“Great acts are made up of small deeds.“ — Lao Tzu
The best productivity tools are the ones you actually use and get results.
I’ll share some quick personal productivity tools from Agile Results, introduced in the book, Getting Results the Agile Way.
Agile Results is a Personal Results System for work and life, and it’s all about how to use your best energy for your best results.
With that in mind, here are some quick productivity tools you can use to think better, feel better, and do better, while getting results better, faster, and easier with more fun …
PRODUCTIVITY TOOL #1 – THE RULE OF THREE
Think in terms of Three Wins each day, each week, each month, each year.
You can apply the Rule of 3 to life. Rather than get overwhelmed by your tasks, choose three things you want to accomplish today. This puts you in control. If nothing else, it gives you a very simple way to focus for the day. This will help you get on track and practice the art of ruthless prioritization.
Consider the energy you have, what’s the most important, what’s the most valuable, and what would actually feel like a win for you and build momentum.
To get started, right here, right now, simply write down on paper the three things you want to achieve today.
PRODUCTIVITY TOOL #2 – MONDAY VISION, DAILY WINS, FRIDAY REFLECTION
The Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, and Friday Reflection pattern is a simple habit for daily and weekly results.
Monday Vision – On Monday, identify Three Wins that you want for the week. Imagine if it was Friday and you were looking back on your week, what are three results that you would be proud of? This helps you have create a simple vision for your week.
Daily Wins – Get a Fresh Start each day. Each day, identify Three Wins that you want for the day. First thing in the morning, before you dive into the hustle and the bustle, step back. Take the balcony view for your day and identify Three Wins that you want to accomplish. This helps you create a simple vision for your day. You can imagine three scenes from your day — morning, noon and night — or whatever works for you.
One way to stay balanced here is to ask yourself both, "What do I want to accomplish?", and "What are the key things that if I don’t get done … I’m screwed?"
Friday Reflection — On each Friday, reflect on your week. To do this, ask yourself two questions:
“What are 3 things going well?”
“What are 3 things to improve?”
You’ll find that either you are either focusing on the wrong things, getting distracted, or biting off more than you can chew. Use what you learn here as input into next week’s Monday Vision, Daily Wins, Friday Reflection.
The real power of Friday Reflection is that you acknowledge and appreciate your Personal Victories. If you gave your all during your workout, hats off to you. If you pushed a bit harder to really nail your presentation, great job.
It’s also a simple way to "put a bow" on your results for the week. Now, if your manager or somebody were to ask you what you accomplished for the week, you have a simple story of Three Wins.
PRODUCTIVITY TOOL #3 — HOT SPOTS
Hot Spots are a simple metaphor for thinking about what’s important.
Think of your life like a heat map.
Start with a simple set of categories:
Where do you need to spend more time or less time?
The Hot Spot categories support each other and they are connected, and in some cases overlapping. But they give you a very quick way to explore an area of your life.
It’s hard to do well at work if you’re having issues with relationships. And the surprise for a lot of people is how if they take better care of their body, work gets a lot easier, and they improve their mind and emotions.
PRODUCTIVITY TOOL #4 — GROWTH MINDSET
The Growth Mindset is a learning mindset.
Instead of a static view of things, you approach things as experiments to learn and explore. Failure isn’t final. Failure isn’t fatal. Instead, find the lesson and change your approach.
By adopting a Growth Mindset, you get better and better over time. You don’t say, "I’m no good at that." You say, "I’m getting better at that." or "I’m learning."
With a Growth Mindset and a focus on continuous learning, you turn your days into learning opportunities. This helps you keep your motivation going and your energy strong.
Life-long Learners last longer 🙂
PRODUCTIVITY TOOL #5 — TIMEBOXING
Timeboxing is a way to set a time "budget." This helps you avoid spending too much time on something, or over-investing when it’s diminishing returns.
For a lot of people, they find they can focus in short-batches. They can’t focus indefinitely, but if they know they only have to work on something for say 20-minutes, it helps them fully focus on the task at hand.
If you’ve heard of the Pomodoro Technique, this is an example. Set a time limit for a task, and work on the task until the buzzer goes off.
I use Timeboxing at multiple levels. I might Timebox a mini-project to a week or a month, rather than let it go on forever "until it is done." By using a Timebox, I create a sense of urgency and I give myself a finish line. That’s a real key to staying motivated and refueling your momentum.
Timeboxing can help you improve your productivity in a very simple way. For example, rather than try to figure out how long something might take, start by figuring out how much time you want to invest in it. Identify up front, at what point is it diminishing return. This will help you cut your losses and figure out how to optimize your time.
PRODUCTIVITY TOOL #6 — STRONG WEEK
Each week spend more time in your strengths, and less time in your weaknesses.
Push activities that make you weak to the first part of your day. By doing your Worst Things First, you create a glide path for the rest of the day. This is like Brian Tracy’s Eat that Frog.
Set limits. Stuff the things that make you weak into a Timebox. For example, if the stuff that makes you weak is taking more than 20 percent of your day, then find a way to keep it within that 20 percent boundary. This might mean limiting the time or quantity.
Sometimes you just can’t get rid of the things that make you weak; in that case, balance it with more things that energize you and make you strong.
Apply this to your week too. Push the toughest things that drain you to the start of the week to create a glide path. Do the same with people. Spend more time with people that make you strong and less time with people that make you weak. Be careful not to confuse the things that make you weak with challenges that will actually make you stronger. Grow yourself stronger over time.
PRODUCTIVITY TOOL #7 — MONTHLY SPRINTS
Pick one thing to improve for the month.
Each month, pick something new; this gives you a chance to cycle through 12 things over the year. Or if necessary, you can always repeat a sprint.
The idea is that 30 days is enough time to experiment with your results throughout the month. Because you might not see progress in the first couple of weeks while you’re learning, a month is a good chunk of time to check your progress.
This is especially helpful if you find that you start a bunch of things but never finish. Just focus this month on the one thing, and then next month, you can focus on the other thing, and so on.
Each month is a Fresh Start and you get to pick a theme for the month so that everything you do accrues to something bigger.
PRODUCTIVITY TOOL #8 — PAIR UP
This is perhaps one of the most impactful ways to improve your productivity.
Pair with people that complement your strengths.
Pair up or team up with others that compliment your preferred patterns. If you are a Starter, pair up with a Finisher. If you are a Thinker, pair up with a Doer. If you are a Maximizer, pair up with a Simplifier.
Anything, and I mean anything, that you want to do better or faster, there is somebody in the world that lives and breathes it. And, in my experience, they are more than happy to teach you, if you just ask.
The best way to Pair Up is to find somebody where it’s a two-way exchange of value and you both get something out of it. To do this, it helps when you really know what you bring to the table, so it’s clear why you are Pairing Up.
Ask yourself, who can you team up with to get better results?
PRODUCTIVITY TOOL #9 — PRODUCTIVE HOURS
Chances are you have certain hours in the day or night when you are able to accomplish more.
These are your personal Power Hours.
Guard your Power Hours so they are available to you and try to push the bulk of your productivity within these Timeboxes. This maximizes your results while optimizing your time.
You might find you only have a few great hours during the week where you feel you produce effective and efficient results. You may even feel “in the zone” or in your “flow” state. Gradually increase the number of Power Hours you have. You can build a powerful day, or powerful week, one power hour at a time. If you know you only have three Power Hours in a 40-hour week, see if you can set yourself up to have five Power Hours.
PRODUCTIVITY TOOL #10 — CREATIVE HOURS
Your Creative Hours are those times during the week where you feel you are at your creative best.
This might be a Saturday morning or a Tuesday night, or maybe during weekday afternoons.
The key is to find those times where you have enough creative space, to do your creative work.
Just like adding power hours, you might benefit from adding more creative hours. Count how many creative hours you have during the week. If it’s not enough, schedule more and set yourself up so that they truly are creative hours. If you’re the creative type, this will be especially important. If you don’t think of yourself as very creative, then simply use your Creative Hours to explore any challenges in your life or to innovate.
There is so much more, but I find that if you play around with these Personal Productivity Tools, you can very quickly get better results in work and life.
If you don’t know where to start, start simple:
Ask yourself what are the Three Wins you want to accomplish today, and write those done on a piece of paper.
That’s it — You’re doing Agile Results.