Make your goals more robust by doing this:

Make your goals more robust by doing this:

I knew the exact path I would go down once I escaped high school. Get my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in accounting, conquer the CPA exam, and get a good job with benefits.

That was my goal from day one. Every day in school this goal was in the back of my mind.

I thought about getting to the end of the road. I had my eyes on the prize, and imagined how my life would be better once I reached the finish line.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. In an early undergraduate accounting course my school required a minimum grade of a B before moving on to the next course.

I messed up on the first exam. My world almost came crashing down. Everything I was focused on almost disappeared. The future I dreamed of was slipping away. (In retrospect, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. But in that moment, that was my whole world.)

Goals are great, but can be burdensome

I’ve been a fan of goals since I was young. They kept me accountable. They gave me a something to shoot for. They helped me zero in on what I needed to do.

Goals are important. But they are not the only thing that matters. (In case you were wondering, I had to retake that class, got an A, and lived happily ever after.)

The missing ingredient

In “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg explores the depth of how humans function, including the neurological patterns that govern our habits.

He defines the habit loop and divides it into three elements: cue, routine, and reward.

According to Duhigg, cue and the reward are neurologically intertwined, creating a sense of craving. This is why some folks crave certain actions, like smoking a cigarette or eating that candy bar. What we really seek is the reward from the routine.

What can we do with this knowledge of habits?

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, wrote “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big,” where he explores the idea of goals and habits with a unique twist.

According to Adams, there are two types of people in the world: those who are goals-oriented and those who are systems-driven.

(For the purposes of this article, I use habits and systems interchangeably.)

Adams believes that goal-oriented people always exist in a state of pre-success or failure; there is no in between.

However, systems driven people look at the familiar in new and different ways. Those with a system in place succeed every time they implement the system.

For example

In honor of NoNoWriMonth, let’s say I have a goal to write a book. My hope is to achieve this goal in the next few months.

Thinking of this goal, I see a gorilla of a task at hand. Writing an entire book? Sheesh, that’s tough to do.

Now imagine this: Say I get 70% of the way through the book, but can’t do it anymore. I’m a failure. All of those hours were merely a waste of time. Unless…

I have a system.

What would your system be?

My system would be writing for a minimum of 10 minutes first thing in the morning. In those 10 minutes, write at least 500 words. It doesn’t matter how good or bad those 500 words are. The system is merely the act of writing within this time frame.

These mini-goals, or systems, are what is going to help me reach that long term goal of writing a novel. By writing for merely 500 words per day, I could easily have a draft with 45,000 words within 3 months. That’s the power of systems.

Systems also make it so you never truly fail

The system is writing for 10 minutes, first thing in the morning. What would I hope to accomplish with this system? Well…

  • I want to improve my writing skills
  • I want to improve my editing skills
  • I want to share my thoughts with the world

With my system in place, I would achieve bullets 1 and 2 every time I write. The 3rd bullet allows me an out even if you never finish writing the book. How so?

Let’s go back to the scenario earlier. Say I’m 70% of the way through the book and decide I can’t finish it. I just wasted a bunch of time.

But, if my goal is to share my thoughts with the world, I can still accomplish that!

I could break up the book into bite-sized pieces and share it with the world through articles my blog.

Systems increase your chances of success

Scott Adams looks at systems as a technique to increase your chances of success. It’s not simply success or failure, as it is in the goal-oriented frame of mind.

Instead, with the right system in place, you can succeed a little bit each and every day. These small wins drive you closer to accomplishing your goal of writing a book.

Adams actually recommends that you set up systems all throughout your life in order to accomplish those things that you want and increase your odds of success.

Another system example

One such system that I’ve implemented into my life is having 10% of my paycheck transferred into my retirement accounts every single month.

Instead of setting some audacious goal (say saving $1 million) and the obsessing over it every single month, I have a system in place that operates automatically. This one simple habit helps puts me on track for success. This system operates every single time I get paid.

Going back to the habit loop, the cue is receiving my paycheck, the routine is having it automatically transferred. What’s the reward? Checking my investment accounts and seeing the balance I’ve managed to accumulate.

This is one instance where having a system in life increases my odds of success. By creating the habit of saving, I don’t blow through my whole paycheck.

Instead, I slowly invest my cash that will help me reach my eventual goal of financial freedom. Do I know when I’ll reach that goal? No, but the system in place takes it from a pipe dream to a realistic probability just like that.

Systems-driven thinking

Systems influence your mindset. The right systems allow me to become mindful and focus on the present moment. Instead of thoughts about some future audacious goal, I focus on that task at hand.

I focus on what it is that I have accomplished already. With systems, the accomplishment is taking action. It’s writing 500 words today. It’s saving 10% of my paycheck every pay period.

The system becomes routine, and there’s no obsession on the end result.

Goals and anxiety

Personally, goals make me worry about the future to the point of anxiety. Goals can be overwhelming, especially if they aren’t expected to be accomplished for years or even decades.

Systems are a form of mindfulness, present state focus on the moment. They allow you think about what you are doing right now. You don’t think about how far away you are from that goal. This frees up your mental faculties so you can do deep work and do the best you can now.

Systems keep you grounded and present. They allow you not to obsess over the progress bar.

Don’t rob your present state awareness with audacious goals about the future. You can still reach them, you just need the right system.

What systems (or habits) have you implemented in your life that have had a big impact? Are there any systems you think we can benefit from by implementing into our lives?

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I’ve improved my productivity. Here’s how.

I’ve improved my productivity. Here’s how.

It was Wednesday morning. I was struggling. It was hump day but the clock hadn’t even struck 9 am. I wanted to go home.

My eyes hurt. I had a headache that radiated on the left side of my skull. It concentrated over my left eyebrow.

I had it for two days in a row. Maybe it was a migraine? It didn’t seem like it would get any better any time soon. I wasn’t getting anything done. My focus was gone. Then I tried something out. And I was productive again.

Purpose

This post is a mish mash of ideas for how you can be more productive.

These are a few things I’ve tried in recent weeks that have enhanced my productivity at work. This isn’t the end-all be-all of productivity posts.

These are some things that I have been working on recently to maintain a level of productivity that has amazed co-workers. (Not to brag…I just want you believe what I’m saying.)

So what am I doing to be productive?

Get rid of blue light

I had a massive headache. 10 hours in front of the computer was getting to me. My eyes hurt. My vision blurred. I was tired but found myself unable to sleep at night. So I decided to try something. I got rid of the blue light.

I installed f.lux on my work computer that Wednesday. Immediately I noticed a reduction in eye strain. With a day or two my headaches dissipated.

If you don’t know, f.lux is a software that adjusts your computer light to the time of day. If it’s day time, then your screen is bright. If it’s early morning or late evening, it gradually reduces the blue light and brightness of your screen.

I used this software to reduce the blue light of my screen, even during the day.

I felt great. I could sit at the computer for hours without losing focus. The glare of the blue light in my eyes was no more. I didn’t feel like I had to step away from the computer every 20 minutes.

By using f.lux on my computer, I survived 10 to 12 hours of staring at the computer without having the awful migraines that accompany it.

Reducing blue light not only makes me more productive, but I’ve been sleeping better too. For instance, reducing blue light, especially before you bed, has been shown to improve sleep.

I also use a blue light filter on my phone and tablet. I can read a book on my tablet before bed every night and not have to suffer from the effects of that awful blue light permeating my eyes.

(Keep in mind, some blue light is good for you. This is how your body knows that it’s day time and time to get to work. That’s why I step out of the office every few hours to get some natural blue light from the sun light.)

Have a purpose

This seems obvious. When you have a purpose for why you are doing something, you are more likely to do that thing and stick to it longer.

A purpose makes a task easier to do. You know exactly why you are doing what you are doing. Even if the purpose is weak or insignificant, it will help you get through something you don’t really want to do.

For example, there are times when I am assigned to do something I don’t really want to do.

When this happens, I could do one of two things. I could complain about how I don’t want to do that thing. “Why can’t so-and-so do it?” Or “this isn’t fair, why do I have to be punished by doing this?”

I’m sure you can think of times where you were assigned something you didn’t want to do. How did you react?

Most people go the first route and complain. I know, because I used to be a complainer. (I still am at times, but nowhere near as much as before.)

I shifted my mentality early on. There is an alternative to complaining. Now I look at things as a learning opportunity. I look at this (unwanted) opportunity as a chance to learn a new area. I use that project to expand my knowledge and add to my repertoire.

This is my purpose when I do almost anything new. “What can I learn about X?” Or, “oh well, I have to do this whether I want to or not. I might as well learn as much as I can about the topic at hand.”

For me, using learning as my purpose has greatly improved my life. When the purpose is to learn something you, it restores that natural curiosity that escapes many of us once we become older.

But you’re purpose doesn’t have to be to learn something new. That’s just one idea.

Your purpose could be to make your customers happy. Or it could be to connect with new people. Or it could be to help those around you.

Whatever it is that you are assigned to do in work, or even life, always have a purpose for why you are doing that thing. No purpose = no drive. And without drive it’s almost impossible to get anything done.

FOCUS

John Lee Dumas, creator of Entrepreneur on Fire, has this saying of “FOCUS.” To him, FOCUS means to Follow One Course Until Success.

This all ties into the mindfulness and awareness that I’ve been practicing recently. When you have a lot on your plate, it’s easy to jump from task to task and never get anything done.

Have you ever had a day like that? A day where you seem to be busy. But then but they end of the day, you feel like you got nothing done?

This is what happens to me when I multi-task and try to do a bunch of things at once. I feel busy but I don’t actually get anything done.

When you focus on one task until completion, you are able to get into a flow state which enables you to focus or get in the zone as athletes call it.

When you’re in a flow state, time seems to slow down but also speed up (as weird as it sounds). You become engrossed in your work. You become one with what you are doing. Next thing you know, you are knocking out stuff left and right and the work day is over!

So try it out. When you write out your next to do list, only list 3 things, and put full focus on concentration on that first item on your list before proceeding.

Do nothing

What if I told you that you could be more productive by doing nothing?

I do nothing for a big chunk of work each day.

That’s not to say I sit around all day doing nothing. Let me give you an example:

Every day I get into work around 7 or 7:30. I focus on my work for a solid two or three hours. I really focus on one task and do my best to complete it in that time frame.

Then, around 10 am every morning I step outside the office and go for a walk. I’ll take about five to ten minutes to just walk around.

During this walk I really try to become aware of the world around me. I shut my mind off to the work I was just doing a minute earlier. I become completely aware of the world around me.

I take in the environment and the trees around me. I look up to the sky at the clouds. I listen to the birds chirping. All while I am taking a slow, leisurely walk.

It’s all very relaxing and meditative. I’m able to step away from the voice inside my head for a few minutes in the morning. Any worries and fears that I was just thinking about while in the office dissipate for those brief moments.

By the time my ten minutes are up, I’m ready to dive right back into what I’m doing.

By doing nothing for a 10 minutes in the morning, and again in the afternoon, I’m able to feel refreshed once I dive back into the task that I was doing.

Too many people plug away at something for hours and hours because they need to get it done.

They believe in powering through the morning and working through lunch. Then they feel sluggish around 2 pm. So they pound coffee and try to power through the afternoon.

I know because some of my co-workers are like this. What they don’t know is that constantly being “plugged-in” is actually making them less productive.

I’m under the impression that you need to get away from what you are doing every few hours if possible. Taking mini-breaks throughout the day can add to your productivity by leaps and bounds.

So try this next time you work. When you are on your work break, step away from your desk (or work station), and go for a walk (or sit outside) and practice mindfulness of the world around you.

Let go of those thoughts you have from work. Practice some mindfulness mediation in these few minutes. Then see how you feel when you get back to work.

This works for me

This isn’t your typical list. Some things are your normal productivity tips, like having a purpose and focusing on a single task. But implementing these in my life I really do feel more productive.

As for those unorthodox things…I really believe that reducing blue light at certain points in the day has helped me focus on the computer, where 99% of my work is performed. My headaches are gone and I sleep better at night.

And finally, doing nothing intermittently throughout the day is a sure fire way to survive the day.

This works for me. Try them out and let me know what you think.

What are some tips you have for staying productive? Is there anything out of the ordinary that makes you more focused and productive?