Have you figured it out yet? How you’re going to magically multiply the hours in a day to increase your productivity?
You’re already doing everything the success mavens say to do.
You know all the clever hacks, like controlling your calendar and doing the tough tasks first.
You have a morning routine, an evening routine, and get up well before dawn to start your day.
And yet, you’re barely keeping your head above water — never mind getting ahead.
Naturally, your 14-hour days have eliminated any social life.
Instead of hitting your pace, it feels like you’re going backwards. You’re busier and busier, but it feels like less and less progress is being made.
And every day you can feel the stress levels rise as your efforts fall short of their mark.
Now we all know that hard work is imperative to success.
But after a certain amount of time, your efforts should begin to compound, increasing your returns. If you find your workload increasing instead, it may be time to try a new strategy.
One that doesn’t involve longer hours or new gadgets or adjusting the earth’s orbit for a 26-hour day. And one that replaces mounting stress with a sense of accomplishment and confidence.
Which brings us to the simple and elegant practice of setting intentions.
A vibrant strategy that delivers quick results, becoming intentional has many benefits.
It increases productivity, improves focus, and you can reach successful outcomes quicker.
It’s also a big step in being more mindful, enjoying a life of purpose, and it cultivates confidence as well.
All in just 10 minutes a day.
So, before you get busier, try getting intentional. It’s an easy practice to learn, it’ll take your productivity to the next level, and you’ll reduce stress as well.
The value of intentions
“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” — Paul J. Meyer
According to the OED, an intention is a thing intended; an aim or plan.
They’re distinct and different from goals, but can be instrumental in achieving them.
Intentions are of a broad or abstract nature. But goals are most effective when narrowed down to specific, concrete outcomes.
Intentions act like an internal guidance system. They’re applied only in the present moment. And they can still be fulfilled even when we supposedly “fail” at reaching a goal.
They’re more about who you want to be. How you choose to show up in the world, and the way you want to impact those within your sphere of influence.
They provide the means to meet our goals by shifting perceptions and bypassing mental filters. And they’re a key element in busting procrastination.
Setting intentions shines a light on our habitual thought and behaviour patterns — and where they help or hinder us.
And once we identify problem areas, we can then create new, positive behaviours.
Let’s get into the steps of intention setting.
Step 1 — Get your core values on board
“Values are the principles that give our lives meaning and allow us to persevere through adversity.” — Barbara Markway and Celia Ampel
Strong, clear intentions are fundamental in changing bad habits into productive ones.
But intentions only have as much power as you give them. And the power comes from the level of importance you assign to them.
To be effective, intentions must have significant personal meaning and align with who you aspire to be. In short, they need to reflect your core values.
Core values symbolize our deepest desires. They’re what we believe in and stand for. They provide a moral compass to help us determine right and wrong.
And they’re among the most powerful influences on our behavior.
However, many of our values are hand-me-downs. We learned them early in life from parents, teachers, and other authority figures.
Some of these may still be valid, but chances are good you’ve outgrown others. And when they no longer match what we aspire to, can become a hindrance.
Out task then is to choose only those that apply today and uphold our integrity.
A simple way to determine core values is with the bittersweet formula.
Reflect on both the sweetest and most bitter times you’ve experienced. Use the emotions that arise to clarify what you care about most.
What values do your peak experiences and successes reflect? What about your keenest disappointments and failures?
Write out any and all values that occur to you, then group similar values together. If your list is long, whittle it down to just 4 or 5 ideas that resonate with you. (Too many are confusing and too hard to remember.)
Now use your top values to inform and shape your intentions. Write out simple, 1 or 2 sentences for each value. And start with a verb.
For example, for the value of productivity, your statement could read “I embrace productivity and achievement.” Or, “I build productive habits daily.” Or, “I produce more by doing less.”
Starting with a verb helps reduce resistance by being actionable in the present moment. This gives congruence to your desired identity and makes it believable. Which makes it easier to act on.
Have fun with the words. Make them into a motto or pun if that appeals. Channel your inner poet and create statements that are crisp and clear, capturing your intent in action.
With them, you now have a powerful tool to shape your goals.
Step 2 — Leverage your goals
“All great acts are ruled by intention. What you mean is what you get.” ― Brenna Yovanoff
Many of us learned to measure our success, and personal worth, through the attainment of goals.
We spend roughly one-third of our time in the pursuit of the right car, home, income, job, or spouse. All in the hope that once attained, we’ll feel good.
The problem is, achieving goals isn’t enough to fulfill us on an ongoing basis.
The anticipation is always greater than the reward. And once attained, the shine fades into dissatisfaction. Which always leads to the pursuit of more goals.
Because rarely do we pursue a goal for the ‘thing’ itself.
What we really want is the experience, the emotional state we believe it holds for us — safety, stability, prestige, power, and so on. And no matter how much we try, external objects cannot deliver the emotional states we want. That’s an inside job.
But by combining your goals with value-based intentions you can reap the best of both worlds. The creature comforts your goals provide, and the satisfaction that comes from living with intent. Productivity at its finest!
To align these components, start with your intentions from above. Then measure your current goals against them.
For example, the intention “I embrace productivity and achievement” works with expansive, or growth goals. Ones such as an upgrade to your work situation, increased income, elimination of emotional or mental blocks, and so on.
But the same intention may no longer work with old or restrictive values and goals. Like playing safe, avoiding responsibility, or fitting in.
Reframe any conflicting goals to work with your intentions — not vice versa. Discard or put on hold those that aren’t a good fit at this time.
Your goals, intentions, and values are now allied. A powerhouse trio to blast through distractions, excuses, and low value returns on your time.
Step 3 — Prioritize what’s important
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” — Dwight Eisenhower
We all have the same 24 hours in a day. How we use that time is entirely up to us.
Those who master time seem to have an advantage, almost like they have more of it than others.
But the advantage is available to all, and it’s simple. Those who master time don’t get distracted by “fluff” because they’re clear on what’s important to their progress.
Knowing what’s important improves productivity by eliminating distractions.
Naturally, clear intentions are crucial to establishing what’s truly important.
Because prioritizing can be a tricky task. Everything can seem ‘top priority’ — constantly pulling on our attention, energy, and time. And when everything has top priority, we often find we’re mighty busy but don’t get any significant work done.
To shift away from busyness towards efficiency, use the Urgent/Important matrix based on the above Eisenhower principle. It has four distinct quadrants:
1. Tasks that are both urgent and important need a prompt response. They require your attention and action now.
Although not in your plans, you still have to deal with them in the moment.
2. Tasks that are important but less urgent are those that typically go into your daily schedule.
These are the routine practices and steps needed to progress towards your goals.
3. Tasks that are urgent but have low importance are delegated to others.
This urgency often belongs to someone else. The crisis text, a friend calling for a favor, a co-worker who needs your notes…
Give these tasks back to whomever finds them urgent. Pronto! Be kind and point them in the right direction but keep it brief. And leave the doing to them.
4. Tasks that are not urgent and unimportant should be dropped entirely.
These are the timewasters and includes most emails, games, phone calls, texts, and social media time.
For goal achievement, focus only on those items that are urgent and important.
Use your goals, intentions, and values to streamline prioritizing. This alone will eliminate most distractions, boosting productivity even more.
Step 4 — Stay the course with implementation intentions
“Starve your distraction and feed your focus.” — Unknown
Implementation intentions are among the most effective ways to follow through with new routines.
These are simple, pre-determined plans that outline how, when, and where you’ll act on a given activity.
Invaluable for behaviour and habit modification, the concept is brilliant at strengthening self-regulation.
They can be used effectively to derail procrastination, improve follow through, and for greater goal attainment.
This is done by automating actions with prompts from environmental cues. Cues we’re already familiar with and encounter on a regular basis.
With cues, we don’t have to remember to think about new behaviours. We just act when prompted until they become habitual.
In general, implementation intentions follow an if/then format for cue and response. “If (or when) scenario A happens, then I will perform activity B.”
For example, to reduce distractions, your intention could read like this. “When I sit at my desk and open my laptop, then I’ll turn off all phone and computer alerts.”
The cue is the familiar routine of opening the laptop at your desk. The response is turning off electronic distractions before starting on your project.
Linking the two starts a new routine, and repetition makes it a habit. Easy. Okay, easier than trying to “will” a new habit.
You still need to practice the new routine until you pass the habit threshold — which is based on repetitions, not a timeline.
Crucial components for your plan are location and time, so be very specific. And please get this down on paper — the simple act of writing out when and where increases the chances of follow through.
To create your own implementation intention, use the following points as a guide:
- Keep your statement short, simple, and concise — a single sentence is enough
- Word it in the present tense, “I am”
- State what you desire, not what you want to avoid. Watch for reverse intentions and focus on the best possible outcome. “I am fully engaged with my work” instead of “I don’t want to get distracted.”
- Be clear and specific about the key components of behaviour, location, and time
Use implementation intentions any time you want to replace bad habits with better ones.
Step 5 — Craft your future vision
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” — Carl Jung
Now it’s time to pull the pieces together and craft a compelling future— your vision statement.
A vision statement won’t remove distractions. But it will motivate you to concentrate on what’s important.
Pull out your intention statements and implementation intentions. Now expand them into a goal or vision statement. Include your value-driven goals and your most persuasive reasons for attaining them.
Use evocative words to trigger powerful emotions and excitement. But again, keep it short — a single paragraph of 3 or 4 sentences will do.
Here’s the reworked example from above.
“When I sit at my desk and open my laptop, then I’ll turn off all phone and computer alerts. Why? Because I have brilliant ideas I need to share with my clan. And I thrive on the delicious sense of power and strength that comes from achievement. Plus, I love having a big, fat wad of cash in my wallet at all times!”
This combines four important factors:
- The goal of improved productivity.
- The new behaviour of eliminating distractions.
- Personal motivation and purpose.
- The elevated feelings of the anticipated emotional state.
In short, it stacks the deck in favor of forming a new habit.
To stack it even more, review your vision when the subconscious is most accepting of new ideas. Right before sleep and immediately after waking are optimal times for this.
At these times, our brainwaves are in the slow theta frequency of 3 to 8 HZ.
Theta is most often experienced in sleep or deep meditation. It’s the dreamy, twilight state that’s not yet sleep but you’re no longer wide awake either.
It’s also a portal to the subconscious with its vast stores of information and solutions beyond the normal ken.
But you can’t take your smart phone.
Theta needs to be accessed before your brain switches gears to get up and go for the day. Or, when you’re winding down and relaxing just before sleep.
This means anchoring your intentions each morning before reaching for the phone. Or any other digital distractions.
- Take 5 minutes to preview and connect with your vision statement as soon as you wake up.
- Jot down any relevant insights that came from the night’s sleep or dreams.
- Use it to rehearse everything you want to experience during the day. Immerse yourself in the thoughts, feelings, and events you want to unfold.
- Before sleep, set aside another 5 minutes to preview tomorrow’s vision.
- Write down any new thoughts about your goals, then visualize the day you want as you drift off to sleep.
When you establish new priorities, your subconscious will quickly come aboard with “ah-ha” moments, insights, and solutions.
And every time you envision your goals and intentions, you’re laying the tracks of new neural pathways. Which equals new habits and new results.
Keep it simple and focus on intentionally changing only one behaviour at a time. Once you’ve mastered the first change, move on to the next.
Start small and strive for daily progress. Incremental improvements compound over time – which gives you the edge in productivity and success.
Supercharge your productivity
If you’re tired of working longer hours than everyone else without getting ahead, and you’ve had it with discouragement, emotional pain, and stress, please remember — this need not be.
Because there is a better choice, and it’s that of becoming intentional.
With firm intentions and priorities, your efficiency and effectiveness will skyrocket as distractions drop.
You’ll have a compelling vision of the future to push through obstacles. And when aligned with your core values you’ll feel emotionally congruent, focused, and powerful.
So, before you commit to working harder, supercharge your productivity with clear intentions.
Start right now and determine exactly who and what you want to be.
Then put your goals into action with an implementation plan, and hold on tight — you and your intentions are in for an exhilarating ride of accomplishment!