The Ultimate Productivity Guide To Help You Achieve More Time, Money, And Freedom By Working Less

Posted on /by Natalie Sisson/ in Entrepreneurs

Would you rather have a year where you knock two major goals out of the park? Or a year where you make 50% progress on each of your ten goals?

The choice is obvious, isn’t it?

When the year rolls to a close, people look back on it with regret saying, “Damn! There was so much to do, and so many goals just slipped through my fingers.”

You wonder where all the time went, and resolve to start the new year off with a bang. You promise yourself that the new year will be different and set out to achieve every single goal that you couldn’t in the past.

Stop right there! Don’t make this mistake.

If you want to create more time, money, and freedom in your life and business, do not try to do everything at the same time. It will only lead you to giving up on your goals too early.

If you don’t believe me, count how many goals you had when the year had just started. Then count how many of them you’re actively working on.

Exactly!

I know when I get stuck it’s usually it’s because I have too many things on my plate. And getting stuck is the single biggest productivity block I’ve seen people face.

When I had just started my online business, trying to balance my location independent lifestyle with my business used to be super challenging, and at times (especially when there was no Internet), super frustrating.

However, in the last seven years of building my online business to multiple six-figures while traveling to 70 countries around the world, I’ve had to hone my productivity powers and get really good at getting more done in the least amount of time possible.

Recommended: How to Increase Productivity in Your Business From Anywhere.

Productivity has become a key aspect of everything I do. Not just because it helps me optimize my work output, but also because it frees up time so I can do other awesome things — have crazy cool adventures, hang out with friends, and do meaningful work for my community and customers.

That is why I am writing this mega post for you. It contains all my knowledge and experience, condensed into actionable advice to help you make 2017 your most productive year in your business, and the most fun and adventurous year in your life. Let’s jump right in.

You can use this handy table of contents to navigate to the section of your choice:

If you don’t yet know what you really want to do in 2018, check out my Plan Your Ideal Year workshop. It will help you set some amazing goals for your life and business, and in a way that makes them seem completely achievable – in less than 2 hours!

Overcoming productivity blocks

We all hit productivity roadblocks (getting stuck is just one of them). Even the people you look up to.

But what separates the achievers from the rest is their commitment to overcome their challenges. Their ability to get back on track is what ensures that they cruise past milestone after milestone.

In my experience, and after talking to hundreds of entrepreneurs…

Whether it’s the fear of doing something for the first time or the fear of failure and getting laughed at by other people.

The fears that cause productivity blocks may not always be obvious, but there are actions you can take to overcome them and get back to being your best productive self. Here are my top tips for productivity blocks.

#1 Develop self-discipline and find freedom

Self-discipline, more than anything else, is essential to being productive in the long term. This skill takes time and practice to develop, but it is worth it because self-discipline can help you achieve truly meaningful things like:

  • Losing weight — this requires you to have the self-discipline to avoid junk food, no matter how much you want it. Instead, you have to train yourself to eat clean and nourishing foods that fuel your body.
  • Building a six-figure business — this requires the self-discipline to do whatever is necessary to generate revenue and increase profits, no matter how hard it seems at first. There might even be a time when you are in the red, month after month. But you have a strategy to become profitable and stick at it.
  • Writing a book — this requires the self-discipline to show up and do the work. You have to plan out and write your book word by word, chapter by chapter. You will get stuck, feel uninspired, and want to give up along the way. But you must keep writing.

Once you develop it, you’ll find that productivity blocks just melt away in front of your commitment to your end goal.

#2 Taking baby steps leads to massive results

Do you have big dreams?

Good. Never let go of them.

Dreaming big is a necessary part of stretching yourself well beyond your comfort limits and achieving extraordinary feats.

However, it can also lead to unrealistic expectations. You could end up with setting goals that are so scary that you can easily get overwhelmed with all the things you have to do to accomplish them.

Recommended: How to Achieve Your Goals in 2017 Using Asana (and get the free template).

You will eventually get stuck because you wouldn’t even know where to start. Before you know it, months have gone by, and you’ve made zero progress.

That is why it is important to develop the habit of taking baby steps, consistently over time. Committing to do one small thing every day will eventually lead to the fulfillment of your big dreams.

It could be as simple as putting one less spoon of sugar in your coffee. Or writing 100 words before you go to bed. In fact, I love Leo Babauta’s advice, “Make it so easy that you can’t say no.”

I assure you, if you develop the habit of taking baby steps, you’ll be amazed by the massive results you will have achieved by the time this year draws to an end.

In my Write the Damn Book lab, I held a couple of weekly Pomodoro sessions to ensure me and my lab members finish writing our books on time.

I held a ‘Writer’s Week’ where for four days in a row we did 2.5 hours worth of Pomodoro sessions in a row.

The results were outstanding. I wrote 4.5 chapters of my book. Others finished several chapters of theirs, designed covers, planned out their content and more. Turning up daily, even just for that small amount of time, made the overwhelming task of writing an entire book completely doable.

Want to write your book in 3 months or less? Join the ‘Write the Damn Book’ Lab.

#3 Avoid the trap of perfection (aka procrastination)

Oh, I can’t tell you the number of times I have tripped up on this one!

When you come across something that you don’t know how to do, I bet you put your whole project on hold until you figure out how to do it.

Speaking from experience, I’ve been ‘procrastinating’ on launching my new podcast, Natalie Sisson’s Quest for Freedom, as the fancy, brand new equipment kept getting in my way.

I attempted to record my first episode twice and got a few things wrong. The card wasn’t formatted, I couldn’t get the recording onto my computer, and it just made me drag my feet. But I finally sat down, read the manual on what I needed to do and hit record!

It’s natural to desire perfection.

Sorry to say, but you’ll never be 100% knowledgeable about anything, and you certainly won’t (and don’t) need to know every single thing to be successful.

Even after you start taking action on your project, there’s always this lingering desire to make it perfect — choosing the right colors, selecting the perfect logo, adjusting the font and alignment of every paragraph — you know what I mean.

These small tasks can seem all-important, but they are actually preventing you from shipping your project.

  • It’s much better to launch the ‘best you can get’ version of your website for now and upgrade later because you can’t have as polished a website as Pat Flynn’s when it’s your first year in business. Heck, almost 7 years into my business, 3 website redesigns, and I finally have the design I love most.
  • You might as well publish your first book with your best effort because you can’t write as eloquently as Paulo Coehlo (of The Alchemist fame) when it’s only your first book. Or as I say, “write the damn book.”

So you put in hundreds of hours into a thing that never even sees the light of the day.

The only way to avoid the trap of perfection is to implement what you already know.

This means that if you only know the first two steps, take it and figure out the rest as you progress.

  • Launch your website even if it’s just one blog post and an about page.
  • Write 20,000 words without revising and editing it to make it perfect.
  • Write each email manually until the only way forward is to automate your sales funnel.

So go out and launch your projects because perfection is just procrastination in disguise.

#4 Surround yourself with productivity rockstars

There is no better hack to being productive than to be around people who always get things done. These are the people who go out and achieve what they say they will.

Surround yourself with these people (like our very own Freedomist, Jo Bendle) and your productivity levels will shoot up automatically.

Recommended: 3 Startling Mistakes That Are Blocking Your Productivity (And How To Fix Them)

I’m not saying that you should copy them exactly. Instead, emulate what you do like and build meaningful relationships with these people.

  • Talk to them regularly, like in a mastermind group.
  • Check in with each other on the things you’re working on by becoming accountability partners.
  • >Share your productivity challenges and your own tips and tricks, like in a Facebook group.
  • Or just find a friend who is more productive than you and call them weekly

Like they say, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Just by surrounding yourself with these productivity rockstars, who conquer goal after goal, you will find your own productivity levels rising to greater heights.

#5 Get clear on your vision and purpose

What is the one thing that has almost nothing to do with productivity, but ends up becoming a productivity block for most people?

It’s not having a clear vision for your business and life.

Have you ever taken the time to pause and reflect on why you’re doing what you’re doing?

Most people don’t. They never take the time to visualize where all their hard work and long hours are leading toward. One day, they find themselves in a place they didn’t want to, with no idea how they got there, and no way out.

I don’t want that to happen to you. That is why it is extremely important to get clear on your vision and purpose — for your life as well as your work.

In all these years of working with clients, and talking to friends, I have come up with two fantastic exercises that will help you get unstuck and put you back on the productivity track almost instantly.

  • The Perfect Day exercise — It involves visualizing a day in the future and writing down what you’d be doing, thinking and feeling almost every hour of that perfect day. The purpose of this exercise is to make this vision of the future so specific and so clear that it seems like reality. Every time you get stuck, all you have to do is look back on your Perfect Day to inspire yourself to action.
  • The Painted Picture exercise — In this exercise, you paint a picture for yourself, three years in the future, and write it out in the present tense. The purpose of this exercise is to align your subconscious mind with the goals that you’re setting for yourself. Unlike the Perfect Day exercise, you don’t have to look at your Painted Picture often. But when you review it every three to six months (put it on your calendar to ensure you do that), you’ll be surprised to see the progress you’ve made.

So the next time you find yourself stuck, unable to decide what to do next, all you need to do is review your Perfect Day and Painted Picture exercise. I guarantee that your productivity blocks will disappear into thin air.

If you want to get your hands dirty and plan out your entire year in less than 2 hours, check out the Ideal Year Workshop.

The little-known secrets of being ridiculously productive

Building an online business is slowly becoming a legitimate career choice. Studies show that 40% of the US economy will have transitioned from conventional jobs to a series of temporary gigs.

I couldn’t be happier as my personal mission is to help 1 million entrepreneurs create freedom in business and adventure in life by 2020. I believe that starting your own online freedom business is the best way to take advantage of the gig economy and will lead to more flexibility, fun, and freedom.

But working for yourself comes with its own set of challenges. Primary among them is the need to be more productive as your income will be directly related to the work you put in, until you set up a business, and move away from just being self-employed.

If you want to be more productive, watch my training Reclaim 10 Hours A Week and Double Your Revenue.

That is why there is a flood of discussion on time management and productivity on the internet these days. All of them promising to unravel the secrets to help you get more done in less time.

But as the management guru, Peter Drucker said, “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.”

It’s not just a matter of “how can I save 1.25 hours while doing this task” (which is important in itself), but you also have to think about “why am I doing this task?” and “how can I get from A to Z?”

That is why I want you to think of Productivity as being made of 3 parts— Mindset, Planning, and Execution.

When you want to be more productive, you must work on each of these 3 parts.

#1 Mindset (First Productivity Constituent)

How many times have you procrastinated or completely given up on a project due to a lack of excitement and motivation?

It happens to all of us. We start off a new project or side hustle, excited about the prospects. But a few months down the line, the project is left collecting dust on the shelves. Starting off with a bang is no guarantee of finishing.

That is why it’s important to align your mindset with your vision before starting anything new.

Most people never talk about the mindset part of productivity because you can’t easily quantify it. There is no metric to tell you if you have the right mindset, but without you will struggle to accomplish anything meaningful.

We talked about the Perfect Day and Painted Picture exercise earlier, both of which can help you get clear on your vision.

Even if you don’t do those exercises (although, I highly recommend you do), you’ve at least got to think about why you are doing the thing you are doing.

If nothing else, try answering the following questions before you start a new goal or restart an old one:

  • Why is this goal important to me?
  • What is at stake if I don’t accomplish this goal?
  • How will my life be different if I do accomplish this goal?
  • Why is this goal important enough to pursue even at the cost of other things in my life?
  • What other aspects of my life am I willing to compromise on to reach this goal?

Remember, you don’t have to come up with perfect answers. These questions are only here to help you get into the right mindset to start pursuing your goals.

Only then will you be able to get into the right mindset, which will empower you to fulfill your grandest dreams.

#2 Planning (Second Productivity Constituent)

Do you want to lose weight this year? Great!

Or start your own online business? Awesome!

Finally, write the book you’ve always wanted to? Rock on!

These are all fantastic goals, but the question is, what are you going to do next? What steps will you take that will lead to achieving your goal?

Imagine you want to rent a car from Hertz in Paris to get to Florence. But it’s peak holiday season, it’s the only car they have left, and it doesn’t have navigation! And to top it all off, the data on your phone doesn’t work for some reason. What do you do?

If I were in this situation, I’d stop at the first gas station, buy a road map and ask the person at the counter to mark the route to Florence.

Of course, it won’t be as seamless as a GPS guided experience. I’ll probably have to stop multiple times along the way to figure out where I’m at, but I’ll eventually get to Florence.

Achieving your goals in life is very similar to doing that because no one has invented a GPS for success. Yet.

But you can create a map for what you want to achieve because you know where you are and where you want to be at the end of the year. In fact, it’s best to look at your vision for your life and work backward from it to set meaningful and achievable goals for the year.

To help you get started, I’m going to share my 3-step goal planning framework with you:

Step 1 — Annual Planning

  •  Put in your holidays first — This is something I personally do when planning for the new year. I’m all about having the freedom to live your ideal lifestyle, and holidays are the first victims when there’s too much work. So marking down holidays first means that I can plan my work around them, and enjoy my holidays when I’m not working.
  • Block out big project dates — Next thing to go up on your calendar should be your goal-related projects. These are your periods of focused work. It could be working on creating and launching a product in your business, or marking down a couple of weeks for research for your book you’re writing. Anything that you think will require a few weeks to accomplish goes on the calendar.
  • Mark in events and retreats — I usually fly out to speak at conferences and attend events like Fincon or DNX. I also have held my own mastermind events and retreats like my Bali Freedom Mastermind in March 2017, where I interact with my community around the world. All of these require a few days commitment, but the dates are non-negotiable. For you, this could mean attending conferences in your niche, going to a personal development gig like I am this year when I get to experience Tony Robbins Live!
  • It’s okay to leave in some gaps — This is more of a tip to be kind and gentle on yourself. If you pack in your calendar without leaving any wiggle-room for yourself, you’ll only get frustrated. Leave a few days gap between say the last day of your holiday and the first day of your product launch. These are different from holidays as you can use this time to wrap up loose ends or work on new ideas.

If you want me to show you exactly how to do the above and have your entire year set up in less than 2 hours, check out the juicy details of my Ideal Year Workshop and get access to my personal Editorial Content Calendar Template!

Step 2 — Monthly Planning

One year is a long time, and it’s pointless to try to be productive on all 365 days. Luckily for you, the year has 12 months so you can easily break up your annual goal into smaller monthly milestones.

The monthly goals you set for yourself might vary from month to month. Since I’m writing my next book The Freedom Plan, I’ll give you an example of what some of my monthly goals look like:

  • Oct: Create a crowdfunding campaign for the book
  • Nov: Talk to publishers and agent and have the agent approach 25 publishers
  • Dec, Jan, Feb: Write entire book and have it edited and copy edited
  • Mar: Work with the publisher to edit the book & start the pre-launch marketing

These monthly goals should flow naturally from your annual goal. When you’re starting out, you don’t need to have goals for all 12 months; just the first 3-6 months should suffice. In fact, your next month’s goals might change based on how much progress you made last month.

This brings me to an important part of the planning process — doing a monthly review.

At the end of every month, mark your achievements against the goals you had set for yourself. Review your annual goals, see how far you’ve come, and make adjustments as necessary to your next month’s goals.

As long as your monthly goals (and achievements) are in alignment with your annual goals, you’re doing just fine.

If you’re like me and love to use technology to keep yourself productive, you’re going to love this guide on how to use Asana to achieve your 2017 goals (including a free Asana goal planning template and video tutorial)

Step 3 — Daily/Weekly Planning

The third and final stage of planning is deciding what you are going to work on each day.

So to help you achieve your big goals for 2017, here are my 6 steps to daily success (that I personally follow too):

    1. Identify your MIA — Pick your Most Important Action for the day (maximum 3). These are actions that you will take no matter what, and should flow from your monthly goal.
    2. Block out distraction free time — Since the actions you have selected are ‘Most Important,’ allow yourself to treat them as such and turn off all notifications on your phone and computer and focus on doing them.
    3. Take regular breaks — You will not be able to perform at your best if you don’t take care of yourself, and this calls for taking short, regular breaks from working on your daily tasks.
    4. Limit the tasks that you set for yourself — Don’t give in to the tendency of getting everything done on the same day. That’s a recipe for disaster. Set yourself tasks that you can realistically do, based on the limited amount of time you have.
    5. Stop multitasking, start single-tasking — One of the simplest ways of making consistent progress on your goals is not to work on many things at once, and just focusing on one task at a time. No matter how important it seems, whatever is interrupting your MIA can surely wait for a few minutes.
    6. Batch your tasks — Implement this tactic and your productivity will take off like a rocket. If you have a bunch of similar tasks, do them together. For, e.g., don’t answer email as and when they come in; set aside two 30 minute slots in the day where you look at and answer emails. If you have to shoot videos for an online course, write a script or outline for each video and shoot all the videos over the course of 2-3 days.

That’s it! Follow these 6-steps to daily success, and you’ll be productive every single day. And if you want to learn about the mistakes that might be blocking your productivity, check out the post by Productivity Coach, Jo Bendle.

Most people know they have to create a plan to achieve their goals, yet they never get around to doing it. They would rather download the latest app, or read a book, or attend a webinar, and think that they will magically become more productive.

But you, dear freedomist, are different. I know you want more time, money, and freedom in your life. And you are not afraid of putting in the work to get there. That is why I know you will do the hard work to plan your way to success this year.

If you want my personal guidance in making 2017 your best year yet, go and grab my Ideal Year Workshop today. In it, you will get access to the exact calendar and templates that I use in my business to generate multiple six figures in revenue, and I go over the 6 Steps to Daily Success and more.

#3 Execution (Third Productivity Constituent)

You know when you think you’ll just watch one Jimmy Kimmel video on YouTube, but when you look up an hour has gone by?

We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Even the best of us sometimes fail, when it comes to getting things done. We lead crazy, complex lives, with hundreds of distractions and thousands of urgent tasks demanding our attention. In this craziness, our important goals get sidelined, and we end up wasting time.

That is why it is extremely important to know how you are going to work toward your goal every single day. You need to work on your execution game to become more productive.

To be honest, each person has different productivity habits and what they do on each given day will be different. But there are a few strategies that will help you become more productive than ever. You don’t have to adopt each of them (although, you can), but try them all out and see which ones help you get the most done.

Strategy 1: Maker morning, manager afternoon

Sounds catchy, doesn’t it?

This mantra that can totally boost your productivity and send it through the roof. It is like a supercharged version of batching your tasks, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.

No matter what your goals are, they can be broken down into two broad categories of tasks:

  • Maker tasks — the tasks that create value and lead you toward accomplishing them
  • Manager tasks — the tasks that help you stay on track and ensure that your maker tasks are aligned toward your goals

Here’s what I mean:

Productivity Mega Post_Table

In my case, working on the maker tasks in the morning is much better. I’m high on energy and creating videos for courses or writing my book is a breeze. After lunch, though, once I’ve taken action on my MIAs, my energy is lower. Then I can check my emails, work on marketing plans or check in with my team and personal tasks on Asana. As you can see, both kinds of tasks are important if you want to achieve your goals.

Adopt this mantra and see how much more productive you are during the week. Or switch it up and do the manager tasks first, if you’re not a morning person.

Strategy 2: Focus and block out distraction free time

Some tasks (especially, the maker tasks) require a higher level of concentration to do. You might be able to get away with not focusing 100% on the task that you’re doing, but I assure you, it’s not going to be your best work.

That is why you must block out distraction free time to focus on your Most Important Tasks (MIAs). Whether that involves locking yourself in the study, turning off mobile notifications, disconnecting from the internet, or all of the above.

A common distraction (and one of productivity’s arch enemies) is social media. It is a proverbial black hole that can suck out all your time and leave you feeling tired at the end of the day, even though you’ve not done anything significant.

An easy solution would be to disconnect from the internet. If you can’t, you might want to try out tools like Leechblock or Freedom. They will prevent you from accessing the dark corners of the internet where productivity goes to die a slow death.

Strategy 3: Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique is one of my favorite techniques of getting things done in a short time. And my favorite Pomodoro tool is the Focus Booster App.

The basic idea is that you set a timer for 25 minutes to work on your MIA. When the alarm goes off, you take a break for 5 minutes. Then you set up another Pomodoro session to continue working on the same MIA or switch over to a different one.

Knowing that a deadline is looming (even if you have set it yourself) will help kick your butt into gear.

In fact, in my Write The Damn Book Lab, I help live writing sessions with my cohort of fellow writers. We all get online at the same time, set a timer for 25 minutes and write non-stop until the timer goes off. Then we rinse and repeat this 3 more times. So far, everyone who’s turning up to these on track to finishing their books in 3 months. That’s how awesome the Pomodoro technique is.

Strategy 4: Record your intentions

I’m sure you’ve heard the popular phrase (most popularly attributed to Peter Drucker), “What gets measured, gets done.”

You have to record your intentions for what you want to do each day, the night before. This involves reviewing your daily Most Important Actions (MIAs) and seeing how much you’ve accomplished versus the plan. The next step is to set your MIAs for the next day.

This exercise takes less than 5 minutes to do but will result in a sharp jump in your productivity. If you want to use an app for this, try Teux Deux or use pen and paper. And if you want to take it a step further and record your thoughts and observations along with the MIAs, try Penzu, an online journal.

Strategy 5: Avoid unnecessary meetings

Mostly, meetings just end up being a waste of everyone’s time. Nothing gets done at the end, except maybe deciding to have another meeting. And I hate that!

That is why I avoid unnecessary meetings, and I want you to do the same too.

However, sometimes you simply can’t avoid them. When that happens, make sure you go into the meeting knowing what the agenda is. And at the end of the meeting, make sure everyone is extremely clear about the next action steps.

Just in case your business or goal requires you to have multiple meetings within a short period, check out this cool little tool called Calendly.

It will help people book meetings with you based on the time slots you allocate as free. It will save you several hours that you’d waste going back forth setting up an appropriate time for the meeting. You’ll fall in love with Calendly, just like I did!

Strategy 6: Mindful health

My last strategy for being productive is probably the most important one — always be mindful of your health and set aside time for self-care.

It’s a mindset that you just fall into if you’re in the online business niche. But counterintuitively, not working yourself into the ground is better for long term productivity.

Different people have different capacity for hustling. Make sure you know how much you can realistically achieve without burning out.

  • Schedule in time for sleep and rest (use Sleep Time to optimize it).
  • Practice meditation (using the Headspace app).
  • Make time for regular exercise (for no-equipment exercises, check out Freeletics).

Being mindful of your health will lead to higher energy levels will be throughout the day, and help you achieve more in less time.

Without your health, you won’t be able to focus on your work and business, let alone be productive.

Keep yourself mentally and physically fit, and productivity will follow.

Attaining freedom by being ultra-productive

We all have the same number of hours in a day, and they will pass whether you want it or not.

And that is what being more productive is all about —  it gives you the freedom to do what you want when you want, wherever you want:

  • Work fewer hours and still charge the same, thereby raising your hourly rate
  • Finish projects in lesser time and charge more for faster delivery
  • Outsource tasks so you can travel and go on adventures or spend that extra time with your family and friends
  • Take up a new hobby, learn a new sport, or even start another side hustle
  • Reach your goals faster and take off on vacation for the rest of the year

Whatever your definition of freedom is, you can create more of it in your life by becoming more productive.

If you work toward improving all 3 constituents of productivity — mindset, planning, and execution — you will be able to do things much faster and achieve big, meaningful goals.

Put the strategies and tips in this post into practice, and soon you will be on track to making 2018 your most productive year ever.

And if one of your 2018 goals is to build your online business, my Ideal Year Workshop is for you. In it, I will teach you how to set and achieve the right goals for your business using the templates I use myself. You will also learn how to create an editorial calendar to achieve your business goals before time so that you can go and live your ideal lifestyle. Check out the Ideal Year Workshop below.


Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  If you choose to buy software or a course using the link, I get a small commission. This allows me to keep creating epic content (like this one) for you.