12 weeks left this year – how to get lots done!

12 weeks left this year – how to get lots done!
8 October 2018

I have long fantasized about writing an article simply called: “How to get shit done.”

A short article that spells out just a few, but brutal, truths about why some people achieve loads, and others don’t. Aimed at giving my readers the mindset and the tools to increase their output and (ideally) their income by a factor of two, three or more.

Now that the usual year-end panic about hitting targets and fulfilling plans is getting into gear, that magic moment has come.

The annual year-end dash

Why would I publish this article in the time leading up to year-end, instead of putting it out there in February, May or August?

Throughout our entire lives, we have been trained and conditioned to think in one-year cycles.

Early in life, we think in terms of school years.

Once you are in the workforce, your success is based on annual reviews.

If you run a business, no doubt you are doing annual financial plans.

Obviously, there are also quarterly reports, monthly deadlines, and weekly cycles. But at the core of it, our lives are built on the back of annualised thinking. It’s so deeply ingrained in us that we barely even think about it anymore.

The problem is when it comes to maximising how much you get done and how you perform in life, annualised thinking almost inevitably leads to you achieving less than what you could achieve.

It’s been proven many times that the most successful people in life focus on making every day count towards their goals.

Everyone would agree that an approaching deadline adds a sense of urgency and gets people to hurry up. Equally, a deadline that is far into the future makes us believe that we have plenty of time left. That’s why early in the year when the year-end seems like a long way off, you often allow yourself to slack or to be distracted by less than essential work. That wonderful sense of urgency that accompanies us on a daily basis during the final part of the year simply doesn’t exist during the rest of the year. Which is a problem!

It’s been proven many times that the most successful people in life focus on making every day count towards their goals.

Every.

Single.

Day.

This seems like common sense, but we are easily blind to this reality because our minds are all too often stuck in some shape or form of annualised thinking. If you look at a year-end target when it’s still January, your brain just doesn’t register any sense of urgency. It’s merely human nature. Days, weeks or even months go past without important work getting done until… Oops, you realise it’s September, and you really have to dash to have a chance to make the year-end target!

You can see where I am going with this.

A significant step towards achieving more is to shift your mindset from annual to some other form of mental framework, and to focus your energy on implementation.

Enter my personal no. 1 rule for advancing quickly in life.

The ONE rule I live by every single day

You’d probably expect me to use this article to harp on about the virtue of more regular planning, tighter deadlines, and more regular reviews.

Whereas all of that has its merits, I prefer something even more straightforward.

Unless you are a genius or an alien, no doubt you’ll have a long list of things on your to-do list. This could include items that may have been pending for months and others that you haven’t touched yet because they are a daunting, big job.

With a to-do list, I don’t mean all the stuff you have to get done on a day-to-day basis. I am referring to the things you should get done to achieve major advances but which you can so easily get distracted from. There is a fuzzy border between these two areas, but I am sure you know what I am talking about. It might help you if I refer you to that wonderful quote: “Doing things is not the same as getting things done.”

Broadly speaking, I am referring to concrete, significant tasks with tangible results that require focused work and are more likely to take an hour (or two or three). As a pesky sub-category, it could also be tasks that don’t require all that much time but which are unpleasant or complicated to do and which I have therefore pushed in front of me.

Does that sound familiar?

In my work, I have an iron rule that every single day, I need to strike ONE such item off my list.

Every.

Single.

Day.

No apologies, no excuses.

Come Saturday, Sundays, holidays, or Judgment Day. You can be pretty darn sure that on that same day, I will have dealt with one strategic item. I constantly have on my mind that the greatest predictor of your future lies in your daily actions.

If you stick to this rule, then every week, every month and every quarter will feel like real progress.

Of course, you can also do two, three or four of these items on a day, especially if it’s one of those days when you are in top mental and physical shape. That’s not the point. My strategy is all about ensuring that not a single day goes by without making SOME significant progress. Beyond that, you are, of course, entirely welcome to make even more progress. I am merely defining a daily minimum.

If you stick to this rule, then every week, every month and every quarter will feel like real progress.

Multiply my approach by 365, and you have a powerful tool to advance in life.

Plus, you get a feeling of success at least once every day!

It doesn’t take much to implement this rule. After all, it’s just one item. You can even give yourself some leeway regarding when to tackle the most time intensive ones and when to address the ones that can be done more quickly.

This requires no pre-planning.

It comes with automatic daily control; because “you know” at the end of the day whether you did or didn’t do your duty. Have you only been in the hamsterwheel of day-to-day operations, or did you actively make the time to get at least one strategic, high-value item ticked off your list?

It’s even easier to control if you decide each evening, what you are going to tackle the following day.

My system leaves you a bit of leeway to account for human imperfection, but ultimately it also leaves you no excuses.

After all, it’s just ONE thing!

Since you’ll think about this every day, it also keeps you in a constant mindset of aiming to achieve and perform in a way that is focused towards real progress. The desire to get such higher-value things done eventually becomes second nature to you so that you don’t even have to think about it anymore.

Protect your most valuable time

If you asked me about my no. 2 rule, it’d be my pet obsession with protecting my morning hours.

Everyone is different, but in my case, during the hours from 6am to noon, I am two times more productive (at least!) than during the afternoon. My mind is fresh, I find it easier to focus, and work flows more naturally. Somewhat oddly, I work best in places with white noise, which is why I spend every morning in some random cafe somewhere.

Others work better at night or require silence. Be that as it may, every human being has some sort of biorhythm and workplace preference that dictate how you can best achieve your maximum productivity.

It’s not perfection that counts in this regard but constant striving towards achieving the best possible result.

Over the years, I have become very protective of these golden hours:

  • I try to avoid meetings during these periods.
  • If I have to take a flight somewhere, I strive to get an afternoon flight instead of a morning flight, even if it is a bit more expensive.
  • When there is an all-day conference I want to attend, I usually rather sacrifice seeing the keynote speech that kicks off the event in the morning and instead make use of the presentations held during the afternoon.

Obviously, this doesn’t always work.

I sit on boards that meet in the morning. Some destinations require me to head to the airport during the morning. There are a million reasons that can disrupt your most productive period of the day and no one in this world is always 100% in control over their diary.

It’s not perfection that counts in this regard but constant striving towards achieving the best possible result. If I manage to protect my mornings on 70% of all days, then that already makes me advance significantly faster.

I estimate that during six hours in the morning, I get about as much done as I’d be able to do during 12 hours in the afternoon (at least!). Plus, the work I do during that period is simply of overall higher value, because I am more creative during that period.

You can easily do a bit of math about work hours per year and productivity. It doesn’t take much to figure out that by living by this rule, I increase my output very significantly. Speaking figuratively, this is the closest you can get to turning 24-hour days in 30-hour days.

What is your best period of the work-day (or night), and what can you do to make better use of it?

It’s a question I urge everyone to consider regularly and to make use of to the degree that your personal circumstances permit (without castigating yourself about those occasions where you have no control over it).

Weekends, wonderful weekends!

Here is a fun calculation that goes back to my no. 1 rule of getting something done every day.

If you pursue my favourite rule from Monday to Friday (and excluding weekday holidays), you get about 250 such significant items ticked off the list each year.

If you add Saturday, it increases to 310.

If you are willing also to add Sundays and most holidays, it goes to 360.

360 is 44% more than 250.

This is not a precise calculation, but a matter of mindset. The bottom line is, if you want to succeed in building a business in today’s hyper-competitive world, you are not going to succeed if you have an employee-mindset with a belief in 5-day weeks. This point is to illustrate the order of magnitude of your output changing if you utilise weekends.

You simply get a LOT more than if you limited this rule to weekdays.

There are probably two different reactions to this:

  • If you absolutely, categorically do not think anyone should work on weekends, please skip to the next section of this article. There is nothing of value I can tell you about the subject of weekends.
  • If you think weekends are special (who wouldn’t?) but you also want to make maximum progress (which is why you are on my website!), then read on.

I love the weekend just like everyone else, and I recognise the human body is not a robot that performs the same every single day. We require breaks, diversion, and change. Else, we burn out.

For myself, I am using an extension of my no. 1 rule.

E.g.,  Saturdays are set aside to deal with to-do list items that are chunky but fun. What’s more, I tend to find myself a more beautiful location to do them, e.g., an upmarket cafe instead of a Starbucks. That’s my way of making the weekend different, i.e., celebrating the end of the week with work that I enjoy, but sticking to my rule regardless.

That way, my weekends feel special even though I use them to advance my business; they are mostly fun, and they are also leading to my life advancing towards my goals.

Like with everything in this article, different things will work for different people. E.g., if you have a partner with whom you can only spend quality time on a Saturday, then you’ll want to tailor your own solution for that (such as getting up 2 hours before him or her). The point is, it’s all doable if you put a bit of thought and discipline behind it.

Like with everything in this article, different things will work for different people.

Remember, this is the difference to getting done 44% more per year! (A flawed figure, but it illustrates the point and shows an order of magnitude.)

Do something you like doing

Honestly, none of this article will do you any good if you aren’t enjoying what you are doing for a living.

As I always advise everyone: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to do a day of work in your life.”

Much as this is somewhat romanticised, the point is clear.

If you don’t absolutely love what you are doing, you’ll never advance beyond a certain point. Nor will you even consider giving it your best on weekends (and for a second opinion on weekend work being required to successfully build your own business, read this article about Bill Morrow). I can give you all sorts of clever advice to help you advance, however, a few critical elements to a successful, productive and happy life only you can create the foundation for.

Bonus point, if you do something you actually enjoy, then your productivity will only increase further. Pleasant work rolls off more efficiently.

If I had to take a guess, I’d say that just because of human nature, someone who enjoys his or her work is anywhere between 30% to 100% more productive than someone who is dragging their feet and primarily works because of the need for income, pressure from the boss, or some distant (annual) review.

You could probably make a case for the difference being even bigger. I have encountered people who are so disinterested in their job and have such a disorganised employer, that they get away with doing just 1h or 2h of work per day. Imagine applying my different methods and working on something you enjoy. You can probably outperform an unmotivated employee by a factor of 10 to 20!

I realise transitioning from a job that is a chore to something you are passionate about isn’t easily or quickly done. But it’s one of those hard truths about life that is impossible to deny. I hope that by suggesting to put some figures to all this, making the life decisions in life becomes easier for you.

Consider a different cycle for plans

There are a book and a website about the entire subject, called “The 12 Week Year”.

Its subtitle: “Get more done in 12 weeks than others do 12 months.”

I read it not once, but twice.

The first time I read it, I found it a bit underwhelming. In fairness, this may well have been due to me already being well on the way to doing many of the things spelled out in this book. I actually put it into the recycling bin.

The second time I read it after buying another copy, I did so with an eye to writing an article and trying to help others how to best learn from it. With that mindset, I found that I liked it much better the second time around.

A fairly significant portion of the book is about the wisdom of writing a plan for your next 12 weeks.

The logic behind their proposed planning exercises is compelling:

Urgency: In a 12-week plan, every day counts! Every. Single. Day.

Predictability: Writing a 12-week plan is much easier because you will have a much clearer idea about what’s happening in the next three months than you have for the coming 12 months.

Implementation: Plans for 12 months often automatically veer into the direction of objectives and cannot be executed as written. On the other hand, plans for 12 weeks are almost automatically primarily geared towards getting specific items done.

As the book put it: “For top performers, 12-week plans provide a step-by-step roadmap that eliminates diffusion and delays, and demands immediate action.”

None of which I disagree with, and all of which is to be wholeheartedly endorsed for anyone who is attempting to get more done in less time and based on a plan.

However, I never found the need to write such a plan for my own work. I love what I am doing; I have a pretty clear idea in my mind where I want to take things over the next couple of months, and I live by the straightforward rule of having to make tangible progress every single day. For me, planning really only makes sense with regards to the work that I do with others or for others, not so much for my own performance.

Hence, the question of whether or not you should write an actual plan does depend to a reasonable degree on whether you are working just for yourself or whether you have to take others along on the journey. Are you running a one-man professional practice or do you have an enterprise and the accompanying responsibility for a team?

For the latter, I found the brief planning templates and planning exercises spelled out in the above-mentioned book to be well worth spending the book’s recommended retail price of $20 on. You can earn that back very quickly! It will teach you in great detail how you can create that anticipation of a new year – and the sense of urgency that comes with it – on an ongoing basis.

Double or triple productivity

Back in school, teachers told us “knowledge is power.”

However, the real world primarily rewards Doers, not Talkers.

An idea that doesn’t get implemented is worth zero.

It’s not how many diet books you have read, it’s about what you put into your mouth on a daily basis. Life does require a certain amount of knowing, but the rest is all about the doing. That’s why there are more diet books than ever before in the history of humanity, but also more overweight people. We all know that eating less and more healthily leads to weight loss, yet many a person has problems with the implementation.

An idea that doesn’t get implemented is worth zero.

Luckily, the mental switch to the right mindset isn’t all that difficult. To repeat, the concept I spelled out to you in this article is straightforward:

  • Step outside of the annualised thinking we have become so accustomed to.
  • Set a few easy-to-follow rules for yourself.
  • Implement a turbo-booster by doing something you actually like doing.

It’s your thinking about these critical points that will drive you towards achieving a lot more and a lot faster. You can switch to this thinking gradually, i.e., set yourself some realistic targets and don’t expect to go from 0 to 180mp/h overnight.

With this article, I hope to have given you some ideas how a thought-through, disciplined approach to getting lots done could help you to at least double if not even triple how much you get done on an ongoing basis.

The exact metrics for this are difficult to establish, however, simple yet powerful figures such as the one about making better use of weekends will have shown you that I am talking about the right order of magnitude.

As always, it also depends on many personal circumstances and who you compare yourself to. Some may even be able to push to a yet higher multiple than what I alluded to.

These changes are incredibly simple. Doing something more steadily doesn’t require a college degree or a sophisticated plan. You need the right combination of working on a task that you enjoy, combined with a bit of discipline, and a reasonably good idea what you want to achieve. This will already make you a force to be reckoned.

Along the way, you’ll find other ideas for improving your performance. E.g., I didn’t write at all about the need to shed low-value activities. There are plenty of other aspects to this, and for everyone, there is a different magic formula.

Your chance to make 2019 your best year ever

Getting a lot done could well be the single biggest differentiator for your career, your business, or your overall life. It is the difference between living the life you wished you live and the life you actually live.

If you aren’t happy yet with how much stuff you clear out of the way on an ongoing basis, consider using some of my advice, or start researching the subject for yourself.

Just don’t make any excuses or push it out further.

You could make 2019 a year when you achieve two or three times more than in 2018.

Using the last 12 weeks of 2018 as a trial run for your next year could be a powerful way of practising these skills and getting comfortable with the concept so that you can then hit the ground running on January 1st.

The combination of having the year’s final three months available as a dry-run, before having an entire new year stretching out in front of you, is one you should allow it to slip by!

Even if, as we said, it’s not really about an annual perspective…

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