By Mark Johnston
There are thousands of self-help and business books out there, each promising to change your life with the author’s “new” and “revolutionary” ideas. But when it really comes down to it, most of these books are based on fads or the repackaging of old knowledge, and are not worth the cover price.
In my experience, someone who’s looking to get more done in their professional and personal lives (and to do it better) can do so by practicing four simple things until they become habit: organization, prioritization, execution and discipline. Let’s take a quick look at each one:
Is your desk a mess? What about your car? If you answer yes to either of these, chances are your work life is messy, too. To be effective, you must become more organized. My advice? Go clean your desk. Tomorrow, clean your car. The next day, clear out your garage (or, if it’s really that bad, this next weekend).
Then start on your paper-based and electronic documents. Create a logical file structure so that you can find any piece of information you need within seconds. Do you travel a lot? Then keep a pre-packed bag of travel-sized toiletries in your carry-on bag.
Indentify other areas of your business and personal life that are disordered, and do the necessary! Sounds simple, but you’ll be amazed at how much productivity you’ll gain by weeding out disorganization.
In business, particularly at a small company where everyone wears a lot of hats, there are always 101 things to get done. If you think every one is of equal importance, you’ll never get anything done, let alone to the best of your ability.
Instead, write weekly and daily to do lists, with the most crucial things at the top. This crosses over into organization, showing how these principles are closely connected. Again, this may sound patronizing, but to make an impact, you need to get your daily activities in order.
All the organization and prioritization in the world is useless if you don’t follow through. Know you’ve got to finish writing a report? Block off two hours on your calendar and set your IM status to “busy” so you won’t be disturbed. Create a distraction-free work environment that lends itself to focusing on your priorities, and start checking items off your to-do list.
Procrastination will kill your productivity and decrease your effectiveness in business and in your personal responsibilities. As Nike ads say, “Just do it!”
To regain control — over your workspace, your documents, your to dos, your life — takes discipline. Is it fun to reorder every file on your computer and put them in logical folders and subfolders? Is it fun to write detailed lists of your daily and weekly priorities? What about cleaning your desk, garage and car?
No, no and no, but such tasks are effective because they remove mental and physical clutter.
Discipline is the daily practice of doing what needs to be done, and is the umbrella that overarches organization, prioritization, and execution. Discipline doesn’t just apply to work, but also to eating right, working out, and making time for your family. If practiced for a few weeks, discipline becomes a habit that will apply to most situations for the rest of your career and lifetime.
It is all too easy to confine the combination of organization, prioritization, and execution to your office, and to focus so much on work that it becomes the only thing in your world – to the detriment of your family, friendships, and other non-work commitments. Equally, it is possible to let the many responsibilities of your personal life (particularly when you have kids) minimize your efforts in your job.
Both scenarios are examples of imbalances that prevent us from being all we can be. That’s why discipline is so crucial. It enables us to regulate each aspect of our lives so we’re living out a commitment to excellence in everything we do.
The first time I shared these principles with a younger team member I was mentoring, his wife came up to me at a company event and said, “I don’t know what you did to him, but he picks up after himself, our car is clean, and he cleared out the garage for the first time in 10 years!” So, even beyond what they will do for your work life, these principles can make you more popular in your home. And that’s got to be worth something!
*This article first appeared on HIStalk, the leading healthcare IT blog