What (Almost) No One Will Tell You About Productivity

Photo by tigristiara/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by tigristiara/iStock / Getty Images

One serial entrepreneur told me his life story over coffee. As I listened to him, it occurred to me this might be the first person I've ever met who doesn't need to sleep. I didn't know how he was able to get so much done. When he paused, I took the opportunity to find out how he was able to do so much when I was struggling to keep up with my leadership responsibilities at the time.

He smiled and pulled out a pocket calendar from his jacket pocket. (This was before the smartphones. And just to confirm ... technology didn't invent calendars. They existed well before any digital option was ever dreamed up.) As he flipped through the pages, I could see how each day was filled with names, times, and relevant details. I'll never forget what he told me. He said, "Everyone has the same 24 hours. If you want to live into your full potential, you have to learn how to manage your calendar."

I must have looked a little puzzled because he kept talking. He went on to explain how every Sunday night he would decide how what he was going to do every day of the week. Of course, the unexpected came up from time to time. But he knew what had to be done, who he needed to engage with, and when it needed to happen. That was how he ensured he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish.

His advice seemed so obvious. But I had to admit my calendar was driving me rather than the other way around. I was trying to find a way to stay awake more hours and get by with sleeping less. I had mastered the to-do list, but it never occurred to me I needed to translate my to-do list to my calendar.


Like many people, I would end the day with more open tasks than daylight. And even burning the midnight oil on a semi-regular basis didn't keep me from going to bed guilty about all the things I hadn't been able to check off my list. Not to mention how I would feel when life would throw a curve ball like an employee announcing his or resignation, a flat tire, or the unplanned trip to the dentist for a persistent toothache.

I committed to myself in that conversation that I would take the time and effort to translate my to-do list onto my calendar to ensure I was realistic in the commitments I was making. I also wanted to align how I used my time with the things and people required to be successful. It's not enough to want something. It's not enough to define what you want and how you'll get there. What matters is what you do which translates directly into how you spend your days, weeks, months, and years.

This advice is often overlooked or undervalued in the productivity conversation. In the midst of the gadgets and gizmos, the software and apps, and the services and subscriptions is a fundamental flaw: Absent of translating your projects into the hours and days that make up your week, you will forever be chasing lists you can't complete, tasks you'll never find time to accomplish, and relationships you won't be able to find the time to foster.

The truth is you and I can find time for the things we believe are most important. Therefore, if you can't find the time, you need to honestly assess how important that task, project, goal, or person is to you. Doing this will help use your calendar to drive your success rather than let your calendar drive you.


1.     Block out an hour every Sunday night to plan the coming week. Don't look at it as taking time away from your family. Instead, look at it as a way to find more time to give focused attention to your family throughout the week.

2.     Place your most important meetings and milestones on the day they need to occur. Take a proactive approach. If you don't, the problems and challenges of others will put you into a constant reactive state.

3.     If you can't find a day or time for one or more things on your list, assess if you can defer or delegate the task, meeting, or milestone to someone else. Everyone has limits. Successful people acknowledge theirs and use them to empower and equip others.

4.     Block out 15 minutes at the start of your day to see if any adjustments need to be made. This is less time than you're wasting now by not having a clear plan.

5.     Block out 15 minutes at the end of your day to take inventory of your progress and review the coming day. You might have to change your habits, but you'll leave the office with a clear head and be ready for your family when you get home.

6.     Spend 30 minutes every Friday recording the most important things you learned, pushed forward, or accomplished in the previous week. I'm not suggesting you write paragraphs and novels. Just use bullet points in a blank document. You'll be surprised what you accomplished as you look back over time.

7.     Block one day every quarter to review the previous quarter and the coming quarter to ensure they are in alignment with your annual goals. Alignment is the key word. Start with your annual goals and work backward until you know what needs to happen every day, week, month, and quarter to deliver on those annual goals.

If you follow this plan, you'll tap into the most important productivity secret known to humankind: The one who sets the calendar always accomplishes what's most important, urgent, and critical for success.

Everyone has the same amount of time to work with every day, month, and year. Successful people pre-decide how they'll spend their time to ensure they maximize their productivity and intentionally deliver on the commitments and goals that matter most.

REFLECT: Look back at your calendar over the past four weeks. Did you drive your calendar, or did it drive you? Where did you get off track? How can you get off track? What are you willing to change to make the most of the time you have?