So many people ask me about being productive. This week, I decided to put some serious thought into it because I was asked in the sweetest way ever. I didn't want to fob my friend off with a rapid answer but having dug real deep, I thought I ought to share the knowledge because hopefully, it can help you too. The best time to be reading this post is if you're 11!
I woke up with a question on my mind, thinking how is it that you are able to be so super productive?
Do you have a mentor that has literally guided you through and around all the pitfalls? So you've not had to waste gallons of time analysing rubbish?
It takes time to 'physically' do the work, there's only so many hours in a day!
Do you do a lot of outsourcing?
I know you mentioned a mastermind group which is great for guidance and motivation...
But I feel like I'm missing something!
How do you organise your brain from distractions, your workload...
Sorry if it feels like I'm being over curious, it's just that I've wanted to be successful for so long, years have passed, read and implemented so much stuff, got lost in the wilderness and you make it look so 'easy'!
What's the secret?
I have received this question a tonne of times in my life now so when you sent me your email my first response was a little chuckle, it amused me; my next response was genuine confusion: why do I keep getting asked this sort of question? And, I’m not talking about now when I’m 30 but I have a moment firmly stuck in my head from when I was 15 or 16 when this was asked the first time:
One of my friends in high school asked me to help her with some calculus. She brought round some old exam questions for us to go through and after about 3 she stopped and said, “Heather, I’m kind of following what you say once you tell me which concept I should use to answer the question but I don’t even see that that’s the concept or principle I should use when I read the question. How do you see that that’s the approach you should take?” I didn’t have a real response.
It was only a while later, in university, in fact, that I realized a genuine truth: the more you practice maths, the more the connections in your brain start understanding different interrelated concepts in a way that even you cannot explain. I was a low A / B student in maths when I was 11. My study method was to read the sample solution in a book then practice one or two of the questions. This is the formula for low A/ B results.
Then one day I said to myself.: “What would happen if, just for fun, I started solving almost every question in the book rather than just one or two?” This meant that when it was time for me to study maths I would literally just do question after question until the concept bored me. In no time at all I was scoring 90% plus in every maths test and got an A* in GCSE maths plus enough confidence to do A-level maths and A-level further maths.
By the time my friend asked me how do you do it, I had been practicing all the maths concepts we’d been taught intensively for 4 or 5 years and that is why I could read any question and immediately connect where my solution lay. I couldn’t teach that. For her to be where I was she would have had to go back with me 5 years and start practicing maths the way I had, then she’d see the solutions immediately - just like I did.
Why am I telling you this story? Because this is the first time I can recall getting the “how do you do it?” question. My response to you will be of a somewhat similar nature.
First things first, I do make mistakes. I make mistakes all the time.
I have paid to learn various things in my life, e.g. how to buy and use a video camera and a video editing course when I was very new to the game. However, I quickly learnt that most courses are useless. They’re pitched to the lowest common denominator and the content is usually something you can learn yourself on the internet. I don’t pay for coaches anymore, and for me to pay for any program it has to be very, very convincing.
This is why The Money Spot Program has so much content and is so structured; I want people to find it invaluable.
I join some programs / groups for the network more than the knowledge. They usually contain some good knowledge but the network is the important thing. I like meeting fellow entrepreneurs but normally I have done a lot of the things they teach already, multiple times.
How Am I So Productive?
I spent much of yesterday listing lots of things that make me productive but I concluded that it comes down to just two things:
Good habits and a genuine love for work.
Good habits can be taught, a genuine love for work can only be taught before the age of 3. After that it’s too late. What I call fun, some call work.
MY REAL COACHES
Whilst I haven’t been coached through every mistake in business I have had two coaches that just by living their lives led to the development of my good habits, they’re called mum and dad. A lot of my current behaviour was observed rather than taught.
My dad is the most organized human being on the face of the planet. He isn’t even OCD about it he just has a very structured brain that categorizes things very neatly. If my dad tells you a story he will tell you the exact dates it happened, or at least, year for less important things and it’s just a reflection of his structured approach to life. I’m the same way.
I only came to realize that this isn’t that normal in university when someone asked why I’m always giving exact answers in general chit chat? Because my brain categorizes information in a very specific manner and I reflect that in speech and how I organize myself.
e.g. if you look at the folders on my computer or my filing cabinet everything is in order and is always in a particular folder. If I want to find something I worked on I can usually find it in a few seconds flat. Most filenames on my computer have a date and a title that ensure that if I forget where to look for them a general computer search will locate them rapidly.
When I look at most other people’s computers everything is a hot mess.
Productivity and hard work
My mum is hands down the most productive person I know. She does so much stuff that it’s even exhausting to watch her. My mum goes to bed around 11 or midnight and is up at 5 or 6 daily. I generally need 7 to 8 hours of sleep to feel normal she seems to function on just 6. In fact, I’m almost embarrassed that I, at 30, have less energy than my 55 year old mother.
That said, watching her set my norm for what hard work is. Most people’s norm for hard work is different to mine. Even now, when you think I’m very productive, I think I could work harder and I currently only work within my pleasure limits. It’s only hard work when I start feeling the pain or the strain.
Okay, so ultimately what can you do to be more productive?
Lots of things!
Note that the “Success” section of The Money Spot Program is all about being more productive and teaches all the stuff that makes people fail even when they have all the knowledge.
I can summarize it as follows. The points below are general not a direct criticism of you because I only know your behaviour/attitude on only a handful of the below:
1. Don’t be a slave to technology. Technology is meant to be your slave but nowadays, for most people, it’s the other way around. Switch off all push notifications and only check / respond to messages twice a day or in your “relaxed work” sections of the day. Relaxed work is when I don’t need to work intensely on something. In the morning, I don’t usually respond to messages because I am focused on whatever my key task of the day is. I won’t even read a message if I see it. Focus is key and most of the time I just put the phone in another room altogether so that I don’t even get the urge to check it.
2. Don’t read or even answer every email the moment you get it. Prioritize your task of the day and only answer critical mail. It’s also important to have an organisational system for your inbox. You should have only one or two inboxes where all the important business and family stuff goes; then another inbox for email list signups and fan mail etc.
3. Use your important inbox as a secondary to-do list. During my 3 email checks of the day I make a very quick decision on what doesn’t need to be read at all and file it or delete it instantly. I immediately unsubscribe from anything I don’t want to see in there anymore. This means only things I need to respond to are ever in my inbox. However, some of them can wait for two months and I’ll leave them there until I need to respond to them.
4. Stop watching trash news and reading trash mags. My definition of trash news is pretty much all of it. Some people look down at me because I choose not keep up to date with stuff like Israel and the Palestine but as you say, there are only so many hours in a day. War news has never interested me and it probably never will. If it does, I’ll pick up a history book. For now, I’m content to look like a jackass when someone I am with decides to have a really in depth discussion about the Middle East. Personally, I hate those conversations, they don’t stimulate me, they depress me. I’d rather chat about the latest apps and new ‘treps.
5. Read and watch quality content. I only subscribe to and read Entrepreneur Magazine; I’ll take a sneak at People, OK and Heat and other such “entertainment” occasionally as I peruse the newspaper headlines in a store but I’ll never spend a dime on that type of content, no sirree, that’s a formula for time wastage and non-productivity. I enjoy watching Bloomberg GameChangers and similar programs. They make me feel motivated.
6. Take time to understand things properly. Whether it is video editing or website building you need to allow yourself the time to learn it. Once you understand it properly you will get faster at using the technology. Most people just get frustrated and give up. There is a tonne of free information on the internet and most people don’t use it at all .
7. Don’t do lie-ins! I don’t set an alarm unless I have to be somewhere but by the same token I don’t like just lying in bed. Personally, I like to be up by 7:00 a.m. or close to this time whether it is a weekday or a weekend. This makes me lazy because, growing up, my parents were always up by 6:00 a.m. regardless of the day. This set my norm. I actually feel awful if I wake up after 9:30 a.m. My whole being just says "What are you doing?" Of course, I acknowledge that some people work better at night, etc. but I think early to bed and early to rise is a genuine success strategy.
8. Live like a president! Okay, so above you’re probably thinking, what if you were out late the night before? I never am out too late. Wherever I go I always plan to be back home by midnight at the latest, ideally by 10:00 p.m. Before I had a car I would pre-book my cab to ensure this was the case. Even if I’m having fun I’ll leave at my planned time. It does make me a killjoy at times but do you think Obama parties until 5:00 a.m.? I did that stuff when I was a teen and I’m glad my dad let me because it got it out my system. My parents let me go out once or twice a week until whatever time I wanted from the time I was 15. As I approached 23 it got boring.
9. Listen to your body. Sometimes I’ll wake up and just not feel up to doing anything, work or otherwise. This is a signal that my brain is tired and I allow it to be tired. On these days I wake up around 9:00 a.m., shower and just watch trash TV. I know when my brain has recovered when it starts getting boring.
10. Rest adequately. I am über-non-productive if I’m tired so I always ensure I get enough rest. I have found that my sleep requirements in pregnancy have changed. Whereas I had to have 7/8 hours every night I seem to function very well on 5 or 6 at night plus one or two in the afternoon. This means my pregnant self can go to bed at 10 and will naturally wake up at 3 or 4 and feel like getting out of bed. I then make up for that after lunch.
11. Surround yourself with positive people. I don’t mix with negative people and people that I don’t find supportive because they will drain you and make you less productive. They’ll also make you doubt yourself.
12. Acknowledge that progress takes time. I have a couple of regular Virtual Assistants and use freelancers regularly for graphics etc. but I do a lot of the work myself. I write all my own blogs and books. I shoot all my own videos, frequently on my own and at times with Harry’s help. I edit all my own videos; record and edit all my own podcasts; build most of my own websites. It didn’t happen overnight but when you do a little something every day it begins to add up.
13. Be precious about your time. When you set yourself the goal of doing something make sure you do it in that time. Most people are so easily and quickly distracted. If someone calls them up for a coffee or a party they go even though they’re meant to be doing something else at that time. I’m like this with things I don’t enjoy, e.g. sales calls; I will find anything else to do instead of making that call because I genuinely have always disliked talking on the phone. If you don’t enjoy most of the tasks you’re working on, you’ll be less productive. I love to read and write so all the blogging comes very easily to me.
14. Say “no” more often that you say “yes” or charge for it. Someone asks me to do something for them (for free) almost every day nowadays. I used to just give my time willy nilly but I realized quickly that it’s not beneficial to do that. I barely have time to call my mum and dad so no one else should be getting first dibs on my time.
The way I see it now is that my time is Little Zeusy’s time and if someone wants to take my little boy’s time they need to pay me for it, period. If they really value my knowledge they will pay for it because people always seem to find the resources to pay for the things they see as important to their own growth and development. If they don’t want to pay for my help then I don’t fall into that category for them and as such I don’t waste my time and I can focus my energy on my son’s growth and development. Even though I’m just 29 weeks pregnant I’ve been reading to him daily in the third trimester. The stories we’re reading are fascinating and I already can’t wait to read him my favourite stories from when I was a kid.
I think that sums me up on productivity. It goes without saying that all productivity is based on preset SMART goals.
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Agnes K Phiri
3/10/2014 09:04:59 am
This is very constructive, educative and very thorough reply was like am reading a book. Anyone who will try and commit to follow these tips their life and productiveness will change completely
3/10/2014 07:50:00 pm
Thanks mum! I'm very lucky to have a mother like you. H xxx
Very inspiring and very Heather, your brain is your brand. I too observed you in awe the more I got to know you, and wanted to ask you how do you do it!? So obviously I was delighted when you said you were running a course I thought PERFECT now I can pay for your valuable knowledge and ask all the questions I want. My life has changed since and is still changing so thankyou
4/10/2014 06:00:11 pm
Thanks Dalilah! You're amazing yourself. More than you realize
4/10/2014 05:10:11 pm
This is both inspirational and a good kick up the bum to all of us. I used to feel overwhelmed when I heard Heather talk about what she does, now I just smile and feel emboldened. Thank you for sharing all these thoughts. Just follow the habits and it'll all fall into place.
4/10/2014 06:02:41 pm
Your kind words always motivate me. You're such a good friend. 😊
4/2/2015 08:04:54 am
brilliant advice Heather
4/3/2015 06:26:47 pm
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By Heather Katsonga-Woodward
I'm always thinking, debating, considering and revising my views - some of those deliberations will be shared right here.