There are five key areas of productivity that must be mastered in order to build skills that are both effective and lasting. Mastery of these skills will enable you to take full control of your life. I call these The Five Fundamentals of Holistic Productivity.
- WHAT are the five fundamentals?
- WHY it is essential to master all five fundamentals?
- HOW do the fundamentals work together to elevate your work, your goals, and your life?
The story begins here:
The Five Fundamentals of Holistic Productivity — Part I
The Haunted Mansion
The music stopped and the game of musical chairs is over. The flies are left sitting. The flies that did not find seats wait for the next game. Tomorrow.
Something vibrates. The chairs lift and all rotate 90 degrees to the right. Each is facing the back of the next chair. There is a track and the chairs begin to move forward.
The first chair veers off to the right. The rest follow. Turning. Tilting upward. They enter a narrow and dark tunnel.
The air grows cold, and fog appears. As the chairs progress through the tunnel, suddenly a ghostly figure lunges in front of them. Then a skeleton falls from above. Deathly screams break the silence.
The chairs move through rooms now. A library. A bedroom. Cobwebs are everywhere. More supernatural beings terrify the flies in their seats. Then they move up another tunnel.
The frightening ride ends abruptly when each chair reaches the top of the tunnel and suddenly drops away. Each fly is forced to, well, fly away.
The third fundamental of holistic productivity is Task Execution. The haunted mansion ride illustrates how crucial it is to have an execution plan.
After all, musical chairs is fun, but if you do not have a plan of action, then the flies will just sit there in the chairs. Not moving. Doing nothing. Scheduling your tasks does not mean that you have completed them. It only means that you have made room to complete them.
There are many important aspects of task execution. We will examine two.
Did you notice how all the chairs turned and lifted in unison? Then they started to move forward on a track following the chair in front? This mechanism represents a system for task execution.
Without a system in place, it can be challenging to follow through on completion of your goals.
We speak of goals now because your tasks are nothing more than the steps for achieving larger goals.
- Have you selected the right tasks?
- Do you have an effective way to measure your goal progress?
- Do you have personal accountability to help you remain on the tracks (and not jump out of your seat with fright)?
There is more than one type of system you can use, but the key is to pick one and to use it. Without a system, the flies will either just sit on their chairs or the chairs will forever drift through the haunted mansion. In other words, you will get no place. You will not be effectively moving toward achieving your goal.
Next, did you notice the fog? Sometimes it is difficult to clearly see the end of the tunnel. You must trust that you know the end is there and as long as your system is working as planned, you will move through the fog. Stated plainly, you will not always know what your next actions should be. Trust that as you progress through your project, it will become more clear how to reach the end. The fog will lift.
The ghost, skeleton, and screams were startling! They came out of nowhere and tried to derail you from the track. Distractions are a part of life and will come at you with full force whether you plan for them or not. Sometimes you must address the distraction. Most distractions, however, can be either deferred until later, delegated to someone else to do, or ignored.
You must not let these distractions alter your plan of action. Do not travel off the track and get stuck in the cobwebs! Sure, adapt when necessary but do so with clarity.
Maintain your focus. Work toward your goal. Other people’s priorities are not your priorities. Be diligent and stick to your plan.
When the chair drops at the end of the ride, the flies must fly. They fulfill their purpose. That’s right. You complete that task!
I was not always productive. In fact, if you knew me in high school you might have called me lazy! I prefer to spin it. I would say that I had not been properly taught the value of working effectively.
The problem was that I was just smart enough to get away with waiting until the last minute before beginning my homework or studying for a test. I was an A student. I will withhold comments on what that says about the education I received.
Today, I would recognize this as the procrastination habit and I would have many suggestions for my younger self on how to beat it. Of course, one of the things I would suggest would be to establish a system for task execution. With a system in place, I would not have waited until 1:00 AM to begin studying for an 8:30 AM mid-semester exam! Yes, that happened. Yes, I received an A but I don’t believe I should have.
With a system and an execution plan:
- I would have been able to begin studying well in advance of the exam.
- I would have broken down the work into small sections which could be completed in short sprints.
- I would have had the focus to avoid temptation from distractions (TV, friends, nothing, …).
- I would have known how much studying remained so that I could pace myself appropriately.
I would have done all of these things and still been able to find time for TV, friends, and nothing. Plus, I would have certainly learned the material better while also getting a full night’s rest before the exam.
Oh, the irony.
I am an adult now. I have studied productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness. If I had to go to school now, I would use my system to maintain my focus, execute my plan, track my progress and reach my goal.
And that is exactly what happened!
At the age of 36 I decided to go back to school and work toward a Master of Science degree in Color Science. At the time, my expertise was in the field of photography and digital imaging.
I did not have a science background. I needed to take many prerequisites before even applying for the color science program.
So I enrolled at the local community college and studied physics, chemistry, calculus, linear algebra, and statistics. I did this while I was working full-time!
Using my productivity skills, my planning skills, and my focus skills, I achieved all A’s (except one undeserved B). I was proud of this.
Looking back, I realize that I was still in the early stages of my growth in productivity and effectiveness. And yet it was still enough to transform into a completely different student than I was in high school.
During this period, I still had time for my family and friends. I went on to apply for the program and graduated in 2006 with high honors.
I am currently working as a color scientist. It has been more than 11 years since I graduated and I continue to expand my knowledge and experience in color science. As evidence of my new relationship with commitments, effectiveness, and growth, in March 2018 I was honored to present a Keynote about my work as a color scientist at a significant international conference .
None of that would have happened if I was still waiting until the last minute to begin my work.
- I need my ability to focus appropriately.
- I need my ability to avoid distractions.
- I need my task execution plan.
I don’t know what my life would look like right now without my system. I am haunted by the impending peril if I were to let my system fall apart.
The third fundamental of holistic productivity, task execution, is about:
- Having a plan of action to string together your tasks in a meaningful and effective manner.
- Having the skills to be laser focused and not allowing distractions to shake your resolve.
- Having a system to monitor and influence progress on your larger goals.
It is your life. It is your ride. Sometimes it’s a scary ride, but a good system helps you navigate through it. You decide where the track leads and it is up to you to reach the end.