Overwhelmed? Take a step back and reset to basics that work.

There are moments in which we need to take a step back and focus on the critical stuff. To take the 30,000 ft. view to understand the bigger picture so that we can adjust and redesign our life’s building blocks.

For the past few years, I have been experimenting with proven practices and habits to enhance our impact and productivity. Through that process, I have learned that two fundamental principles, when successfully combined, have the power to keep a human being operating at peak productivity.

The approach is simple. If we compare a productive life with the concept of travel, what are the essential elements defining our movement?

1. Direction:

Setting ambitions at the intersection of identity and purpose.

2. Fuel:

Adopting a daily routine that will drive you to your goal (by keeping us focused on the action)

1. Direction: setting your ambitions at the intersection of identity and purpose.

Basic premise: the absence of meaning in what we do heavily impairs our ability to perform at our best.

What person, at a personal and professional level, do you aim to become in the next few years? Are your daily actions contributing to becoming that person as you go along? How are ambitions balancing your different areas of responsibility in your life?

How long since you last devoted time to this critical thinking?

I have been a prey of modern life myself, the whirlwind and busyness, the need to “survive” day after day. But there is a way to gain distance and start owning our lives again.

Aspirations without principles will lead to failure and frustration. Our aspirations should be the result of the person we want to become; they need to be identity-defined. They need to reflect intention. Otherwise, we won’t be able to find the consistency between our broad targets and the path we walk on a daily basis. And with no alignment between our objectives and our actions, we won’t be able to find purpose in our journey. It is not the achievement of our goals, but the person we become trying what brings meaning to our lives.

If we don’t solve this puzzle first, then the rest won’t be built on solid ground. If we don’t believe in what we are doing, we won’t be resilient when we hit our lows, our times of doubt. We won’t be able to refocus and regain our centeredness. We won’t be able to establish clear priorities and to live by them, to stay on the ball. A sense of direction and deep intentionality are what keeps us in the right direction.

2. Fuel: adopting a daily routine that will drive you to your goal.

”An object in motion continues in motion” — Isaac Newton

Basic premise: eliminate willpower from the equation. Structure your day in a way that you are prompted to action by a simple process.

As a parent, I have seen how a child with no routines struggles to adapt to the basic needs of social life. We all need to rely on processes, in one way or another, to function. It is a fundamental premise of human nature.

A well-defined set of processes, habits and routines become critical when trying to maximise our personal and professional output. Our mind does not cope well with grand objectives, placed in the distant future. Lack of connection between what we want from the future and what we need to do today, combined with a simple reliance on willpower, leads to failure. You may have suffered from this when setting your typical new year resolutions. I have been there. Research shows that the initial push last 4 to 8 weeks, at most, in the absence of a robust framework.

We need to simplify the present and define the actions that week after week can get us closer to such goals. This is why processes become key. We may think of this as the funnel that we need to build between now and our objectives.

Step 1 — Define the High-Impact Actions that have the best predictive power of the result. These are the actions that, if sustained week after week, will help us get closer to the goal.

For me, continuous learning about personal development, productivity and effectiveness are vital aspirations. My High-Impact Activity is to do as much research as possible on the topic, which is reflected in my goal of reading 50 books per year.

Let’s pick another example. To properly structure my learning and thinking, another High-Impact Activity related to the same ambition is to create a written body of work. This is reflected in my additional goal of writing at least 40 articles in 2018.

Step 2 — Set up a process that works for you. If you are, like me, most fresh in the morning, you could work towards your ambitions through a solid morning routine. In my case, I wake up early to meditate, read and write before leaving for work.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I devote 30 minutes in the morning to read, while sipping my coffee. Once I leave home for the office, I will turn on an audiobook. My commute will take me another 30 minutes, so by the time I hit the office I usually have gone through 1 hour of the content that matters to me. This is more than enough to go through 1 book a week, on average. That is 52 books per year.

I also devote around an hour to my writing every morning. I have further unpacked my target of 40 articles per year into a more manageable objective of 5,000 written words per week. So every day I set myself to write between 500 and 1,000 words in an hour, regardless of the result. I write, and when the time is up, I stop. Done for the day.

Just hitting the 5,000-word count every week has proven to be enough to produce valuable material for a 1,600 words article per week, which I edit over the weekend and I publish on the following week.

Step 3 — Forget about the goal. Just focus on the daily activities and trust the process.

Reading 50 books seems like a very ambitious target, but you can see how unpacking that into a daily low-effort routine can drive you to the goal. Starting very small, almost with an insignificant devotion of time, will ensure that you build a sticky habit. Those 60 minutes daily allow me to stop thinking about the goal by keeping me focused on the necessary daily activities.

Let’s turn again to my writing. Over a single year, 40 published articles of 1,600 words (my average article length) amount to 64,000 words of edited work. That’s enough material for a book, based on a single hour of work per day. The power of small routines practised daily.

Bonus point — Gamify your way towards your objectives. The power of keeping track of your weekly targets.

I use the Teal iPhone app to track some of my personal development targets. Having to fill a dashboard with my progress on a weekly basis makes the whole process a fun challenge.

Try with your preferred metrics in there. How about “weekly number of prospecting calls to customers?”. Choose what may work for you depending on the high-impact activity you are trying to track and let the dashboard be your reminder.

Keeping myself on track

You can build upon this framework to maximise your impact and productivity

You could define productivity as the successful combination of 1) meaningful aspirations, 2) a predictive set of daily processes and 3) the execution of small actions consistently on a daily basis.

It is easy to see how this framework can be applied to any aspiration, personal or professional, to align objectives and behaviours.

You could build upon these 2 basic premises to design effective morning and evening rituals, reconquer your sleep hygiene or craft an effective professional workflow that matches your energy levels throughout the day.

I will be sharing how I went about creating these and other processes and routines in future posts, so stay tuned and… keep moving!