It’s a scenario we’ve encountered time and time again: you wake up in the morning, grab your coffee, and start your day. Looking at your calendar, you think to yourself, “I’m going to achieve so much today! All of my projects will get done, and my productivity will soar!”
With enthusiasm, you put your head down and begin to work. After a while, you look up—and realize that it’s already lunchtime!
“No problem,” you think. “I can finish my to-do list after lunch.”
Returning from your break, you get right back to work, only to look up again and realize the day is over.
“What happened to all of my time?” you think.
Between the meetings, calls, emails, and “actual work,” you accomplished just a fraction of what you set out to do.
Sound familiar? This scenario happens time and time again in the modern workplace. In fact, according to a Salary.com survey, as many as 89% of employees reported having some time wasted at work, every single day. That’s a lot of lost productivity, potential, and profit.
If this scenario applies to you, and you’re itching to know the secrets to accomplishing as much as you can through an expertly organized day, then keep reading. You can have 5 key areas of focus that, when applied correctly, will allow your productivity to soar.
I encourage you to start at “personal” because working with your direct needs should be an easy foundation. You’ve heard the overused but effective airplane-mask analogy, right? When the oxygen masks drop, you can be most effective in helping your seatmate if you take a second to put on your own mask first, so that you can breathe freely as you help someone else. Your time management functions the same way.
Personal is the most basic level of how you maintain yourself and your space. It’s ensuring that you’re allocating time to work out, get some headspace, or relax with a non-work activity such as reading, crafting, cooking, a sport, or whatever you’re interested in. Your personal time is ensuring that your home is well-kept, and that the environment that you’re working in is up to your standards so you can focus on major priorities that are important to you, instead of being distracted by all the small details that you can fiddle with instead.
One good way to control the personal is to incorporate a rule I call “bookends.” Bookends are routines that start and end your day, regardless of your current environment. It’s not that your morning and evening routines are the same as each other, but rather that each day begins with a defined routine, and then ends with a (probably different) defined routine.
As an individual that travels consistently, I’ve relied on this rhythm to maintain control over my environment even if I’m in other parts of the world. A bookend allows you to mentally have an opening and closure to your day, regardless of how the day actually plays out. These morning and evening routines do not have to be extravagant. In fact, simple is better!
As an example, one of my evening routines is to grab a decaf espresso, light a candle, relax and reflect on the day, and plan for the days ahead. This time might be spent reading or writing, but it is spent quietly. To reinforce a pattern of consistency, I am sure to take this time every single evening, regardless of where I’m located.
Consider your mornings and evenings. If you don’t have routines established to begin and close each day, then commit to establishing them now. Enter this time into your calendar and do not miss it. I believe these moments are just as important to your day as that scheduled meeting with a new potential million-dollar client.
And don’t forget; this routine must be transferable to any environment–that way, you won’t be thrown off your game if you’re away from home.
“Professional” simply refers to how you work. I believe that everyone deserves to be inspired, fascinated, and motivated by their work. I believe you deserve to wake up invigorated and come home fulfilled—every single day.
Regarding inspiration in your professional life, challenge yourself with this question: “what specifically about my work does or does not inspire me?” Inspiration, in my opinion, is what excites you into movement and action. For you to live days that are inspiring, you need to know the work details that inspire you.
Work fascination is achieved when you can put your head down, look up, and see that the day has fallen away but it only feels as if you’ve been working for half an hour—and, as opposed to the scenario I described at the beginning of this post, you’ve reached the end of the day and have actually accomplished a great deal. This is a loss of time but in the absolute best way. Ask yourself, “what specifically about my work fascinates me?” Or if you do not believe your work is fascinating, “what specifically about my work does not fascinate me?” Fascination is being consumed with your work yet feeling as if you haven’t been truly working at all.
And finally, motivation. Ask yourself again, “what specifically about my work does or does not motivate me?” One of my favorite quotes is by the ancient Greek poet and soldier Archilochus, who stated, “we do not rise to the level of our expectations, but we fall to the level of our training.” Substitute “habits” for “training,” and you’ll reveal the key to your motivation.
Motivation is the “safety net” that pushes you forward regardless of how you’re feeling. Motivation is the bridge that allows you to cross from “I want to do this,” to “I’m actually doing this,” because the habits in your life are pushing you to higher productivity. If you struggle with good professional habits, look at how you spend your time privately. Remember that the good habits you develop in private will become the efforts that are praised in public.
Look at your work, and define these points of inspiration, fascination, and motivation. You will better understand how you should apply your efforts professionally to ensure that you are getting the highest productivity out of your time at work.
The “financial” component has two factors: what you’re earning, and how you’re earning. With your finances, I encourage you to challenge yourself with this question, “Is the way I earn my money just as fulfilling as receiving the money itself?”
Evaluate the sources of your financial stability. Do you have multiple streams of income? Do you have several opportunities to drive revenue in your work? If you are an employee and therefore not self-employed or a business owner, consider other areas other than our work life that you might be able to monetize. Do you have a specific skill set that other people could find valuable? These questions are important tools for getting your financial life in order, because often we find ourselves stuck in the minutiae of our daily work instead of being rewarded based on skills that are developed outside of the office.
One of the best ways to increase your financial ability is to start monetizing the areas in your life in which you’re already skilled. In addition, you should search for financial additions in areas that are not directly tied to your main source of income.
For example, when I was in real estate, I started coaching individuals in growing their real estate businesses. As these businesses grew, I would sometimes offer the individuals a position in my company, and together we would continue to grow as associates or as referral partners. The money I was earning as a coach was one degree removed from my primary earnings field: my business as a broker in high-net-worth real estate. In my early coaching days, replacing my real estate income was impossible. However, my coaching business continued to grow, eventually facilitating my departure from real estate, and my creation of what is now Obsessed Academy: a full-blown growth-and-scale firm focusing on increasing revenue, developing vested relationships, and building structures that don’t break at scale, for startup, mid-market, and enterprise-level organizations.
I am not saying that everyone has a “side hustle” that turns into a multimillion-dollar company. But I encourage you that it’s possible to drive fulfillment—and additional profitability—from an area outside of your main line of work, in a way that still brings value back to your “regular job,” or provides an opportunity for you to dive into work that’s truly inspiring, fascinating, and motivating.
Your “spiritual” component is critical because it underlies—and therefore affects—everything else in your life. It includes your worldview (what are your core beliefs about the world or society?), prevalent attitude (are you generally positive or negative?), and perhaps your religious faith or similarly important belief system (to what areas outside yourself do you place authority and respect?).
If you’re a person of a specific faith, your spiritual life is spending time in your faith with people of your faith. It’s diving deep into your religious documents, and setting aside time every single day to pray, thoughtfully rejoice, and offer praise throughout both your successes and your seasons of wilderness.
Don’t align with a specific faith? No problem! For you, your spiritual component is simply your headspace. It’s time to meditate, breathe, and realign yourself with your priorities in a peaceful and calm manner.
Regardless of your belief system, spending time to calm your spirit is vital to effective competition in the workplace. I often use the analogy of marbles on a bed sheet. Let’s say that we gather a few friends, and stand in a circle holding a bedsheet taut between us. Next, I take five marbles of equal size and weight, and lay them on top of this bedsheet. Because the sheet is tight, and the marbles are equal, the marbles do not roll. You see, these marbles represent the five areas we’re discussing here: personal, professional, financial, spiritual, and relational.
However, if we remove a marble and replace it with one that is twice as heavy, it will pull that sheet down and all the other marbles will roll toward it. Do you see the correlation? This heavy marble could be any one of these five areas. If your finances aren’t right, your relationships will suffer because you’re stressed and distracted. If your career sucks the life out of you, it’s likely you won’t be fulfilled financially. If your relationships aren’t thriving, you may be less energized for success with personal growth or professional challenges.
The reason I’m expanding on this analogy here, though, instead of placing it as an overall conclusive statement, is that, as I mentioned at first, your spiritual side is always at the core of your fulfillment versus unfulfillment. Let’s take that example of feeling unfulfilled in your work. Perhaps it’s not the job itself that completely sucks (although I know this is a reality for many people), but instead you have an area in which you are truly gifted, something that completely fulfills you, that you can’t act upon in your work. Therefore, with each day of not being able to use your gifts, you’re increasingly feeling left out, underappreciated, and unfulfilled.
A lack of fulfillment is a spiritual need, not a professional one. This is the reason that so many people chase “happiness” or “fulfillment”: they’re searching for water to quench the thirst of their spirit.
Last, and certainly not least, is your “relational” life, which includes all of the people with whom you spend time, both professionally (to the degree that you can control these encounters) and personally (with far more choice as to whether or not you interact with these people). Your strongest relationships should be with people who encourage you and support you. Notice that I did not say “people who affirm everything you do.” Some of the best friends in my life will call me out when I’m moving in a way that’s contrary to my beliefs and core values, and I’m grateful for their perspective. What I’m referring to is the need to align yourself with supportive people that always move in a supportive manner, regardless of the conversations you’re having—this overall “being on your side” viewpoint becomes even more important when the person in question has to deliver the hard news that you are wrong. These people don’t tear you down when they’re disagreeing with you, but instead act as the support system to help keep you on track in a kind way.
I believe that each of us holds a relational limit: a finite amount of time, energy, and resources, and when that limit is reached, we can no longer pour these elements into other people. You can view this limit through whatever analogy helps you remember it: either as a pitcher with a defined amount of liquid that can run dry, or as a ceiling under which you can hold a defined maximum number of boxes. In any case, you need to consider the finite nature of whatever you can offer your relationships: you’re not a machine that can simply ramp up production of time, energy, and resources as your relationships dip into your inventory.
Your relational life needs to be protected. I don’t care if they are friends, family, or co-workers, but if you have people in your life who are bringing you down, you need to create barriers to protect your momentum. This requirement is difficult because well-meant comments that will limit you, ulterior motives, or even degrading comments can sometimes be packaged in a benign way. For example, you might hear, “Why don’t you work on something else instead of [your dream], because so many people fail in that area, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll be able to make it.” I’m not telling you to immediately cut out all people in your life who don’t affirm you, but rather that you have to protect your momentum. Even if somebody means well, the constant voice in your ear that you can’t make it, that you’re wasting your time, that you should be working on something different, will start to infect your momentum and cause doubt.
I’ve had people tell me that I wouldn’t make it, that things wouldn’t go according to plan, that my dream would not be accomplished, that my goals couldn’t be met. I thank God that I cut these voices out of my life and focused on my work and my effort, and used the doubts and pushback from others as fuel to prove them wrong—through results. It takes practice to discern which of the naysayers are truly supportive, believing they’re just giving a course correction as I mentioned earlier in this section, versus those whose criticisms will drag you away from discovering and using your unique gifts—but you need to carefully determine into which category each person falls.
I encourage you to adopt the same mentality of “staying the course” regardless of what you’re faced with, or you will always be living your life for other people and fighting a voice in your head that says you can’t do it.
Ultimately, your focus in each area will rise and fall for you throughout the week and depending on what season you’re walking through in life.
But regardless of your current situation, you need to structure every day, and every week, to nurture each of these 5 areas. Once you do so, you’ll discover more time and momentum than you initially thought possible. As you move with clarity, confidence, and conviction according to these 5 principles, you’ll deepen your relationships, strengthen your finances, and reach higher professional goals.