Personal Productivity Tools that Support Great Systems

As we started looking at How to be More Productive, I shared what I thought was a great example of how impactful systems can be in helping us knock out even the most dreaded tasks - like cleaning the kitchen… We also started looking at why productivity gets so much of our attention, the need for effective systems in order to achieve that productivity, and a simple process for identifying the tasks that should get the bulk of our attention to achieve the best possible productivity. Let’s face it though, most of the demands we face on a professional level usually tie back to how effective we are at developing our own personal systems for fulfilling our obligations and getting tasks checked off our lists…

Once we’ve thoroughly worked through those three R’s to determine what truly needs our attention and which things we should be focusing on first, we still need a way to manage it all. As I was looking at a few different resources on this topic, I found an article on from 2014 called 20 Suggestions to Boost Your Personal Productivity that listed things like knowing when to take a break, don’t multitask, love what you do (which ties back to the idea of Reward), eliminate distractions, write things down, and a whole bunch more - 15 more to be exact… None of them were all that complicated and each seemed to be at least somewhat applicable in most scenarios. But for the same reason I was initially drawn to those three R’s, 20 different suggestions was a bit more than I’d want to dive into, especially if I’m already struggling to keep my head above water!

Then I found another article that grabbed my attention: The 5 Personal Productivity Tools You Need to Stay on Top of Everything! Whittling it down from 20 things I should apply to 5 tools that help me knock things off my list sounded great! The bulk of that article mapped out different kinds of technology we can take advantage of to get the most of each day. If you like to have an app for everything, you may enjoy reading the entire thing. Quite honestly, I see value in each thing the author mentions… That said, let’s stick with what made the top of his list, using a calendar!

I’ve been a calendar nerd for over twenty years. And truth be told, I don’t use it quite like the fellow who wrote that article suggests but it’s still the most important system I use regularly! Not only do I use my calendar for every single meeting or appointment, it serves as a tool for scheduling time for every task I need to accomplish on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Whether those are tasks around our home like changing the whole-house water filter every two months, the multiple meetings I’m scheduled to attend on a monthly basis, or writing and presenting sessions in our Leading At The Next Level program twice each month, having them all somewhere that I can see them at a glance has been a huge help. In addition to that, Cindy and I share our digital calendars with one another so either of us can book appointments for the other as needed.

Having all the routine tasks mapped out over the course of a year helps me avoid forgetting any of them as my days fill up - and every day seems to fill up! But by developing the habit of using my calendar for everything that needs my attention, I’m able to block the specific time necessary for each task and I’m able to see where I have open spots to squeeze other things in (which doesn’t happen quite as frequently as I’d like).

I realize this idea of being diligent about using a calendar may seem really basic, but sometimes the most basic systems give us some of our best results! I’ve also heard folks push back on the idea of being that meticulous because it may stifle their creativity. I’d argue it does just the opposite, and I’ll tell you why next… For now, just know I’m not suggesting a specific way to use your calendar, just that it can be an incredibly powerful tool for keeping things from falling through the cracks and for ensuring the most important things get done!

The Best Way to Be Authentic, Even Within a System

Several years ago, Cindy and I were leading a group through a fairly in depth study of John Maxwell’s Everyone Communicates, Few Connect when one of the folks in the group expressed concern about how applying the five principles and five practices outlined in the book could be viewed as manipulative. My response was simple… The best way I know to not come across as being manipulative is to not have a manipulative motive when you’re applying the principles or practices. When we’re genuine in our intent, the people we’re interacting with usually sense that. But when someone is trying to slip something by us, don’t we typically sense that too? Even the best principles and practices only work over the long haul when our motives are right! As a quick side note, while I do still like the individual who shared that concern, I have seen them do several things in the years since that have come across as manipulative...

I just shared about how much of a calendar nerd I’ve been for over twenty years. That all started for me with a PalmPilot. Next was a Blackberry and now it’s my iPhone. That said, I know a bunch of folks who swear by a printed calendar instead since they can have that physical page in front of them. I couldn’t care less which you choose; but it needs to work for YOU! I use the one in my phone simply because I can set various reminders to help me keep things from falling off my radar; that’s just the tool I’ve gotten used to.

Regardless of what type or even how the calendar is used though, I’ve heard folks express concern that being that meticulous to a schedule would prevent them from being creative with the new things they come up with or authentic in the interaction they schedule with others. My response to that is similar to my response about being viewed as manipulative: if we want to appear genuine when we interact with others, then we’d better be genuine. 

I kinda get the concern about creativity. I’ve frequently heard people say that they prefer going off the cuff or speaking from the heart. OK, fair enough. Both make sense but after training thousands of people over the last twenty-plus years, I can honestly say the only things I can train on effectively off the cuff today are the topics that I’ve covered so many times that I know the content inside and out so I can put my focus on the individuals I’m with. That’s where I’ve really felt like it comes from the heart! And getting that familiar with the content takes a tremendous amount of preparation or a whole lot of experience - and usually both!

In almost every case (I won’t go as far as to say absolutely every case), the person who prefers going off the cuff or speaking from the heart is actually saying they don’t want to invest the time to prepare. Preparation is the hard part! It can also be really boring. But developing a system to prepare effectively, then being disciplined about scheduling time for it, can often be the difference between mediocre results and extraordinary results!

I’ve found that just making sure it’s part of my routine, and disciplining myself to dedicate time to being creative every day, has helped me become more and more creative over time. That system has become a habit! Now I have to invest far less energy into forcing myself to get started and I can focus that energy on the actual creative part.

I won’t go into it here right now, but Cindy and I also developed a few lessons in our Leading At The Next Level program that go deeper into calendar planning as well as learning to identify which times of day we can be more effective at different types of tasks - like being creative… Now let’s look at how we can start creating our systems so that we actually enjoy sticking with them over time!

What Works for You May Not Work for Me!

In the second lesson of our Emerging Leader Development course, Cindy and I emphasize that building strong connections with the people we’re responsible for leading requires energy. We go on to stress that putting energy into connecting with our teams requires each of us to make sure we’re intentional about recharging as well so we’re able to invest energy each time it’s necessary - which is really every time we interact with someone. When we’re leading a team, it’s often our responsibility to build processes in place that help the leaders around us recharge. The challenge with this really boils down to understanding that something may energize one person while sucking the energy right out of another!

Like many couples starting out together, Cindy and I didn’t have much paid time off built up or much extra money to afford many vacations. The few times we were able to take the kids somewhere reasonably nice, I wanted to be sure to squeeze in everything we possibly could so everyone had the best time possible. As I’m sure you’re aware, I’m pretty high strung and draw a lot of energy from being around other people and being engaged in multiple tasks at any given time. Cindy, not so much… I remember her being absolutely exhausted, saying “what part of vacation don’t you understand?” And every once in a while, the kids would even complain about me being a drill sergeant!

All that said, the only time I actually recharge from lounging on the beach or by a pool is when I’m just too tired to do anything else. Sitting still wears me out! My point here is that what works for you may not always work for me! The same holds true when it comes to how we build systems in our routines to be as productive as we can possibly be. A system that works perfectly for you, helping you get all your tasks accomplished and keep your tank full in the process, could possibly drain every ounce of life right out of me without yielding anything close to the results I’m working toward. 

I’ve already mentioned how important I believe effective calendar planning is, even when it comes to the tasks that require us to be creative. I also alluded to how understanding our own personal chrono-type can help us recognize what we’re best suited for at various times throughout the day. But when it comes to building the systems that service us best as individuals, especially if we’re looking to maintain productivity over a significant period of time, having a keen awareness of how we’re wired to behave makes a huge difference. When we structure the systems we create based on our behavioral style blends so that each action we take moves us closer to our goal and is fulfilling at the same time, the odds of burnout drop significantly and our chances of actually loving what we’re doing shoot up at the same time!

Moving forward (in my next page like this), we’ll work through some things we can consider working into systems based on each primary behavioral style. While each of us only have one primary style, we’re all a blend of all four that we’ll look at so understanding them all will help weave them together based on our own unique blends. It will also give you some perspective on ways you can support your team members that aren’t wired the same way as you. Remember, what works for you may not work for me! 

How Are You Supporting Your Systems?

In addition to the lessons geared toward helping leaders make the best use of their time, our Leading At The Next Level program includes multiple resources geared at challenging you to develop strong systems to reach your peak productivity. This 14 Day Trial gives you access to test the waters for just $1!

Disclaimer: This material is for educational use only. You alone are responsible for implementing the steps necessary to become an effective leader at each new level in your career. While we will share things that we've seen make an amazing impact in numerous organizations, we can't take action for you. By registering for this or any of our courses, you accept complete and total responsibility for taking action to apply what we share in your own role and for making a positive impact on each individual you lead!