Welcome to Be Better Now Productivity.

Productivity is critical to living the best life possible. I never hear people say, “I wish there were fewer hours in the day.” If I ever did hear that, I’d find someone new to listen to.

If you are new to Be Better Now Productivity, I recommend you start off reading about the importance of Productivity, Organization, and Simplicity.

If you know it is important then jump in with How To Be Productive or Plan Your Most Productive Day.

Below you’ll find articles about why this happens and how we can be better.

Related Subtopics:  > Planning > To-Do > Declutter

Summary: Perhaps nothing will save you more time than avoiding projects you don't want to do. Let's learn how to say "no."


No, no, no...

I say yes to everything.

Someone needs help moving, I'm there. There's a fly in my soup, well that's extra protein. I certainly wouldn't bother someone to go to the trouble of getting me new soup. And now that I have two very young boys, I've got a lot more things that require me to say "Yes."

Today I write about a skill that I really want to work on. My hope is that by doing research and putting my thoughts in writing, I will have a start. At a minimum it gives me something to refer back to as I try to make it a habit.

And if all else fails, I'm going to ask my two-year old how he does it. "No" seems to be his favorite word.

Why You Need to Say No

James Altucher relates a story about "how the power of no saved his life" on his Facebook page:

I started saying "No" to people who weren't right for me. I started saying "No" to everything I didn't want to do.

I started saying "No" to mindless meetings, mindless events, mindless people who were bad for me, mindless food or alcohol, mindless anger and regret. Mindless TV and news.

I started saying "No" to colonoscopies and other things related to painful medical experiments. I listed all the things I could say "No" to and I still do.


I had been saying YES to the wrong things for 20 years.

The whole story takes many twists and turns and in my opinion goes far off topic, but here it is if you want to waste spend your time that way. Instead, I'll give you the powerful conclusion:

"When you start just saying 'No' to the bad things, the 'Yes' compounds every day. It compounds automatically, the way interest does in a non-US bank."

How To Say "No!"

As I said in the outset, I'm still learning this, but here are some things that I've found interesting.

Say No With a Form Letter

Writer Tim Walker has a brilliantly-worded letter saying no. Here's a sampling of a couple of my favorite quotes in the quick read:

"See, I’m a family man with a beautiful wife, wonderful children, a fun but demanding job, a lifelong goal of writing books, and a firm commitment to achieving tip-top physical condition. Something has to give - many somethings, actually - and unfortunately your project is one of them.
But please believe me, it’s not meant to be rude. It’s only done because this life is finite, and when it’s over I’ll be dead a long, long time... Unfortunately, your thing - awesome though it promises to be or already is - just isn’t my thing. And experience tells me that, if I don’t focus on my thing, I’ll go crazy."

I feel like I should steal that first paragraph word-for-word. When you read the whole letter one thing becomes obvious... he lays the compliments so thick that it doesn't seem like he's saying no at all.

Why We Can't Say No

There is a great article on Zen Habits about saying no. It cites 6 reasons for why it is hard to say no. I'm going to generalize them into 3 reasons:

  1. Yes People are Awesome - I want to help you and I want everyone to know how awesome I am for helping you. Plus, I avoid looking rude.
  2. I Don't Want to Hurt You - I don't want to reject you. I might actually like you and rejection hurts.
  3. I Want to Keep my Foot in the Door - If I say no to this, perhaps I miss out an opportunity. Perhaps you don't ask me the next time and it is something that I really want to help with.

The article also has 7 suggestions on How to Say No. I'll boil them down to these 3 responses:

  1. Just Say No - Simple and easy. You may soften the blow by playing the busy card.
  2. Deflect it to a Different Time - It might be easier to put it off and hope that it gets forgotten. Chances are the person asking you is busy as well (we all are, right?). You can either suggest a definitive time in the future or just leave it open by suggesting that you need to think about it.
  3. Pass the Buck to Someone Else - Often, I'm really not the best fit, so if I can offer better person, I might be doing more of a service in suggestion them.

Overall, I can't say I'm excited by these options, which may be why I find it so hard to say no. I feel like I might be throwing someone under the bus in passing the buck to them.

Can you help me learn to say no? I'd love to read your suggestions in the comments.

Further Reading:

You may have noticed that I referenced James Altucher a bit in this article. That's because he literally wrote the book on The Power of No - The subtitle of the book says it all: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness. That's a message I can get behind. You know what else I can get behind? The 264 reviewers who gave it a rating of 4.4.

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Summary: Parkinson's Law prevents you from being productive. Here's how to fight back. (Tweet This!)

Parkinson's Law

In a couple of days, I'll be doing the math on this website's traffic to add up the money I'll be donating to Washington Chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association. However, today, I'd like to bring up the topic of a Parkinson's that you probably never heard of... Parkinson's Law. Wikipedia's definition is very brief: Parkinson's Law is the adage that "work expands to fill the time available."

Three Ways I've Been Impacted by Parkinson's Law

If you read a little more into the Wikipedia definition, you'll see that a more general definition is "the demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource." I've found this to be true of nearly every project I've tried to accomplish in life. Specifically it applies to at least three areas, work, space, and money.

Parkinson's Law of Work/Time

This was the base case mentioned from the outset. Have you ever had that book report that you put off until the last minute? I always choked it up to procrastination, but maybe it was Parkinson's Law. In my years as a software engineer, I've rarely seen a project finish under the projected time allotted for the work. (This is theme that's prevalent in Frederick Brook's The Mythical Man-Month.) It almost always takes until the end.

Sadly, I find that this continues with my writing today. In fact, it's several times worse, because I have some long term projects that have no definitive due date on them. When there is no due date, the work expands indefinitely.

One idea I'm thinking of is enlisting my wife as a project manager. I'd explain to her each week what I'm looking to accomplish. At the end of the week, we'd go through and make sure that I have it - instant accountability! If she's not interested in such a thing, perhaps I could make commitment contracts to motivate me to get it done. I'm also setting monthly goals, which help me get things done.

Parkinson's Law of Space

Sometimes, I think if I only had more space, I'd be free of clutter forever. I've come to realize that Parkinson's Law applies here as well. My clutter expands to fill the space. When I lived in homes with small kitchens the counters were crowded. Now that I live in a kitchen with a big kitchen... guess what? The counters are crowded.

Parkinson's Law of Money

Have you ever gotten a tax refund or raise? Was your first thought to run out to buy a pair of Christian Louboutin? I hope not, because that's the perfect opportunity to save money for financial freedom.

Too many people don't think to save this money. Instead, they buy nice things and create what many call "lifestyle inflation." If you make more money, the demand for your money rises. Take this story on a banker not being able to live on a million dollars. Here is a juicy quote:

And I don’t mean to sound like a snob or anything but I do have a housekeeper, babysitters, gym memberships, therapists for me and my wife, plus our couples therapist.

How to Fight Parkinson's Law

Here are a few of the things that I've found help me kick Parkinson's Law to the curb:

Like many things, defeating Parkinson's Law is a work in progress. I find that as I get older and wiser, I have more knowledge.

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Summary: The most powerful weapon for beating the clutter monster is right between your ears: your mind - (Tweet This!)

This article would have been published hours ago if I only I acted on the title. My desk has so much clutter on it, that I can't effectively use it to write. Instead I sit on the couch, with poor posture and not in a good working environment.

It's not just my desk. It's my computer's desktop as well. Icons stretch far off the windows screen. I have folders, but they are so many that they stretch off the screen.

It's time to clean the clutter.

Why We Need to Declutter

Basketball in a suit of armor

Intimidating, but not effective.

Clutter saps my focus. Instead of doing what I need to do, I'm thinking about the mound of mess. I can forget about finding the business card from last year's conference... which means lost opportunities.

These things may not seem like much, but they add up and they have a "mental weight" for me. It's like trying to play basketball in a suit of armor. You can't play your best game.

Causes of Clutter

I can think of three main causes of clutter:

  1. Not enough time to put the clutter away
  2. Not enough space for one's physical "clutter" requirement
  3. A mental block with throwing stuff away

I find myself with dealing with #1 and #3 on a regular basis. The problem with time is that there's never enough of it. I'm getting there with all the productivity tips that I'm learning. Also, since clutter costs me time, it is a vicious circle. If I can clear off the time to clean it, it will save me even more time in the future.

The mental block is tougher to deal with. It sometimes hurts me to throw stuff away. These are thinks that I think:

What if I need that again? It cost me money to buy it, so I'm throwing away money. It must have value to someone, so I just need to find that person. If I find that person, I'll be helping save the environment by giving this thing another life.

It's not like I'm saving pizza boxes from 1987 like you might see in an episode of hoarders. However, you get the idea that I'm not much of a minimalist.

Mind Over Clutter

Finally, there's the idea that you might not have enough for your "clutter." In this scenario, I put "clutter" in quotes, because the items may not be clutter in the traditional sense. They could be very useful and even necessary items, but the lack of a designated space or "home" for the items could create the issue.

Get Your Mind into Declutter

So what do you do if it hurts to get rid of things? You do it slowly, taking a few baby steps each day. This way you build a resistance to those questions. You make throwing away a few things habit.

Alternatively, you could designate a few items to go to charity or a yard sale. Simply have a couple boxes appropriately marked in any storage space you do have. Then when you find yourself saying "This must gave value to someone", you have an answer. You don't have to feel bad about harming the environment as you might if you throw it away.

It gets even better. You might even get a tax deduction and save money by getting rid of the item.

Further Reading

If you are looking for more actionable tips, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars by nearly a thousand reviewers on Amazon. That's a lot of value for under $10.

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Summary: Looking to get more done? Start by eliminating these digital distractions. (Tweet This!)

This sign is a digital distraction

I spend many hours working on the web. I'm writing articles, coding special features, answering tons of emails. While I'm doing all this, I'm wondering, "How many people came to the site today?" and "How much money did I actually make?"

Even if I convince myself that I typically make the same amount and do the same traffic every day (it's true), I then start wonder what else is going on. How are my stocks performing? Did the Patriots sign a free agent?

Bottom line: I have the attention span of a cat and the internet is full of bright shiny objects.

It's a problem that I'm still struggling to solve. I've found some things that help me.

  • Set a timer and work until it buzzes - If you read How To Be Productive, you learned that research shows it is optimal to work for 52 minutes and then take a 17 minute break.
  • Use multiple browser profiles - I love Firefox. One of my favorite things about it is the ability to have different profiles. I have one profile for just Be Better Now. I have a different profile for following stocks, sports, and everything else. When I writing for Be Better Now, I shut down my other browsers. Without easy autocomplete, I don't check all the other websites.
  • Remove all notifications - I make sure that I don't have any apps that alert me with email popups, IMs, or anything like that.
  • Get some software help - Rescue Time is a program that monitors what you are doing on your computer. Then you get reports about what is taking up your time. Once you know what is sapping your productivity, you can proactively look to eliminate the distractions.

While it isn't exactly a perfect fit for digital distractions, I found a related book with 191 ratings with a 4.6 average rating: Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder

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Summary: Mind maps are a powerful way for visual thinkers to organize their thoughts and boost productivity. (Tweet This!)

I started this site with the goal of documenting and organizing everything that goes into making one's life "successful." It is probably an impossible goal. No two people will agree on what makes for a "successful" life. That's the easy part as I can simply tell people to take the information they find useful and discard the rest.

The biggest problem I have is attempting to document and organize that information. It is a gargantuan task. It wasn't exactly a revolutionary idea to try to sort the information into general topics of money and health.

Those only got me so far.

I knew right away that there are a hundred different subtopic in dealing with money. Is it investing, real estate, credit, saving money, protecting your money with insurance? There are so many things that go into it. The best way I've found to subdivide these topics is with a mind map.

What's a Mind Map?

A picture is worth a thousand words. Here's one of the earliest versions of my BeBetterNow Mind Map:

Early BeBetterNow Mind Map

As you can tell, I was in a "no chemicals" frame of mind when starting. You can also see that I was focused on financial freedom.

Why a Mind Map?

When I was working on the example above, I was thinking about the overall question of what defines happiness. That's where mind maps become extremely useful.

If I were to ask you what happiness is you might say, "Happiness is a Warm Puppy." I wouldn't argue, but now I can say, "Ah ha, Lucy is valuing Snoopy's companionship and her relationship with him." This is different from the purposefulness of doling out nickel advice in a psychiatry booth.

When I sit down to write an article about How To Be Happy, I have an outline that I can easily follow to make sure that I stay on track.

Mind maps give me that visual representation of how all the pieces fit together.

At some point, I hope to organize the articles of Be Better Now into one or more books. With a mind map, I've almost got a completed table of contents.

How To Make a Mind Map

There's no wrong way to make a mind map. It's a little like taking notes... do what works for you.

I like to my mind maps to be an iterative, evolving process. I start with something simple like the above. Over time, as I read and learn, I edit it to reflect new ideas. When I read a great tip on how to improve your credit score, I can put that into the map.

It may seem like it will get messy, but every software allows you to close nodes. With a single click, I can close the whole money node and focus on health. That keeps it clean.

How Do I Get Started?

There are many different mind mapping tools out there. Some of them are free and some of them cost money. I just wanted to jump in and get started. I found that the Freemind was quick and easy. A poll of LifeHacker users picked XMind as the best. I wanted to be able to export my mind maps without paying for a pro version and it wasn't clear to me whether XMind supported this.

My suggestion is to get started with something even if it's free. You will learn whether it's right for you very quickly. From there you can make the decision of which software best supports what you are looking for.

What Else Can I Do with a Mind Map?

In researching mind maps, I found that one person wrote about using mind maps as a to-do list. It's an intriguing idea, but I prefer a spreadsheet-based to-do list.

Further Reading:

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Summary: When you turn a chore into a game, it becomes fun. What if you did it for everything important in your life? (Tweet This!)

We've all been there. We've struggled with our productivity. I've been there. Let me tell you, when you build a website around a central tenant of being more productive this qualifies as "A Very Bad Thing."

When this happens, I realize that I have two choices. I could go through the list of the list of excuses or man up. Admittedly, I usually do both, go through the list of excuses and then man up.

Living the Video Game Life

Living the Video Game Life

It's one thing to know that I have to be more productive. Doing it is a horse of a different color. I need a way to stay motivated and accountable. The first thought that came to my mind is that I should take a commitment contract out against myself. This would help ensure that I stick to my plan. I was in the process of doing just that when I realized that would have to quantify my productivity. Remember that "Measurable" from our SMART Goals?

Fortunately, I happen to have a handy tool to quantify my productivity. I can simply refer to my prioritized to-do list. Each day, I will keep track how many points I've completed in a spreadsheet. I could even run some statistics on the data and create some graphs. The possibilities are endless.

Rate My Life

All problems are solved, right? Well not exactly. As we all known life intervenes with work sometimes. Last week, we had two feet of snow. Between shoveling and taking care of the kids, I didn't get nearly as much work done as I hoped. On my conventional business to-do list, this would have scored low. On my, "I'd like to not slip, fall, and spend a month in traction" to-do list, it ranked very high.

I have a lot of items like this. Walking my dog comes to mind immediately. I don't get any work done, but we both get exercise and he gets a fun trip. There are the times where I take some extra time make a healthy meal. This lowers my "work" productivity, but it is also a worthwhile trade off.

The last thing that I want to do is to become a slave to my productivity charts and graphs. I needed to do a little tweak. I created a spreadsheet for several areas that I want to be better in. I'd love to share it with you, but it really is far too rough, right now.

The categories were ones that were just off the top of my head - most of them pulled from the goals of this site: Money, Health, Productivity, Social good, and Family / Fun. The idea here is to rate myself each day on this criteria. If I eat tons of fast food and don't exercise, I'm going to get a low health score. If go crazy and buy a bunch of tablets for every room in the house, I'm going to get a low score in the money category (and perhaps an increased score in the "likelihood of getting divorced" column).

Currently, I have a Max Score, Today's Rating, and Today's Score column. As I've explained it thus far, I could just put a number from 1 to 10 for each day of the month, and have the same result.

My Life as a Video Game

My spreadsheet attempts to break down categories into specific tasks. So walking the dog gets points in both family/fun and health. I have exercise and diet tasks in the health category. If I have the best workout, I can earn 10 points there. If I have an excellent diet, that's another 10 points. I often forget to floss, so I'm giving myself an extra point. What I have now is a Health Category with a Max Score of 21. If I put in above average workout (6) with above average diet (6) and floss (1), I will earn 13 of 21 possible points. When I skip the gym, I likely won't get out of the single digits.

This is where living your life as a video game comes in. I want to score as many points as I can. In general, the more points I've score, the more productive my day is. There's even a word for it, Gamification.

As long as I keep the system in balance, this has been a great way to stay motivated throughout the day. Scoring points allows me to set measurable goals.

Perhaps best of all, I can put a reward system in place. Maybe scoring so many points earns me a beer or scotch at night. Maybe scoring so many points a month earns me $100 to buy some kind of technology toy. This is the next natural step, but I'm not there yet. We'll save that for another post for another day.

Photo Credit: Raja Nicholas Fletcher

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Summary: Three great reason why you should avoid email and social networks in the morning. (Tweet This!)

Good Morning Email Today's tip is one that has taken me years to learn... and I still mess it up almost every day.

I wake-up, grab my phone and check my email. In fairness, I usually just delete the crud and go about the rest of my day.

That's still an excuse. The fact is that it's a bad habit and it needs to change.

Why You Shouldn't Check Email in the Morning

1. It is a great time suck

The problem with checking email in the morning is that you get sucked into it. You send out 5 emails and by the time you finish the last one, the responses are coming in. The next thing you know, it's lunch time.

2. You are Reacting to other People's Priorities

The website, 99u published "The Key to Creating Remarkable Things", and it focuses on not getting locked up in email in the morning. Their point:

The trouble with this approach is that you end up spending the best part of the day on other people’s priorities, running their errands, and giving them what they need... But when tomorrow comes round there’s another pile of emails, phone messages, and to-do list items. If you carry on like this you will spend most of your time on reactive work, responding to incoming demands and answering questions framed by other people.

3. You are Wasting the Most Productive Part of the Day

Time and again, science has shown that people have the most willpower in the morning. If you have a difficult task, the morning is when you are best prepared to tackle it head on.

So why spend this valuable time on email? It simply doesn't make sense.

What About Social Networking?

This is actually easier that the email question. Unless you are a marketing person who promotes a company on Facebook and Twitter, it doesn't even qualify as productive work. I'd even go as far to argue that most of the time, Facebook and Twitter doesn't count as work at all.

At least with email, you are knocking something off of your to-do list. You are doing something that is generally considered to be work. So unless you have a fantastic reason, stay away from the social networks in the morning.

Final Thought

The idea of not checking your email and social networks in the morning might not be the most insightful productivity tip in the world. After all there's the book, Never Check E-Mail In the Morning, which I highly recommend. (There's a lot more in it beyond the simple advice.)

However, as I said at the outset, it's so tempting to get into a bad habit. A bad habit that zaps your productivity is going.

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Summary: Planning what to do first can keep you from just spinning your wheels on useless tasks. (Tweet This)

If you are anything like me, you can't get to the bottom of your to-do list. It's one of the reasons I created this blog. What can I say? I'm just a boy who cain't say no. "Learning How to Say No" is a great article for another day, but today I'd like to talk about to-do lists and getting the right things on it done. (Update: Here's that article on "how to say no".)

More than a decade ago, I worked for a top 20 Internet company managing one of its most profitable properties: Search. It was a lot of pressure for me at 24 years old. Fortunately, the Vice President had a lot of confidence in my abilities and we really clicked. It wasn't too long after we started working together that we came across the problem that everyone encounters at one point or another. The VP had a bunch of things he wanted to accomplish and I was just one engineer. With limited time and resources, something had to give.

To-Do List - Get Things Done

Using a To-Do List to Get Things Done

I suggested that we try something very different. I told him to make a list of all the tasks that need to get done. Separately we tackled that list in two different ways. I went through and estimated how easy the task was to accomplish. He gave each task on the list a score based on how important it was to the business. We each used a 10 point scale - 10 was "easy" on mine and 10 was "very important" on his. Then we simply multiplied our scores and sorted on the result in descending order.

The bottom 30% of the list got tabled indefinitely. It was a lot of effort which wasn't important. The easy stuff with the big impact to the business bubbled up to the top 30% of the list. In a few days, I implemented all these features and the VP was extremely happy. The middle 40% took me another month, but it was a quiet month as the bosses moved on to torture harass supervise other projects.

Recently I was reading Never Check E-Mail In the Morning and Julie Morgenstern suggested a similar thing.

I decided to resurrect that idea, incorporate it with the ideas from the book and came up with a new way of managing my to-do list. As I've found in the past, Excel (or your favorite spreadsheet equivalent) is the right tool for the job.

Currently my metrics are:

  • Revenue Relevance - It's hard to downplay the actual money factor.
  • Time to Complete - My original idea of quantifying how hard something is.
  • ROI - This is the impact to the rest of the business. A guest post isn't going to directly bring in revenue, but it is very important to the growth of the business.

I have a couple of other columns as well. On a tip from Morgenstern's book, I have a Deadline column. In the blogging business there are few deadlines. This is more of an informational column for me. I can color-code the cell to green if it's more than one week away and gradually move it up to shades of red if it's overdue.

I like to have a Category column to sort by. This way, if I feel like my blog articles are in need of promotion, I can work on that. If I start seeing a number of finance tasks piling up, I can focus on those even if those other categories may technically be more important.

I also have a Notes column, which should be self-explanatory. I don't use it as much as I should.

In Never Check E-Mail In the Morning, Morgenstern suggested that the impact to the company's revenue should be the metric for "important to the business." At the time I was reading the book, it made sense, but in applying it to my business, I started to disagree. I'm keeping it in my spreadsheet for now, but I'm thinking of combining the ROI and the Revenue into the same column like I did 10 years ago. This means tasks with big revenue impact would just have a big a ROI impact as well. One of the problems I have with the focus on revenue is that it would push necessary evils tasks like security of my web server towards the bottom. It may not seem relevant to your revenue until there's an emergency - and that's often the worst time to deal with it.

I should also emphasize that this is my business to-do list. I've thought about shoehorning personal tasks into it, but I currently don't see how it would work. It seems like comparing the business impact of doing laundry can't (and shouldn't) be compared to writing blog posts. Laundry would almost always lose out unless it started to really pile up.

I think instead, I'd need to create a separate pages for each area in life. Perhaps one for health, one for chores. I'm going to have to think about how much I really want to run my life by a spreadsheet. Something seems a little too robotic there.

P.S. See the comments from 2011 below? That's from version 1.0 of this blog. This is version 2.0, so it is that much more awesome.

Photo Credit: Richard Dingwall

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Summary: How is that New Year's Resolution going? 88% of them fail. Increase your odds with SMART goals (Tweet This!)

With the first few weeks of the new year over, most of us have put our nose to the grindstone. (Who thought of that saying? Sounds painful!) It's a good time to ask: how are your New Year Resolutions going? If you are like many, they are already starting to fade away. In fact, statistically, around 88% of you are going to fail at your New Year Resolution. If you are like me, you may have stumbled onto the road of failure by accident. By this time, I had hoped to have 60 articles completed for this website. I am lucky if I have a third of that. What I do have is about 250 articles outlined with a ton of research. That doesn't count for much, unless I get to writing them.

This website isn't about dwelling on the past. We aim to be better than that. How can we do that? According to the article, we should focus on being self-aware. We know what our problem is and now we know it is going to be difficult to tackle it. It turns out that people have limited willpower. When we are presented with a few mental distractions we don't have the willpower to concentrate on our goal. One way to limit the mental distractions is to practice a lot of the productivity tips we'll cover here over time.

While that 12% success rate sure seems daunting, another study showed that it can be improved upon. Men are 22% more successful when they engage in goal setting or kept an eye on the prize. If my goal is to save up enough money for a new car, I would be best served by setting up a financial plan for how much I'll need and putting a putting a picture of the car on the refrigerator. Women are 10% more likely to succeed when they have the support of their family or friends.

I'm not going into how to go about keeping your eye on the prize here. We'll cover staying motivated in other articles. I trust you can figure out the best way to do that. At the end of the article, I'll give you a tip on how to bring in the support of family and friends. Before we get to that though, we'll cover goal setting. It is one of those things that make you want to scream, "Why didn't they teach me this in school?" One of the best ways to set a goal is with SMART Goals.

Setting Goals the SMART Way


Picture of Taylor Lautner = wrote this originally in 2010

Some of you have heard about SMART goals before. For those who aren't familiar with the term it is simply a mnemonic device to remember a set of steps crucial in setting goals. There is some debate about what SMART stands for, but it usually goes something like:

  • Specific - What is the goal? You don't want to set a broad goal such as "be healthier in the new year." You want a better goal such as "lose weight this year."
  • Measurable - My goal above of losing weight this year, was specific, but it wasn't very measurable. A measurable goal may be to lose 25 pounds by the end of December.
  • Attainable - Is my goal reasonable? I think losing 25 by the end of December is quite attainable (depending on how much they currently weigh). However, if my goal were to have Taylor Lautner's abs, I may find that the exercise time necessary doesn't fit with my other priorities. Perhaps after the 25 pounds weight loss, Mr. Lautner's abs becomes my next goal.
  • Relevant - Does the goal matter to you? Is it something that's really worth working for? I think for many people losing weight is a relevant goal. If you are already in a healthy range, your effort may be best spent elsewhere.
  • Time-bound - When do you expect to reach this goal? Our goal of losing 25 pounds by December is indeed time-bound, so it technically passes the test. However, I would suggest smaller goals like losing 4 pounds by the end of the month. (Yes that should sound familiar.)

That gives us a good template for goal setting. However, let's get a little greedy and see if we can do a little better. Some people suggest that you can make your goals even SMARTER.

Setting Goals the SMARTER Way

You can take a SMART goal and make it SMARTER by adding a couple more steps.

  • Exciting - You should be excited by your goal. I've found that the first step to success in almost anything is being excited about doing it. Losing 25 pounds may not sound all that exciting. I imagine that's why many people fail to lose weight. However, many people get excited to play tennis or going for a hike. Those are a couple of ways to make losing 25 pounds a bit more exciting.
  • Recorded - The idea here is that you record your progress as you go along. This provides you with great feedback. If you are falling a bit off track and are recording your progress, you'll be able to make the necessary adjustments.

Now it's your turn, what do you to master the art of setting and attaining goals?

Don't Forget the Motivation

Remember that tip that I promised above? Here it is:

Motivate yourself with a commitment contract for better results:

It's great to have goals, but often the biggest barrier is having motivation to get them accomplished. Some people are naturally motivated. Others need a little more help depending on the task. If you find yourself in the latter group, I highly recommend making a commitment contract.

This post involves:

Mind, Planning, Productivity

... and focuses on:

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Summary: If you scheduled your ideally productive day, what would it look like? Take some time and write it down. (Tweet This)


You want more hours in the day? I can’t do that. However, I can give you the next best thing. I can show you how to get more out of the hours you do have.

Better yet, I’m going to show you how to do it without burning out. Because, let’s face it, burn-out is not productive.

I’ve been working from home for a few years now. During that time I’ve learned there are a lot of temptations to take me away from work. Some of those temptations seem to eat minutes without me even realizing it. I was stuck at the end of the day thinking, “Where did my day go?” and “What did I really accomplish?”

It changed for me a few months ago when I implemented this trick. Even if you don’t work from home, perhaps it can work for you.

What’s the trick? I create my own perfect daily schedule. Here it is, with explanations on why I do what I do:

6:00AMWake-upGetting up early is often cited as a habit of very successful people
6:00-6:10Eat breakfast
6:10-7:00Work on my most difficult projectWorking for around 50 minutes at one time is scientifically ideal. Why the most difficult project? In the morning, you have the most willpower.
7:00-7:15Break from workDo some kind of household chore such as fold laundry or emptying the dishwasher. I listen to Pandora for a further change of pace
8:00-8:50KidsGet the kids up and dressed, driven, and checked into day care
9:30-10:00Walk the dogUse my smartphone quickly scan email and delete anything that it unimportant. Quickly check my stock portfolio to see how the market opened. (This isn’t ideal, but I’m human).
10:00-10:50WorkThis is usually a good time to catch up on email, the first check of the day.
12:00-12:20Break from workThe first 10 minutes might be some kind of physical work with music. The last 10 minutes might be reading something fun like a few stories about the New England Patriots or the latest technology news.
1:00-1:30Walk the dog
1:30-2:10WorkGraze on a snack such as a KIND Bar or air popped popcorn
2:10-2:30ShowerSometimes take a bath with a smartphone reading my RSS feeds via Feedly
2:30-3:15SiestaTime to replenish my willpower. I'm also looking into meditation for 15 minutes here and get back to work
3:15-4:00WorkSecond round of email
4:00-5:00Dog ParkSometimes replaced by another dog walk and more work.
5:00-5:40KidsPick up kids at day care
5:40-6:45DinnerIncludes time to prepare and eat it.
6:45-9:30Family timePlay with kids; watch Jeopardy/Wheel of Fortune; watch Red Sox; do something else that is entertaining and not necessarily “productive."
9:30-11:00Light WorkWife and kids go to sleep (she works very early most days). Usually, by this time I don’t have too much more “work” left in me. This is a good time for a third round of email. It’s also good for setting up my goals next day. And of course, there’s hitting those RSS feeds… reading gives me articles ideas.

What’s Wrong with the Above Schedule?

Did you notice that there’s no time for going to the gym. There’s no time for any weightlifting. While I can get walking and even running with my dog, I need to schedule time maintain and build muscle. This is why I get to the end of the day and say to myself, “I didn’t get a workout in today. There's always tomorrow.”

Tomorrow never comes. I need to schedule it in today. If I did 15-20 minutes of exercise that focuses on big muscle groups (squats and such) after lunch that would be an improvement. The new schedule looks something like:

10:50-11:10 - Lunch - Perhaps a burrito: high protein, good fiber (beans), some starchy carbs allowed.
11:10-11:30 - Weight-bearing workout
11:30-12:00 - Work

Layer Your Schedule

I layered several different goals through this schedule. In general, these are work, responsibilities, health, and rest, and happiness.


I get 8 periods of work in, or about 6 hours. That’s not counting the last couple of hours at the end of the night.

Maybe some will say, "Ha! Only 6 hours! I work a lot more than that." If you do and that’s what you are interested in, that’s great. I've read enough studies that say that this balance is more productive overall. I'd simply encourage you to look at the balance you have and see whether it works. Some of my "work" comes with running a household, managing kids, dog, and dinner, etc.

In any case, the main point is to avoid the Peter Gibbons' 15 minutes of work a week.


There’s a mix of diet of exercise scheduled into my day.

For exercise, I average around 13,000 steps on my Fitbit, most of that coming from the dog walks. With the tweak above, I get some strength-building in as well.

For diet, I try to keep some meals high protein and low carbohydrate. I also work in snacks that are low on the glycemic index, lots of fiber, and/or have very little sugar (KIND Bars).

In a future post, I'll detail a list of foods that I eat throughout the day. It could be called, "Planning your most nutritious day."


I have a number of breaks in there to keep my willpower strong throughout the day. I find this really helps make my work productive. Unlike the Office Space quote from Peter Gibbons above, I avoid “just sorta space out for about an hour.”

One thing to note is that many of rejuvenation breaks are simply different kinds of "work." Taking my dog for a walk is a "quadruple dip" of productivity. It gives me:

  1. Exercise
  2. Exposure to fresh air and sun (sounds silly, but when you work on a computer these are very good things)
  3. Necessary care for a dependent (if Jake doesn’t get his walk, he’ll let you know about it).
  4. The rejuvenating break from work


I eliminated most of the entries from 6:00PM until 9:30PM. It is best summed up by calling “family time.” It can vary quite a bit, especially in the summer when there’s more time for outside activities.

Adapt the Principles to Your Schedule

I realize that few people work from home. Some people don’t have dogs. Some people may not like omelets or carrots.

This schedule isn’t meant to work for everyone. I’m sharing it in hopes that it will inspire some ideas (and hopefully some discussion below).

Take a few minutes and write down your schedule. I’ll wait. Done? I bet you didn’t do it, but we’ll continue on anyway. You can always write it down when you see where this is going.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • Am I eating the right kinds of foods? Am I eating them at the right times?
  • Am I getting enough exercise? Am I getting both aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
  • Am I getting enough accomplished in my professional life?
  • Am I taking the necessary breaks that allow me refocus and be more productive?
  • Am I putting time aside for the family and friends and the social ties that contribute so much to our happiness?

You Are Not a Robot (Robots: Please disregard this section)

While I put hard times to everything in the schedule, it isn’t meant to be rigid and inflexible. Life intervenes. We own real estate properties and sometimes work needs to be done on them. Sometimes the wife, kids, or dog gets sick. Sometimes I get sick. In March, some of my “work” has to be devoted to getting tax information together.

Setting a schedule isn’t an exact science. Even if it were possible to make it one, I don’t think I’d like that much. Doing the same things, day in and day out, can get boring and lead to burn-out on a long-term basis. That’s why it is important to be mindful to take vacations and work those into your plans.


I’ve opened up my life and what works for me. It would really help me (and others) if you could share with me what works for you in the comments.

Anything is open game. Do you find that you work longer or shorter? Do you have your own “quadruple dips” of productivity like the dog walking mentioned above? (Bonus tip: Mowing your own lawn is another one. Think about it.)

This post involves:

Planning, Productivity

... and focuses on: