“Write to be understood. Speak to be heard. Read to grow.” Lawrence Clark Powell.
In 2019 we added a video companion to this article:
In the last few years, one question that keeps coming up is “How did you manage to get all those letters after your name?” When I explain that I have a severe addiction to industry designations, and I spent the first few years of my career trying to educate myself as well as possible, I then get asked how I’ve managed to do all this and work in so many different corners of the industry in only 5 years. In this article, I’m going to reveal my secrets in 7 simple steps. This won’t work for everyone, but it will at least give you a starting point from which to create a productivity system that works for you.
1. Write Down S.M.A.R.T. Goals for the Year and Make Them Public:
I know it’s a cliche, but it really works. You have to make sure your goals are written down and that they’re S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely). Personally, I make them publicly available on Facebook as a Note that I publish in the last couple of days of the year and update throughout the year. You don’t have to put them on Facebook but putting them somewhere public where your support system can keep you accountable is important. Put them on the fridge, in your cubicle at work, or in whatever public space will assure that your support system will keep you accountable; that’s the key part.
2. Assign Weights and Extra Credit to Prioritize Between Your #Goals:
The first year that I publicly published my goals, it helped, but it wasn’t until the following year when I gave them weights that it really kickstarted my productivity. The idea is to force yourself to prioritize the goals and decide how important each of them are to you. Make sure the weights add up to 100% because it’s a nice round number, and it’s easy to grade yourself on an A-F scale just like when you were in school.
Anything that you have full control over like reading 10 books or going to 5 CPCU Society meetings should be a goal and anything that you don’t fully have control over like getting a promotion or a raise should be extra-credit. The extra credit goals should get a weight but you should be able to hit 100% without any of the extra credit. I have found that this goals+extra credits system allows me to remain flexible without worrying too much about having to hit every one of the goals.
3. Track Your Progress Daily on Your SmartPhone:
One of the true pillars of my system is a little iPhone app called “Counters”. I create different categories for each of my goals and quickly add to the count each time I read a book, watch a movie, listen to a podcast, watch a TED Talk, or do anything else I have goals on. This helps me visualize how I’m making progress day by day on the goals and makes keeping track quick and easy. I only update the Facebook Note every two or three weeks.
4. Schedule Time for Reading and Other Growth Activities:
This one is absolutely key. Reading, insurance designations, and other [tweet_dis inject=”#Goals”]big goals just won’t get done if you leave them to “when I have time”. You have to make time for them.[/tweet_dis] If something is important for your growth put specific time on your schedule to make sure it happens. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, even an hour or two a week that are scheduled and sacrosanct time for your personal and professional growth will make a huge difference. This is especially important if you have a time consuming job or if you have small kids. Put it on the schedule, make sure your partner and support system understand that it’s important, and stick to it. You will thank yourself at the end of the year when you realize how much you learned and grew by committing some time to focus on yourself.
5. Decide on a Proper Sleep Schedule that Works for You, and Stick to it Religiously:
Science has made it very clear that getting a proper amount of sleep is paramount to a well-functioning brain and being productive. Figure out how many hours you need, and make sure you go to bed early enough every night to get the sleep you need. Whenever you stay up later trying to “get some me time,” all you’re really doing is robbing yourself of the ability to be productive the next day, and you will probably be miserable instead.
For me, getting 7 hours of sleep each night is optimal, so I go to bed at 10 pm religiously, Monday through Sunday, and I wake up at 5 am every weekday to get a headstart on my day. Waking up at 5 am allowed me to get lots of studying and reading time in before heading to work back when I worked an 8 to 5 office job. I let myself sleep a little later on weekends. Another advantage of waking up at 5 is that I don’t have any trouble falling asleep when I go to bed at 10, essentially I’m shifting the hours I’m awake so that I’m awake during productive morning hours rather than unproductive night hours. This is a very personal thing, so you have to figure out what works for you, but the main thing is figuring out how many hours of sleep you need and not cutting yourself short.
6. Big #Goals Get Done by Dividing Them Into Smaller Steps and To-Do Lists:
A huge goal like “Get my MBA” is not a very S.M.A.R.T. goal because it’s way too big and should be divided into a bunch of much smaller steps like “Buy GMAT prep book” and “Research admissions for 3 favorite business schools.” Break up big goals into smaller, attainable goals, and then, use short-term to-do lists to get them done. Remember there’s only one way to eat an elephant, one bite at a time.
7. Remain Flexible:
The whole system is designed to keep me moving forward but it’s very important to remain flexible. If you change jobs, get pregnant, or move mid-year, don’t keep yourself tied up to goals that don’t make sense for you any more. It’s also important to remember that just because you didn’t hit 100% of your goals doesn’t mean you failed, every bit of forward movement you wouldn’t have achieved otherwise is a win. I’ve never hit my goals 100% (although with extra-credit I have had 100%+ years). In fact if you easily hit 100% every year you’re simply not pushing yourself hard enough.