For the past few months, I’ve been sharing some of my personal productivity secrets in a series of articles to help you “Master Plan” your life so you can finally accomplish all your goals. Ultimately, it all boils down to how you spend your time. What you do and what you fail to do.
Setting goals is easy. Establishing priorities is pretty simple too. The tough part is following through. Fortunately, there are a few easy steps you can take to coach yourself through the process.
1. You must recognize that good intentions are not enough.
Writing up a list of yearly goals or New Year’s resolutions might make you feel great. It may even make you feel like you are on your way. But you can’t claim to be making any progress toward accomplishing anything until you start acting on your Master Plan.
2. Don’t spend too much time thinking about your future success.
Imagining what you want out of life – the big house, the luxury cars, the yacht – may give you pleasure. But despite what the think-and-be-rich gurus says, it won’t make you successful. You must spend most of your time taking action, not daydreaming about all the toys you will have “some day.”
Most of the most accomplished people I know – and in that group I include some success coaches who preach the think-and-get-rich philosophy – don’t waste their time thinking about success. What they think about is how to do a certain task or solve a specific problem. They know that wealth and success will come to them if they have a good plan and follow it.
3. Break up your busy day.
Once you begin to implement your Master Plan, you will find that you will want to keep working for hours and hours at a time. Because you will be making progress toward your goals, you will be energized by the work itself. (If this has not been your experience with work before, be prepared to start enjoying your days a whole lot more!)
The extra surge of motivation will be very useful in getting lots more important work done. You’ll be working more intensely, more intelligently, and just plain longer and harder than ever. But because you’ll be working longer and harder, you’ll need to force yourself to take little breaks – three- to five-minute breaks to reduce stress, recharge your batteries, and ensure that your body is not stuck in the same position too long.
It’s not easy to take breaks once you are in a groove. In fact, you may be amazed at how difficult it can be. Most of the successful businesspeople I know think nothing of sitting at a computer or being on the telephone for four to six hours at a stretch. This is a testament to the motivational power of having a Master Plan, but it still puts a lot of pressure on your body and brain.
To make sure you take the breaks you need, I recommend a very simple device: an old-fashioned egg timer. Gene Schwartz, the legendary copywriter who was instrumental in the success of Boardroom Reports and Rodale Publishing, never sat down to work without setting an egg timer for 33 minutes. When the buzzer went off, he walked away from his computer and did something else for five minutes. He said the habit made him more productive. He said it was an important part of the process that made him a success.
When I’m writing, I set my timer according to the writing objective I’ve set for myself. Since I’m currently working on many writing projects at once, my daily goal is usually between 300 and 1,200 words. It takes me, on average, about 10 minutes to write 100 words. Therefore, I can knock off 300 words in a half-hour, 600 words in an hour, and a full, 1,200-word ETR article in two hours.
That’s how I break up my time – in half-hour or hourly segments with an occasional two-hour sprint. Between segments, I usually stretch backward and forward over a Pilates barrel I keep outside my office. Sometimes I’ll go outside and just breathe in the fresh air.
My afternoons consist of meetings and phone calls, which have natural breaks so I don’t need my egg timer. (I schedule most of my meetings for 15 or 30 minutes. It is seldom necessary to have a meeting any longer than that.)
Like Gene Schwartz, I have found my mini-breaks to be very refreshing.
Sometimes, if I had a short night of sleep and an intense midday workout, I get very tired in the middle of the afternoon. When I feel that way, I lie down and try to nap for 15 minutes. I will do that anywhere and under any circumstances. I’m not embarrassed by it. I think people who don’t understand it should be embarrassed, not me.
Once, suffering from jet lag in London, I lay down on the floor underneath the conference table before a board meeting. Fifteen minutes before the meeting was to start, NR, a board member and multimillionaire German publisher, came in. Our eyes met. I thought he might say something. Instead, he took off his shoes, lay down next to me, and we both enjoyed a power nap.
To help alleviate the boredom of working in one place all day, I split my time between my home office above my garage (where I do my writing in the morning) and my office at ETR headquarters. I have outfitted both offices with efficient workstations and comfortable chairs. And I have pillows handy in case I need a nap.
In the late afternoon, after a good day’s work, I often reward myself by walking over to a cigar shop two blocks from ETR. I can do some additional writing there while enjoying an espresso and a fine Nicaraguan cigar.
I get home at 7:30, open a bottle of wine, and head to a favorite spot in the backyard where I do some light reading and/or solve a crossword puzzle. It gives me a chance to unwind and, if necessary, blow off a little steam. Sometimes, I’ll jump in the hot tub. The idea is to get into a good mood for dinner, which starts promptly at 8:00.
All these little breaks and naps and rewards enhance the pleasure of my day. No matter how much work I have on my task sheet, I’m never more than two hours away from some pleasurable experience.
If you find that your workday is one long trek down a dull road, try breaking it up the way I do and see if it doesn’t make you happier and more productive.[Ed. Note: You truly can change your life and accomplish all your goals with simple strategies like taking a nap. For dozens more ways to achieve your dreams – plus tons of goal-setting tools and motivation to get going – sign up for ETR’s Total Success Achievement Program. Learn more here.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]