, be it a week or a month, can be really helpful in changing your behavior to fit the plan, or changing your plan if it turns out to be unrealistic.

You may have to learn lessons and sometimes relearn them, but that is the incremental change you will need to truly transform your organizational practice!

If you are no longer procrastinating on the “top priority” or “starred” items, then you already have triumphed due to your organizational practice.   However, if you are still not completing the “A” or “B” tasks as much as you would like, it’s time to add two new letters, “D” and “E, to your three-letter sorting system of “A”, “B”, and “C”.   That will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.

Organize Yourself in 2015: Using the Pareto Principle

In the last two posts, I have presented the goal-setting techniques of Brian Tracy in his best-selling book Eat That Frog!    In today’s post, I will explain why his book has such a strange title, because it has to do with the subject of his third chapter on the Pareto principle, and how you can use it to boost your productivity.

Mark Twain once wrote “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”  The reason why Brian Tracy named his book on avoiding procrastination “Eat That Frog” is because, if you think of the most challenging task you have each day as a “frog”, then the best thing for you to do to improve your productivity is to “eat that frog”, meaning, to do that task as early as possible in the day.

How does this fit into the Pareto principle.   This is the principle developed by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto that says that 80% of the results you need to achieve will come from 20% of the activities you perform.   So if you want to achieve more, identify those activities in the “vital 20%” that will gain you 80% of the benefits you are looking for.

Here’s how you can adapt the goal-setting technique using the Pareto principle.

1.   Let’s say you have taken your yearly goals, split into the various areas of your life as defined through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as specified in the first post on the series I published on 1/1/2015.

2.   Now say you have divided these yearly goals into monthly goals, weekly goals, and day-specific goals (goals that you work towards on a daily basis as a matter of routine should remain in the weekly goal list), as specified in the second post on the series I published on 1/2/2015.

3.  Now say you have identified those activities which you are going to do the next day, and listed them by priority using the letters A, B, and C for activities which must be done on a given day (“A”), those which should be done on a given day if the “A” activities are completed (“B”), and those which can be done on a given day if both the “A” and “B” activities are completed (“C”).

Take a look at the “A” and “B” activities.   Identify the 20% of your activities which, if you perform then, will give you 80% of the results from that day’s activities towards your yearly goals.   These are your “Frogs” and should be identified with a “star”.  If you have a journal and can find a small frog-shaped stamp, then go for it!   But a “star” should suffice to show that these activities are your ultimate challenges for the day.

4.  THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT–put these at the beginning of your day, meaning that they are simultaneously the most urgent!   Or as Brian Tracy would say, “Eat That Frog!”

Why is this important?  Well, I urge you to read Brian Tracy’s book to get the full list of benefits and anecdotes about why this is so.    In a nutshell, it’s because one of the key strategies procrastinators use is to spend their time not on working towards achievement, but creating the illusion of achievement by doing the easy, “C”-level tasks to prop up their ego and let them pretend they are busy.   This is being efficient by doing a lot of activity, but at the price of not being effective by doing activities which give you the least amount of return or “bang for your buck.”

By accomplishing the most challenging thing first thing in the day when you have the most energy, you will be achieving more early on in the day, and as Mark Twain indicates in his quote, you will feel that the rest of the day will go downhill from there!

5.  Prepare yourself well before eating the frog

If you prepare yourself well, with a morning routine that includes, besides the usual hygiene rituals, things that strengthen your body, your mind, and your spirit, such as the following (which I do every morning), you will be ready to take on the world when you get to work:

  • Qi Gong or Stretching (5-10 minutes)
  • Yoga (15 minutes)
  • Meditation (15 minutes)
  • Exercise (10-15 minutes)

My routine takes me about an hour, but I don’t begrudge the time because it gets my ready and accelerates my body and my mind to be able to handle anything that the day can dish out.    These cover the physical body, the subtle body, and the mind (the causal body), and so bring your entire self up to speed.   You will be ready to eat that frog!

Tomorrow’s post will be on one of the most important parts of your week, which is the weekend.   Just like the month January, which we are in now, comes from the Roman god Janus that faces both directions (the past and the future), the weekend should be your time not only when you do your weekly goal for the next week, but you look back on the week you have just completed to review what has worked, and what hasn’t, which will give you a chance to do a miniature “Lessons Learned” which you should use to tweak your organizational system.   A small mid-course correction done on a weekly basis will prove to be much more effective in “sharpening your saw”,the 7th Habit of Steve Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, than a retreat that you do on an occasional basis during the year.