Mark Schaefer's Guide to Unprecedented Personal Productivity

July 11, 2016 Mark Schaefer

5 ways to unleash your personal productivity through an organized mindset.

I do a LOT.

I’ve written five books in five years.

I give keynote speeches all over the world.

A packed consulting schedule requires me to be efficient and at the top of my game each week.

I prepare course materials and teach at the graduate level at Rutgers University.

I run my own business.

I’ve written at least two blog posts a week for eight years, plus creating The Marketing Companion podcast and a host of other content properties … like this one!

I also take time out to have fun – I love almost any kind of outdoor activity.

And quite frequently, I’m asked how in the world I get all of this done. There are many amazing collaboration and productivity tools available from a company like Workfront, but I find that unleashing personal productivity also requires a mindset change.

Every day I have to approach my daunting workload with my game face on. Today I’m going to share the secrets of my personal productivity mindset.

1. Focus on the core … and do that.

personal productivity: focus like a laser

What are the 3-4 things that provide you with the biggest financial reward? What are the key strategic elements that drive your business or your career this year?

Defining those core elements is where your quest for productivity begins.

Here are the three core work “buckets” that drive my business:

Consulting: Concentrating on my customer needs and preparing for workshops and strategic projects.

College Classes: I want to create extraordinary value for my employer, Rutgers University, and my students.

Content Creation: Content from my blog, podcast, and books drives tremendous value for my business. This establishes my authority, my brand, and is the most powerful element of my marketing effort

… and that’s it. Three things drive the business.

If there is any task facing me that does not contribute to one of these three core business priorities, I don’t do it, including:

  • Travel plans
  • Accounting
  • Scheduling
  • Website tweaks
  • Analytics

There are some of you reading this who might be thinking, “But I LOVE tweaking my website.” That is a particularly good reason NOT to do it! If it’s not core to your business, you have to stop wasting your time on it, even if you love to do it.

Delegate these tasks, outsource, or stop them. Focus on the work that makes you money, not the administrative trivia. Identify your 3-4 core activities and focus like a laser.

2. Prioritize Ruthlessly

I am a huge advocate of making lists. But to achieve maximum effort, a simple list is not enough.

You need to prioritize your list by A, B, C priority, etc. The A priority tasks move your business and those are the tasks you need to complete before moving to B tasks, and so on.

Many people have the tendency to work on the easiest tasks, or the most fun tasks, first. But we need to have the discipline to work on the tasks that move the business forward, even if they are difficult.

Productivity is all about discipline, even when the work is difficult.

3. Learn to say no.

personal productivity: say no

If you’re a nice person (and I’m sure you are), it can be very hard to say “no” to requests for help. But this is an essential skill to learn and apply.

Here is life hack that works for me. Lots of people want to “pick my brain,” meaning they want my time for free. So to avoid saying no, I added a place on my site where anybody can sign up for an hour of my time for $200, a very reasonable price, but it also sends about 90 percent of the “brain pickers” packing!

This way, I get to focus on the work that is important without having to spin my wheels on the endless requests for free advice.

4. Aggregate your admin time.

Some days, email eats me alive. I get hundreds every day. Then there are the social media mentions, comments, and questions to take care of. And of course there are phone calls I need to return. I can’t let the mundane tasks drive my business so I need a strategy around this.

I block out certain times of the day to take care of these tasks. I run a global business, so it makes sense to get up early in the morning and go through email and any social media tasks. After all, some of these may make the priority list.

During the day, I never answer my phone unless it is a scheduled call I am expecting. If people don’t leave a message, I just saved myself time and aggravation.

During the lunch hour and in the evening, I will spend an hour or so on email, social media content, and phone calls.

I know that email twitch very well … you just want to check constantly to keep up with whatever is going on. But if you are a slave to all of the messaging coming at you, productivity will slide. Stay focused on the critical tasks.

5. Schedule anything important

personal productivity: schedule your time

If you have an important business meeting, you schedule the time on your calendar. If you have a date or an event with your spouse, you might record a reminder for that too. Why not get in the habit of scheduling EVERY important task?

Let’s use this blog post as an example. My good friends at Workfront asked me to contribute to their blog and they had a deadline. This is a prioritized task for me so I looked at the first opportunity to get it on my schedule and actually wrote it down as a scheduled assignment in a time slot.

I routinely schedule tasks like working on a new speech, conducting research for a new book, or preparing for a customer strategy session.

Scheduling important pieces of work has three important psychological drivers.

First, it helps you visualize what needs to be accomplished, and by when.

Second, it gives you some idea when you are becoming over-subscribed. Is your calendar nothing but a jammed mess? Can you really get everything done?

Third, it provides a little deadline. I know I have this one hour on my schedule to complete a task. If I waste time on email or social media, I blow the time. I mess up the schedule. Moving that task seems like a defeat and an incentive to stay focused.

These five mindset shifts have been critical to achieving much in limited time. The ideas have also helped others I have worked with, and I hope they make sense to you too.

Mark Schaefer is a college educator, marketing consultant, and author of five social media marketing books including The Content Code.

About the Author

Mark Schaefer

Mark is a globally-recognized blogger, speaker, educator, business consultant, and author who blogs at {grow} — one of the top marketing blogs of the world. Mark has worked in global sales, PR, and marketing positions for nearly 30 years and now provides consulting services as Executive Director of U.S.-based Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He specializes in social media training and clients include both start-ups and global brands such as IBM, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, adidas, and the UK government.

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