Instant Productivity & Success: How to change your life in 15 minutes

May 22, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Guest Blog By JC Duarte, The Strategy Guy

“If an organization could teach only one thing to its employees, what single thing would have the most impact? My answer was immediate and clear: teach people how to learn. How to look at their past behavior, figure out what worked, and repeat it while admitting honestly what didn’t and change it.” This is the catch phrase that caught my attention & inspired this blog article when I read HBR’s leadership article The Best Way to Use the Last Five Minutes of Your Day by Peter Bergman.


15 Minute Magical Success Sessions

10h15 & 17h45, could possibly be the two 15 minute increments that will have the most significant impact on improving your quality of life. Are you familiar with the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu‘s quote “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”? Well, two 15 minute segments of your day can give you greater control over your own destiny, both personal & professional.


Having a Master Plan 

How do you start out each day? If you’re like most people, you’ve got anywhere from a vague idea to a rock-solid plan, which in itself is a wide spectrum. Unfortunately, to add to this challenge, most of us have these in our head. The more advanced of you have written things down on a task or to-do list. How’s that working for you? Overwhelmed with the amount of tasks building up from day to day that you can’t seem to clear?


Here’s your 1st tip

No more than 3 significant tasks per day!
And this is where your FIRST magical 15 minutes success session comes into play. Just like Peter Bergman’s article suggests, before you pack it in for the day, take a moment to reflect on the day just past. What worked? What didn’t work? What’s within your control to improve your situation? What are you going to do differently tomorrow? OK, now write that down, and more importantly, block out time in your calendar for doing the things you need to get done. I like to call this “making an appointment with myself”. Ever heard the phrase “if you don’t have your own plan you’re destined to be part of someone else’s?” If you miss this step, I’ll guarantee you that each day will end with you having worked on everyone else’s plan instead of your own.


Finding Your Rhythm

Just like our biological clocks, and the rest of the universe, everything around us works in cycles & rhythms, so why should you be any different. If you respect your required sleep patterns, then your mind & body will be ready for the challenges of each new day. Finding your rhythm also means discovering your strengths & weaknesses, and applying a continual learning process that helps you move from theoretical education to applied practical behavioral change.


Here’s your 2nd tip

You can only effectively focus & execute tasks at optimal performance in 60 to 120 minute concentrated periods.
This means that it’s key to eliminate or avoid disruptions when you’re doing “knowledge work” that requires concentration & focus. And if you think about a typical day, plan it out properly, and hold yourself accountable to being disciplined, I’ll bet you can find three 60-90 windows of time where you can dedicate your focus to 3 significant tasks.


Here’s your 3rd tip

Even if you don’t want to listen to music, put your headphones on anyway. And if you have noise canceling headphones, better yet! 
The fact is, people are less likely to interrupt you if they see you concentrated on a task & with head phones on, as they will assume you are listening to music, a tutorial video or something else that’s important. If your colleagues don’t happen to be this “cluey”, then by all means stand-up and share with those immediately around you that you’re about to start very important work that requires extreme concentration and that you’d appreciate not being interrupted for the next 60 minutes.  Try it, it works!


Back to Your Master Plan

I said there were two 15 minute magical success sessions. Well your next most important 15 minute increment is your early to mid morning pulse check. Just like a doctor’s visit when your pulse is measured to see how you’re general health is, it’s key to take a pulse of how your day has started in comparison to your plan from the previous afternoon / evening, and to make any necessary adjustments before the new day flies by.
If you really want to be on the ball & gain extra bonus points for a satisfying & highly productive life, plan a pulse check just after lunch as well.


Here’s your 4th tip

I like to call these early to mid morning pulse checks Daily Huddles. And typically I have my team leads or direct reports join me on this huddle. We cover 3 simple things…
1.     What’s up; How did I perform since our last daily huddle & what did I accomplish based on what I set out to do? How am I feeling about that? What am I going to do differently?
2.     My Metrics for Today; What are the three most significant things I want to get done today, and what are the results (quantifiable) that I expect to witness by the end of the day in order for me to declare it a success?
3.     What are My Stucks; What’s holding me back from succeeding on my plan? What are the interdependencies where I need help?
This exercise is not only a great activity to make sure that your focused on the things that need to get done each day, and week, in order to reach daily, weekly & monthly objectives, but likewise it gives you an opportunity to align & (if necessary) adjust individual team members focus. It gives everyone a snap-shot of what’s going on in their department & how it relates or contributes toward success. And most importantly, it gives us all an opportunity to address the things that are keeping us from succeeding (stucks), addressing them before we miss our deadlines (otherwise known as failure).
Has anything in this article struck a nerve with you? Upon reflection of these simple steps, is there anything new that you could apply to your daily routine that would put you back in control of your life, both personally and  professionally?
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