HUGH CULVER

How to be so damn productive you should be wearing a cape

Updated to Habits, Productivity on August 13, 2015.

When I teach audiences my Think, Plan, Act model for effective leadership, I always include a number of skills and disciplines to improve productivity.

My theory is pretty obvious: you can’t use new leadership skills if you don’t have the time. So, I teach how to to have more time for what’s important.

I always start with my Plan Like A Pilot model for creating a Flight Plan for each week (read how this works in this post). I also teach one very important discipline. And it’s that discipline, if you use it consistently, that can make you so damn productive you should be wearing a cape.

First, a warning.

PUT AWAY YOUR MECHANICAL PENCIL

What I am about to teach is not a cool app you can download (not yet, anyway), or a form you fill in with your mechanical pencil—it’s a discipline. In other words, you have to practice this discipline for it to work. Kind of like flossing – do it consistently and the reward (‘Look Mom, no cavities!’) shows up later.

The discipline is to be strategically unavailable. Let me explain.

Common thinking is you work harder to get stuff done—more hours, more “open door” time, and more email gets you more progress. Bollocks.

When you are strategically unavailable you can think, plan, and create the kind of solutions you simply can’t create when interruptions pull you away.

Here’s how it works.

ENTER BOUNDARIES

When I was in university, you didn’t wander the fourth floor looking for a professor. Good luck with that.

Instead, you checked their schedule, went during visiting hours, and voila! there they were, ready for you. They had boundaries.

A boundary is a reoccurring slice of time when you are strategically unavailable.

But, more than that, you are only working on one objective.

A boundary is a reoccurring slice of time when you are strategically unavailable.

I write every morning from 5:00-7:00AM (like right now). That’s an easy one to enforce—most mornings everyone in my house is asleep.

My next boundary is from 9:15, when I get to my office, until 10:30. That’s when I aim to complete the hardest 50% of my work. I allow 10-15 minutes to check email and then it’s onto phone calls, completing proposals, following up with clients, and working with colleagues. After that, I meet with Sarah, in my office.

My third boundary, on work days, is from 1:30-3:00. I know that for about 90 minutes shortly after lunch (two to three times a week I’m at yoga and I get back by 1:15), I have an awesome zone for getting the last 50% of my hardest work done.

That’s it: three boundaries that reoccur. Three zones of time that allow me to be uber-focused and super productive.

MAKING BOUNDARIES WORK

A time boundary has three characteristics:

1. they happen everyday. Of course there are exceptions, like when I have a webinar scheduled, or I’m on the road speaking, but every other day I stick to my boundaries.

2. they are for project work. No dilly-dallying around checking email—I stay off email and the internet, my goal is to complete tasks and make stuff happen.

3. people respect them. My family knows, staff know, and I know my boundaries need to happen for me to be productive and happy. Success begets success and boundaries have become critical for my success.

YOUR HOMEWORK

Here’s the deal.

You need more time. Right?

You know what you need to do to feel productive. Right again?

In the same breath, you probably would admit you know how good it feels to dedicate time to one task or project and for 30 minutes, or an hour, simply crunch down and get concentrated work down. Capiche?

The way to do this, on a regular basis, is to be strategically unavailable working in a boundary.

Your homework is to do an experiment (yes, kids, I do want you to try this at home). Pick a chunk of time, first thing on waking, later at 10:30 – whatever. Mark it up in your calendar to reoccur everyday, for one week.

Next, treat it like an appointment with an important client (that’s you). Prepare for it, respect it, get focussed (close email, airplane mode your smartphone, close your browser), and watch the work get done.

I know sometimes (scratch that – all the time) I am my own worse enemy. Given my druthers I will fart around and waste time reading an interesting article, or checking out a cool new app. Boundaries give me discipline. I create them, respect them, and allow them to make me so damn productive I should be wearing a cape.

Over to you, crime fighter. Get your calendar out, grab your cape, and become strategically unavailable.