How to Maintain Your Productivity
Creating and implementing a time management system is a great way to take control of your day. It is crucial, though, to make sure that any system you put in place can be maintained.
In the previous articles in this series, I have gone over identifying your underlying values and how those shape your goals. I have walked you through the different factors that will affect which type of time management program will work for you.
The reason I did this is so that you can figure out which time management systems will be easiest for you to maintain.
It’s so much easier to implement something new that complements your life rather than something that disrupts it. So when choosing new systems, it is extremely important to keep these things in mind. And to ask yourself if it’s something that you will be able to maintain.
To help you out let’s go through some different ways to create systems and some tricks for making them stick.
I am always talking about systems. A system is a plan of action you put in place so that you are always doing something the same way (or close to it). By doing this, you ultimately save time and energy. Once the system becomes a habit, you will do the task faster. The chances of error also decrease because you are used to doing it.
Since that description is pretty broad, let’s look at a couple of examples.
Consider how your kitchen is set up. I hope that you have a place for most of the items to go. Organizers like to call this their “homes.”
So all of your spices have a certain place where they are kept. Your glasses. Your silverware. And so on.
That is a system. As long as everything is kept in its home, you don’t waste time looking for anything, right? And this is pretty easy to maintain—you just have to put everything back where it belongs.
That was an easy example. Let’s look at something a little more abstract.
Think about your job. When you speak to someone for the first time, is there a standard conversation that you typically have? For example, if you work in Real Estate and someone reaches out to you, are there certain questions you ask them? And do you have a way to write down their answers? How do you file all of this information? The answers to all of these questions illuminate the system that you currently have in place.
Now think about how this would look without any systems. Someone calls your Real Estate office. You don’t have a protocol on the questions you want to ask the person. Why are they calling? What are they looking for? And so on. So instead you have to think about what to ask them on the spot. More than likely you will forget to ask them something that you need to know. This creates more work for you.
Additionally, if you are just jotting their answers down on a piece of paper and leaving it there, how are you going to find that paper the next time you speak to them. Do you see how important it is to have these systems in place?
How to Create a Successful System
If you were just reading that and realized that you don’t have any systems in place, or maybe the systems that you do have in place just aren’t working, don’t worry. There are some easy steps you can walk through to help you figure out the best systems for you.
Break Tasks Down Into Manageable Steps
The first thing you could do is to break everything down into its most basic components. So let’s revisit the Real Estate example.
Here are the steps that we’ve identified: a lead calls, you ask them intake questions, you process the intake questions.
That’s fairly straightforward. Now you just need to identify how you are going to address each step.
First, you will want to think ahead on what sort of systems will be easiest for you to maintain. If you hate entering data into a spreadsheet, then processing the information probably shouldn’t be done that way. You could instead use a Google Form that has all of the questions on it. Then you would just type them in as you go. Or you could have a printout of the questions, write their answers down, and create a new file for the client.
The point here is to create a routine. When a certain action happens, you are going to do X, Y, and Z in response every time.
Implementing the New System
Now that you have an idea of the new system you want to put in place, you need to find a way to begin implementing it. And I highly suggest that you start small.
You don’t want to throw something into your life that completely disrupts your day-to-day activities. It may overwhelm you. And it may make it seem like more trouble than it’s worth.
So start small.
Add new steps one at a time so you have time to adjust to them. This also allows you the opportunity to make sure that the new step is going to work for you.
Attaching New Habits to Old Ones
Another way to help these steps become routine is to piggyback them onto something you are already doing. In other words, you should attach the new habit onto an old habit that already exists.
So let’s say that you want to start taking a daily vitamin as part of your overall health goal. But it is absolutely impossible for you to remember to take it every day!
Instead of just expecting yourself to remember to do something that you aren’t used to doing, add it to something else.
So for example, the first thing I do every morning is stumble to the coffee pot and get a cup of coffee (I am not a morning person and am extremely thankful for preset coffee pots). Now if there is something I want to do every single morning, I associate it with the coffee pot in some way. If it’s a vitamin I want to take, I put the bottle next to the coffee cups. If it’s something I need to do first thing in the morning, I leave myself a post-it note directly on the coffee pot. I know that I am not going to forget my cup of coffee, so that is a great place to put other things I need to remember.
Another good example would be with your toothbrush. This is a good one if it’s a prescription you have to take twice a day. I put it right next to my toothpaste and know that I will see it in the morning when I’m getting ready and at night before I go to bed.
It is also incredibly important for you to understand that sometimes you may backslide. This may happen because the systems you’ve implemented need to be adjusted. Or maybe something happened in your life that threw you off a little. Backsliding is very common and can happen to anyone.
It does not mean that you need to start over from scratch.
And while backsliding can’t always be avoided, there are a few things you can do to recognize when it’s starting to happen.
The easiest way to see when your systems aren’t working the best is to regularly check in with yourself. I do this weekly.
You need to take time to assess what’s working and what isn’t working. And be brutally honest with yourself.
Again, if something isn’t working out as planned, you more than likely don’t need to go back to the drawing board. In most cases, tiny tweaks here and there can significantly impact the system.
Let’s go back to the coffee pot example. Now, let’s say that I really want to start taking a vitamin every day, so I put the bottle next to the coffee pot. And it works great for a couple of weeks. Every morning when I go to grab my cup of coffee, I see it sitting there, and I remember to take it.
Then I miss a day. And another day. I am backsliding.
My immediate reaction is not that this isn’t working and I better try something else. I first need to look at why it isn’t working anymore.
Did leaving the vitamin bottle out on the counter annoy me? Maybe I moved it somewhere less conspicuous but now I don’t always see it when I grab my coffee.
Or maybe taking a vitamin on an empty stomach was making me feel a little blah first thing in the morning. Because of this, I could subconsciously not want to take it anymore.
By checking in with myself and getting to the root of the problem, I can then come up with a solution.
Charles Duhigg has a great solution for this. He says to ask “why” 5 times. So I would ask myself, “Why did I stop taking the vitamin every morning?”
“Well, I don’t always see the bottle.”
“Because I moved it.”
“Why did I move it?”
“Because I hated the way it looked on my counter?”
“Why did I hate the way it looked on my counter?”
“Because I don’t like countertop clutter.”
“Why don’t I like countertop clutter?”
“Because everything needs to be put away.”
“Why does everything need to be put away?”
“So I know where everything is.”
So the problem wasn’t taking the vitamin, the problem was where I chose to store the bottle. The solution would be to give the vitamin bottle a new home. So rather than putting it next to the coffee pot, maybe I should keep it next to the coffee cups, stored away in their home in the cabinet.
There you have it. I just walked you through a couple different ways to maintain your time management systems. Keep in mind that this is just a very small sampling. There are numerous ways for you to work on maintaining systems and habits.
If you’ve hit a roadblock and can’t come up with ways to implement and maintain your own systems, a productivity coach can help. You can read more at Organized Fixology, or sign up for a free discovery session today!
What systems do you have in place? How do you maintain them? Let me know in the comments!
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