The #1 Technique to Achieving Peak Productivity

A confession: I’ve been a productivity junkie for my entire adult life.

I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit devouring dozens of books on productivity, time management, goal setting, project management… I’ve read countless psychology papers (I learned how to read these types of texts in med school) and I’ve listened religiously to every Huberman Lab podcast episode and learned weird neuroanatomy concepts such as the Anterior Mid-Cingulate Cortex (which controls your willpower). All this to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Through my journey, I’ve come across some good and some not-so-great stuff. I’ve carefully saved the best information in my Personal System. And now I’ve decided to start sharing my findings with you.

Year-End / New Year

If you’re like me, you’ve probably done a year-end review and created a new-year plan. Props to you for that! It shows that a) you decided to gain more clarity and achieve more this year and b) you did something to move the needle forward.

I was looking at some online planners yesterday, and I couldn’t help but notice none of them included one crucial part of the planning process.

But before I share what I discovered, I want you to think about these questions:

  • Do you often feel unsure if what you’re doing is effective?
  • Do you feel like you’re constantly busy but making little to no progress?
  • Do you sometimes feel like a hamster stuck on an endless running wheel?
  • Would you like to gain 2 extra hours each day so can finally watch that series on your to-watch list?
  • Do you wish you were in a tropical place sipping a piña colada without worrying about the endless stream of emails awaiting your reply?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, I want you to start incorporating this simple but powerful process in your planning system (you do have a system, right?).

The Greatest Secret to be More Productive

This secret weapon is the review process.

If you ask me, there’s no better technique to grow than reflecting on your past actions. You’ll gain clarity about yourself and your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll make more money and be much happier because you’ll be able to know exactly what to do to achieve what you want.

Planning without considering your past is just dreaming. You must base your plans on facts to make them realistic. If you plan to run 10 kilometers every day but haven’t run even 5 in years, you’ll fail. There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, but the path to greatness starts from a ground in reality.

One of the worst planning mistakes is failing to look at the past and just doing stuff you “think” might work.

If you’ve done this in the past, you’re not alone. I’ve done this multiple times and forget just to pause and think (That’s why you have to incorporate this in your planning system, so you never miss it). Actually, not even companies do “retrospectives” (the corporate term for review) because they see this as a waste of time. I say it’s a bigger waste to do what doesn’t work.

The secret to mastery lies in setting up high-quality feedback loops that help you identify your mistakes and look for ways to improve.

A Good Review Process

A good process uses unbiased information. Looking at the facts is how you get accurate and relevant feedback.

You need to answer two questions and take two actions:

  • Question 1: What did I do well? -> Action 1: Give yourself a pat on the back.
  • Question 2: What could I improve? -> Action 2: Determine what you could do to avoid this from happening in the future.

Celebrating your successes from the past week will allow you to view your past with a compassionate and positive perspective, motivating you to achieve more.

To decide whether something you did was better or worse, you need to select the relevant criteria to judge your work against: Did you perform better than yourself before? Did you perform better than the average people who do this? Better than what you are expected to perform?

You can’t control the weather but you can control taking a raincoat with you just in case it rains. Focus on what you could do to improve your chances of success (and decrease your chances of failure) that are in your control. This is what top athletes do. For example, the swimmer Natalie Coughlin said: “In general, I’m pretty inwardly focused . . . I like to concentrate on my stroke and do my race, because that’s all I can control.”

The best time for a review is right after completing an effective cycle of work. If you have a 9-5 job it would make sense to do it every week. If you’re launching a product, you could do one each time you reach a milestone.

This shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes of your time (if you’ve been tracking during the week). And investing just 30 minutes to improve your performance is a small price to pay, don’t you agree?

This process will shift you from wondering, “Can I accomplish this?” to taking action and asking, “How can I accomplish this?” Adjust your course of action until you see results, and see yourself transitioning from a fixed mindset (“I can’t do this”) to a growth mindset (“I can learn how to improve”).

This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others.
—Carol Dweck, “Mindset”

You’ll enjoy this process if you see it as a learning opportunity. As you acquire more skills and knowledge, you’ll be capable of achieving more. There’s immense power in setting a goal and successfully reaching it.

The Way Ahead

Reflection comes before action.

Reviews shouldn’t be limited to the end of the year. They should happen every week, and actually every time an important cycle happens. Do this to adjust your course of action and ensure you’re not wasting time doing stuff that doesn’t work.

Start this week, and I’m sure by the end of the year you’ll look back and say: “This is one of my most productive years.”

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