You probably know the idea behind effectiveness vs. efficiency: instead of trying to become hyper efficient doing things that don’t matter, you want to focus on the things that will actually make a difference in your life and at work.
I suspect everyone can agree that this is a good approach. Now, if you asked yourself whether you live your day-to-day according to this, what would be your answer? Here is the thing, life is way more complicated than for you or I being able to run it by some inspirational quote we have seen on Instagram. Sure, effectiveness > efficiency, and so what? Of course, I love a good motivational quote every now and then, but motivation in itself is not a smart thing to rely on, especially if you have longer-term goals in your life. How many times have you felt motivated to work out the next day, and then it didn’t happen? There is always another Monday...
So let’s put inspirational quotes to the side and look at the practical side of things for a moment. That should bring some answers, right? There are gazillion life hacks, productivity tips, morning routines, evening routines, [fill in the blank], etc. that exist out there. Anyone else finds that a bit overwhelming? I hope I am not alone with this. :)
"If more information was the answer, then we'd all be billionaires with perfect abs." - Derek Sivers
I think intuitively you know this already. We all reach a point where more information is not going to help you to make better decisions, to focus on what matters or to achieve the life you want. In fact, ‘analysis paralysis’ is what myself and my fellow recovering perfectionists fear the most. I can keep collecting productivity hacks and try a new one a day, but I am pretty sure at some point I will just give up if I don’t see results. In my view, such hacks and tips alone won’t get anyone substantial results.
I fundamentally believe that if you want to accomplish anything meaningful in your life, whether in the personal or professional context, you need to be aware of and consciously managing your life at these 3 levels:
Priorities - Focus on what matters
Productivity System - Get things done
Personal Efficiency Hacks - Work smarter not harder
‘What’s your purpose in life?’ is a loaded question. It is also somewhat misleading, because it anchors your thinking around just one thing that is THE answer. A much more useful question to ask is: What do you want to achieve in the next 3-5 years? Aim for 5-6 answers. As you can see, this approach isn’t too spiritual, however, it certainly helps to be clear on who you are, where you are in life today and where you want to get to (big picture).
The next step is to look at the time horizon and slot things into place, over the course of the next few years. Think of key milestones, events, etc. Then you zoom into the next year - what do you need to accomplish in the next 12 months in order to be on track for your multi-year goals?
At its core, the methodology follows Google’s OKR system (Objectives and Key Results) which was my focus area in my last role at Google in the Global Business Organization. I will explain the key principles behind this in a future blog post. Also, I am working on a planner that guides you through the process so that you arrive at actionable answers.
Now, let’s say you have done the exercise and you have your priorities in front of you for the next year. Good job! Let me ask you this: What do you actually do week-to-week, day-to-day, or when you have 30mins in between calls? That’s where the productivity system comes into play. It bridges the gap between the big picture plan and the practical day-to-day execution of the plan.
Of course, there are many systems out there and lots of books have been written on the topic. You can experiment and pick what works for you. The key thing is that you choose one and then stick to it. I know what you are thinking now ‘Ok, what is the latest app that I can use?’ Just to clarify, I am not talking about one magic tool. I am talking about a simple set of tools and principles that work together like magic.
It took me about 3 weeks to set up and get used to mine (the same amount of time you need to turn anything into a habit), but once I did it, it was like being on autopilot. This is a topic that deserves a separate post, if not more, so that I can walk you through the system and its principles.
Personal Efficiency Hacks
You can find life hacks and efficiency tips for pretty much anything nowadays. We all love the idea of shortcuts and quick fixes, as well as lists such as ‘The 5 things to do in the morning in order to have a successful day’. Hey, there is a reason why the title of this post got your attention!
You run into issues when you try to run your entire life at this level, without having thought through #1 and #2. At best, you will adopt 1-2 habits that work for you. More often though, what I see is people trying to find the ‘magic bullet’ that solves all their efficiency (or even effectiveness) challenges, and become overwhelmed by the ideas and hacks they find. It is like trying to train for a marathon, but instead of working out a training plan, you get stuck at the level of what pre- and post workout snacks are the best.
Don’t get me wrong, there is value in these tips and hacks, but only if you can fit them around #1 your core life priorities and #2 your productivity system. Their aim is to help you perform better and so to achieve your goals with less effort. But they can’t replace the first two levels.
Some of my future posts will explore each of these levels. The main takeaway here is that in order to run your life in an efficient way and to accomplish what matters to you in the long-run, I believe you need all three. I have been running my life using this approach for many years now. I taught some of it in my corporate life when I discovered that my peers find value in it, and now I use it in my work with startups and teams to help them become high-performing.