Life is all about commitments.
Having many commitments can make you feel busy (which can also make you feel very important), but being busy and having commitments does not necessarily mean you are more productive. To become more productive, you have to master ‘commitment management’ but we’ll get to that in just a second.
What Is Productivity?
The world began to change when I realized that everything – my job and my personal life – is about the collection of activities to which I’ve committed. Some of these activities were well-defined with clarity of the deliverable and clear expectations, and some of them were not so well defined. AND, most importantly, I found that I am either committed to achieving something, or I’m simply not.
Yoda said it best – “Do, or do not – there is no TRY!”
Try is the place where excuses live.
Only when I began to see my work and personal life through the lens of a series of commitments did “productivity” begin to take shape. Activities that didn’t further what I really wanted or was trying to achieve had no place on my To Do list!
How To Be More Productive
I’m a work in progress, but here’s the exercise I used for making some headway with my own commitments and therefore my productivity:
- Take a meticulous inventory of all the activities or things you do throughout of your day. And don’t forget to include all the meetings you attend – sometimes called the “black hole” of productive action. Write down exactly what you do and when you do it. Note: this exercise is less likely to be effective if you wait until the next day to remember your activity.
- Then, look back at your days and identify which activities and meetings move you towards the fulfillment of your commitments and which ones do not.
- After that review, you will have some questions to ask yourself and some choices to make. First – to what am I really committed? And then – which activities and meetings do not move me towards my commitments? Whatever the answers are, remove what isn’t working for you – poof, gone!
So now, we’re ready for “commitment management”. Sometimes a good place to start practicing commitment management is in our personal lives (practicing is how we get good at something!)
Here’s a quick example using “Jim.” Jim states to anyone that will listen that he’s 100% committed to exercise and to spending more time with his family. Sounds good, right?
And then Jim begins to look at his daily activities. What he discovers is that he’s really committed to watching TV each night (by evidence of his actions) and an occasional day of rigorous, heart pounding I think I’m going to die exercise followed by several weeks (ok, 3-4 weeks) of doing absolutely nothing physical.
When it comes to his family, Jim finds from his calendar that he spends more hours on the golf course (6 hours each weekend) and watching the game at his buddy’s house (of course there are the pre-game and post game activities to add in), than he does in the yard with his two young children, or doing any type of activity with his wife. In essence, when Jim decided to see want he was really committed to, he only had to look at what he was doing. His actions revealed his true commitments.
What Are You Really Committed To?
Here’s what you can do to make a change (if you’re committed to that):
- Identify the commitments that your actions support (some, like Jim’s, may not feel good) – and then state them as they are, own them! If you’re Jim … “I’m committed to TV and to exercise every 3-4 weeks for 15-30 minutes with no results” – and when it comes to time with his family, “I’m committed to spending more time on the golf course and with my buddy watching ball games than I am to being with my children and wife.”
- Decide if you are satisfied with the outcome that your actions are generating. If so – boom, you’re golden! If not, then articulate new commitments and the standards by which to measure them. Importantly establish clear, reasonable standards of what the action will look like.
- Take small steps. For instance, Jim might commit to walking around the block each evening for exercise. And if he wants to add some punch to his commitment – he might also commit to add his wife and kids to that walk. Maybe he commits to one round of golf every two weeks, and to two “game days” with his buddy each month (notice these are separate commitments, not layered one upon the other into one commitment.) Maybe in the end, what Jim discovers is that his deep commitment is to a balance of many things that are important to him, and that the real work is to articulate the standards around those commitments.
So if you’re up for it, take a few days to take inventory of your daily activities – work and personal – and identify what commitments they reveal to you. Decide if those are the commitments you want – the commitments that define who you are and what is important in your life (work and personal). If you desire a change, be clear with what you want and then start small. As we all know, change is difficult and incremental, so remember to regularly check-in with reality to see that your actions are in alignment with your commitments.
If you get out of alignment, don’t beat yourself up! Adjust, recommit, and move forward!
Frank Hackney is an experiential keynote speaker at Odyssey Teams and is driven by an intense desire to see people create extraordinary experiences for themselves and for others. He brings over 30 years of experience working with high-performing teams such as the “super-speedway world” of NASCAR to the “out-of-this-world” NASA Manned Space Flight Center – and a whole lot of teams in between. He stretches the limits of seeing the world with the same vigor that he stretches for the very highest levels of individual and team performance in others. More on Frank Hackney.