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We all have days that seemingly fly by and at the end, we know that we were busy, but we can’t really articulate exactly what we got accomplished.  I’ve come to recognize that as “stage one” productivity.  For some of us, many days go by like that.  And for still others, it’s a way of life.



Stage One: Constantly Reactive

When you’re at stage one productivity, you are almost exclusively in reactive mode.  And being reactive doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t being productive, because it means that you are dealing with the other people in your world, and we all have to do that sometimes:  going to meetings, answering emails, returning phone calls, putting out fires, etc.

In fact, maybe you are someone whose job it is to be reactive.  For example, if you are a manager, and you don’t have any other responsibilities except to be there for your employees, help keep them on track, make sure they are meeting deadlines, dealing with interpersonal issues, etc., then I would say that means your job is to be reactive.

However, if you have even one responsibility that isn’t dependent on your staff, at least one thing for which you alone are responsible, and there are parts of it that other people can’t do for you, then you must find some time to be proactive, in order to get that thing done. Which brings me to the second stage of productivity.

Stage 2: Proactive

Stage two is where you are making time, every single day, to be proactive.  You are knocking things off your to-do list, and you finish each workday feeling some sense of accomplishment…some sense that you actually got some stuff done that day.

This is a great place to be.

If you find yourself having a hard time getting to stage two, my suggestion to you is to break your habit, which I’d bet money that you have, of checking your email first thing in the morning.

If the first thing you do when you start your workday every morning is to check your email, that sets the tone of the day for being reactive.  It sends you down that rabbit trail of answering emails, responding to people…before you know it you’re reading blogs, checking your Twitter stream, your Facebook notifications…then next thing you know you’re off to a meeting, then to lunch, and when you come back, it’s back on email, and the cycle starts all over again.

Break that cycle by going to your to-do list first thing in the morning, instead of checking your email.  Work for an hour or ninety minutes checking items off your to-do list, and then check your email.

The result will be a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, even if the rest of the time was spent being reactive.  You’ll be able to point to some concrete things that you completed that day. (Now, having said that, there are exceptions to every rule.  Read more about checking email first thing in the morning here.)

Stage 3: Significant Results

But for many people, there are probably things on your to-do list that need to be done, and may even be important, but completing them may not have a significant impact on your work or your life.  Many of them may not bring you closer to the big picture goals you are trying to achieve.

So this brings me to the third stage of productivity:  not only marking things off your to-do list, but completing things that bring you closer to your goals.  I call these your “significant results.”

You are working at stage three of productivity when you accomplish one or more goal-dependent things in your day.  Things that are steps toward achieving your major goals or initiatives.

It’s similar to the concept Brian Tracy calls, “eat that frog.”

My suggestion to reaching stage three productivity is to make sure that you have your “big picture” objectives always visible to you.  I do this through my “projects” list.  I need to always be able to lift my head out of the “trees” and see the “forest.”  Keeping a list called “projects” helps me accomplish this.  However, every project must have one thing that you can do next, to keep it moving forward.

Living a Life of Choice

These concepts are part of my process, the Empowered Productivity System. It’s helpful to remember that it’s sometimes important to be in stage one and stage two productivity, but you’re really empowered and shaping your life with intention when you are spending time in stage three productivity.