Written By: Jason Coleman, CTC, ECC, CLS, LCS, DS, Business Development Manager/MentorU Coach – UNIGLOBE Travel Center
If you and I are anything alike, then you are the kind of travel business owner who is overworked, constantly pulled in different directions, feeling like you are chasing your tail and never getting ahead. Sound familiar? I am in the exact same position. I’m always searching for ways to clean out my inbox, get through my “to do” list, and prioritize my projects and clients. Does our business have to be this way?
In January, I stumbled on a book that helped me see all that stuff as clutter. Reading it and applying some of the techniques helped me feel productive and more in control. My mood improved and I also felt more energized. The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey is an easy read (and the audio book is only 8 hours) yet it is jam packed with tested and proved experiments in productivity. Subtitled “Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy,” it is a book I highly recommend and believe will provide value to any professional and small business owner!
The book is an outgrowth of Bailey’s year-long “A Year of Productivity” project, in which he did nothing but read, study, and focus on experiments related to productivity. Some of the experiments proved to be insightful and life-changing; others were unique lessons learned under the heading of “what not to do.” Some of these included:
- Meditating for 35 hours a week
- Working 90-hour weeks
- Waking up at 5:30 every morning to see the impact on productivity
- Gaining 10 pounds of lean muscle mass
- Living in total isolation
- Drinking only water for a month
You may wonder if (or why) some of these have anything to do with productivity. Read the book…you’ll understand it with clarity. Let me just summarize and say that productivity is much more than how much you can squeeze into your waking hours. It is all about the relationship between your energy levels, prioritizing your tasks and activities, focusing your attention, and appropriately allocating your time.
Biological Prime Time
Although Bailey’s book is filled with fantastic content, material I could digest easily and quickly, the most valuable insights came from the multiple activities in each chapter. These practical experiments helped me conduct a sort of productivity experiment on my own. For example, one of the most insightful activities leads to an understanding of your biological prime time, those hours when you’re most alert, focused, and energized. For 10 work days, I tracked my energy every waking hour, on the hour. I made notes of what I was doing, whether I was procrastinating or not, and whether I was effective and attentive to the work in front of me. In the end, I had identified a range of hours called my biological prime time.
I am most focused and alert from 5am-9am. That is the time I should be doing tasks and projects that require my greatest brainpower. I know to avoid math in the evenings; do it first thing in the morning. I’m also my most creative in the mornings. When I’m constructing my daily schedule, you’ll likely find me working hard and focused during those hours. Come mid-morning, I need a break to go for a run, a workout, a meal, or a short nap. For the most part, I’m useless from 10-3. Between the hours of 3-8pm, I’m second-most alert and focused. This is a good time for me to work on secondary projects and tasks. After 8pm, I largely shut down and zone out. What are your prime time hours and do they coincide with when you are working your business?
Impact and Value
What is your most valuable activity of the day? What task provides you with the greatest return or impact? Following Bailey’s directions, I sat down for another activity to determine which tasks in my day are most important. I started by listing out every single task or activity I did during the day. After a couple of days keeping detailed notes, I reviewed the list and considered which one item on that list I would do all day, every day to accomplish the most. In my case, I had to consider what one item on my list is the most valuable to my boss. In my case, it’s conducting coaching calls with our agents. Answering emails, conducting webinars, writing articles, industry networking, and all the other things I do are nice, but they’re not the most valuable on my list. Coaching calls is #1. With that as my given, I considered what two other items on my list allow me to accomplish the most.
You’re familiar with the 80/20 rule? Those three tasks are the roughly 20% of my activities (and time) that provide at least 80% of my value. Knowing this helps me prioritize and keep my focus where it needs to be. Everything else may take a lot of my time and energy, but it provides very little value. What are those tasks and activities in your business?
The Rule of Three
Of everything I learned and discovered while reading The Productivity Project, the chapter on the rule of three was the most impactful. And it couldn’t be simpler. I tend to get overwhelmed with the right system, approach, or strategy to be more productive and efficient. I spend plenty of time (and money) on apps, tools, and techniques to help me prioritize and feel accomplished. When it comes time to doing something, simplicity is best. As Bailey writes, “knowing your most valuable task is important, but as G.I. Joe would say, knowing is only half the battle. When you sit in front of your computer tomorrow morning and open up your inbox, it is far too easy to forget about what’s important to work on when more urgent (but less important) tasks come your way.”
I could elaborate, but I don’t believe it is necessary. Here’s how I start each day and week:
- At the beginning of every day (or week), mentally fast forward to the end of the day and ask yourself: When the day is over, what three things will I want to have accomplished? Write those three things down.
- Do those three things first!
If you get to other things later on, great. But identify your focus for the day and the week ahead and get it done.
The book goes on to describe the science behind the rule of three, providing examples and an activity to complete on your own. I found this section to be most interesting and revealing. I encourage you to discover for yourself how impactful this simple task can be.
The Productivity Project has been instrumental for my work process and output in the few months I have been applying its varied principles to my life. I challenge you to read (or listen) and prepare yourself and your open mind to be equally transformed. If you’re interested in reading the book and joining an informal book club discussion group with other travel agents, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be facilitating a reading and discussion of the book during the month of July. I’d love to have you join me!