Be More Purposeful In 2020 With This Calendar Hack

My work as a financial advisor is dedicated to helping others best allocate their scarce resources in a way that is optimally aligned with their goals and grounded in their values. And while most of that work involves financial resources, I’ve also become somewhat obsessed with the stewardship of what is perhaps our scarcest resource—time.

One of the simplest and best productivity “hacks” I’ve found in pursuit of this obsession comes, almost hilariously, from one of the funniest people on the planet—Jerry Seinfeld.

First introduced to Seinfeld’s prolific productivity by Cal Newport in the priceless book Deep Work, and subsequently illuminated in the must-watch Netflix movie Jerry Before Seinfeld, I learned much about the single tool Seinfeld used to become the world’s top comedian: daily intentionality.

Long before he was a household name, Seinfeld committed himself to the daily intentionality of writing new jokes to hone his craft. He reportedly tracked this habit by drawing an “X” through that day’s box on the calendar.

He identified the most important thing he needed to do every day and then oriented his calendar around the completion of that task. And you don’t have to be a comedic genius to make this work.

What is the most important thing—or things—that you need to do, and how might you adapt your calendar management to improve the probability that it happens? Here’s how I’ve adapted this technique personally, in four simple slashes on my wall calendar:

1) The most important most important thing I need to do daily is to center myself spiritually and mentally. Therefore, the second habit I complete daily—after brewing a very strong pot of coffee, of course—is to sit down in my home office, where I spend about 60 minutes reading, reflecting, praying and then meditating.

The mindfulness exercise at the end becomes the bridge from the spiritual into the practical as I plan out my day—purposefully removed from the distraction of my computer—in my most prized possession: my Bullet Journal.

The completion of this routine earns a vertical line down the middle of the day’s box on my wall-sized, yearly calendar: |

2) The second most important thing that I need to do—not only for my own health, but for the sanity of those with whom I live and work—is physical exercise. 

I aim for three days of HIIT workouts and two days of yoga weekly. I’ve improved the probability of this happening by going to a gym that offers both types of classes. But more importantly, the gym requires you to schedule workouts in advance—and charges you if you cancel, creating a helpful disincentive for this financial planner to make it! So at the beginning of each week, I schedule five classes that turn into meetings on my calendar. These, in turn, help me be more productive in every other activity that day.

After completing my daily workout, I get the satisfaction of adding a horizontal line on that day of the calendar: —

3) Next, I aim to complete my M.I.T., the Most Important Task of the day. As part of my daily planning, I determine what I need to do that day to have the most impact on the projects I’m engaged in. Inspired by author Daniel Pink, I have a whiteboard in my office where I then write down that task.

The key here, of course, is to actually DO it. Pink suggests simply making it the first task of the day, but I’ve also applied some systematic calendar management to further increase the chances of checking off my most glaring to-do, as informed, again, by Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work.

Newport provides convincing evidence that, regardless of how many hours we work in a given day, we only have four hours of optimum productivity, biologically speaking. With his encouragement, I’ve determined what those four hours are for me (generally 10:00am to 2:00pm). I block them on the calendar as my Focus Time, in which I complete my M.I.T. (Other important, but less mentally strenuous, tasks, like email, calls, meetings and errands, are then “batched” throughout the day.)

Successful completion of the M.I.T. earns me a big backslash through that day on the calendar: \

4) Lastly, I discipline myself to offer at least one person a deliberate, if not pre-meditated, affirmation. This idea was inspired by Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take. Grant, who has dedicated his career to helping us get more out of our professions, is almost notorious for his high level of achievement and productivity. But he has a very simple method that guides his weekly and daily planning, as highlighted in GQ:

I try to start every week with three things that I want to accomplish that I care about. And then three ways that I want to help other people. And that’s the compass for the week. I’ll plan my whole schedule around those things.”

This notion of helping other people may be something as involved as reaching out to contribute effort to someone else’s project, but it can also be as simple as picking up the phone to see how a colleague or friend is doing, or sending a word of affirmation or commendation by email or, better yet, a hand-written note. In my experience, I’ve found that the concrete objective of sharing a deliberate affirmation is specific enough that I’ve had higher completion rates than when I’ve left the intention more generic.

What has been especially interesting to me is that the completion of this task—while it tends to be seen as the “lowest” priority and takes the least amount of time—often offers the greatest satisfaction.

I compound that satisfaction by finishing off my successful calendar day with a forward slash: /

Using a strategy like this makes for a messy calendar, but each mark offers the momentary endorphin rush we were meant to enjoy from the act of work completed. It also creates a visual record of our productivity—and lack thereof—throughout the day, week, month and year.

How could it work for you?

This post was initial published on Forbes.com.

1 Book, 1 Practice, And 1 Post For The New Decade

To help you kick off your New Year — and the new decade — with more clarity and purpose, I’d like to recommend a blog post, a simple daily practice, and a transformative book that I believe could propel you not just through 2020, but the 2020s. I’ll list them in the order of the lowest investment of time to the greatest:

Post about a family who suffered the greatest loss imaginable in 2019, and the lessons their loss teaches us about making the most of our lives, personally and professionally:

The biggest challenges most of us had in 2019, thankfully, pale in comparison to that which my good friends continue to endure — the sudden loss of their 17-year-old son to a previously unknown heart condition. It was the last, most challenging, and most important post I wrote for Forbes last year, or in any year.

But the life of this young man and the habits he embodied — sharing his self-confidence, speaking words of affirmation, and finding the best in any circumstances — could change the course of your life and those you love. I know it has mine.

Practice that draws us away from the distracting world of electronics and into the “analog” space where the research shows our time is best managed:

There’s an app for everything, and there are more than we could possibly count that promise to make us more productive and to manage our time better. Ironically, research suggests that the very best tools for optimum productivity may actually be a good old-fashioned pencil, paper, and most importantly, a little uninterrupted time.

With an attention span easily swayed, I’ve spent the better part of my career hunting for the best productivity methods and mechanisms. After getting on and falling off of that wagon more times than I can count, with complex “systems” that seemed hard to adopt and even harder to adapt, I finally found a method that has stuck with me now for three years without fail — Bullet Journaling.

Book that changes the way we think about work — and life — and helps us get more from each through the power of intention:

You’ve heard that multi-tasking is a myth, and it’s verifiably true. But most of us are still working — and playing — in such a way that this realization and its ramifications have not yet sunk in. In so doing, we rarely leave the realm of “shallow work,” where our attention is sufficiently divided that we slow the process down and decrease the quality of our efforts.

By reordering our time and space to facilitate “deep work,” we can actually get more and better work done in less time. And the same applies to our less laborious pursuits in life.

This book, this practice, and the subject matter of this post have left a mark on me — a mark that has already outlasted a few New Year’s celebrations — and I have no doubt will impact my life and work through the 20’s. I hope they are of some value to you as well.

Why Busyness Isn’t Good Business

12 Experts Share Their Thoughts

It’s old news that we’re busy and that we wear our busyness as a badge of honor. But a new study found that Americans, in particular, are actually buying it. Specifically, the study concluded that Americans who always say they’re “busy” are actually seen as more important. Unfortunately, it’s all a charade.

Busy, busy, busy

Busy, busy, busy

Numerous studies have shown that busyness isn’t actually good business, and here’s the big reason why: It makes us less productive. We’re all susceptible to it, but If I’m saying to myself (and I have), “Woo, I’m busy; really busy,” I’m likely being distracted from the most important, most productive work that I could be doing. I may feel like I’m doing more, but the net result is actually less. And it often feels like it.

But not everyone wears busyness as a status symbol. In response to the research and their own well-informed gut feelings, many are finding enjoyment in more productive work at a less busy pace. I wanted to know how these people recognize when they’re devolving into busyness and what they do to stop the downward spiral, so I asked 12 thought leaders who’ve inspired me two simple questions:

  • How do you know when you’ve gotten too busy?
  • What is a technique that you use to “unbusy” yourself?

Here’s what they had to say:

My Complete 10-Step Bullet Journal Productivity System

In a recent Forbes post, I offered five reasons for why analog task management can be more productive than a digital alternative. But in addition to the WHY, I pledged to offer specifics on exactly WHAT and HOW I’ve applied the Bullet Journal system in my own pursuit of productivity.

bullet_journal_heroFor fans of my online productivity system hack using Trello, please know that it still works just fine! You will see the familiar blend of Steven Covey as well as David Allen’s GTD principles in my analog system, with just a few modifications and some new Bullet-friendly verbiage.

Before you jump in, I do recommend that you watch a short video in which Bullet Journal founder Ryder Carroll explains the system in his own words. Then, here is precisely how I’ve adapted the concept for my own purposes as a financial advisor, writer, speaker and productivity seeker:

5 Reasons Why Non-Digital Time Management Is More Productive

As technological innovation marches forward in so many aspects of life, there is a movement gaining momentum to return to the past in search of something important that progress may have left behind.

No, you can’t beat the convenience of streaming and digitized music, but the listening experience still falls short of dropping the needle on a vinyl record. Similarly, while the ubiquity of tech-driven tools may make the process of managing our time easier than ever, we may actually end up increasing our productivity by decreasing efficiency through an analog, manual, pen-and-paper system.

Personally, I’d been successfully employing a time-management system for years—a simplified, customized amalgamation of David Allen and Steven Covey’s wisdom—designed using the online tool Trello. As someone who believes our most valuable investment is time, however, I was still curious when a friend I respect told me about a new system that he’d been using effectively. But when I invited him to show me, he didn’t pull out his phone or tablet, but a simple journal—a Bullet Journal.

The Bullet Journal is a product, but it’s also more than that. It’s really a modifiable productivity method that has grown into a community. The system, interestingly, was created by a digital product designer, Ryder Carroll, as a way to bring the discipline of task management under the practice of mindfulness. After testing out the system for a few months—and becoming an adherent in the process—I discussed the inspiration for the Bullet Journal with Mr. Carroll.

While how, exactly, I’ve adapted the Bullet system in my work as a financial advisor, writer and speaker—including the specific journal and writing tools I use—does make for an interesting story, today I’d like to address the bigger question:

WHY?

Business Travelers – Skip In-Flight Wi-Fi To Increase Productivity And Save Money

Originally in ForbesI travel a decent amount. I don’t mind flying, but I’ve always struggled with the loss of productivity. Hours waiting at the airport. Even more hours in flight. But with the advent of in-flight Wi-Fi, I thought my productivity problems were solved. I was wrong.

I’ve instead concluded that by nixing slow and unpredictable in-flight Wi-Fi altogether, we can save money and use flight time to more productive ends (like reading, writing and resting) better suited for that environment.

My initial plan was to use in-flight Wi-Fi to slay the email dragon. That way, I could land knowing that nothing had slipped through the cracks and that there were no surprises waiting. I might even allow non-urgent emails to pile up for a couple days if I knew I had an upcoming flight. Unfortunately, the strategy was a miserable failure.

 

Minimize Meetings

by Jim Stovall

Every few days, I am asked to serve on a board or committee somewhere in the world.  I immediately reject virtually all of these requests, not because the opportunities or causes are not valid, but because many boards and committees tend to be inefficient, ineffective, and unproductive.

The lack of productivity does not come from the members of the boards or committees not being talented, committed, or dedicated.  The lack of productivity comes from the fact that boards and committees, by their very nature, exist to have regular meetings.

If we are to succeed in business or in life, we should never confuse activity with productivity.  Productivity is the constant progress toward a worthwhile goal, utilizing a well-thought-out plan.  Activity is quite simply any task that takes up time and creates work.  A hamster running around the wheel in his cage demonstrates great activity but no productivity.

I would be the first to admit there are times that a face-to-face meeting or the process of getting together a group of stakeholders is vital to success; but having the Monday morning meeting, the monthly committee session, or quarterly advisory board review are most often a recipe for wholesale ongoing activity with little chance of any meaningful productivity.

Never hold a meeting if a call will suffice, and never have a call if an email will meet your needs, and never send an email when doing nothing is likely to garner the same results.  This activity hierarchy should be used any time someone tries to corral a large portion of your productive time and turn it into a regularly-scheduled meeting which is virtually guaranteed to make you feel like the hamster running feverishly on the little wheel.

Following are some ways to stay as far toward productivity and away from activity as possible:

  • Reject all invitations to join a board or committee unless there is a specific, well-defined reason that you need to participate that will result in progress toward a meaningful goal which cannot be achieved any other way.
  • Avoid meetings by asking if you can participate via conference call or, better yet, send in your thoughts and input via email.
  • Unless otherwise compelled to do so by your employer, do not post your appointment calendar online where anyone can get to it.  Those huge blocks of unencumbered time where you were looking forward to being creative and productive can be gobbled up and commandeered by anyone in a meeting or committee frenzy.

As you go through your day today, define for yourself what is important, and avoid exchanging productivity for activity.

Today’s the day!