Celebrate what's working

Many of us spend a good portion of our time feeling overwhelmed or behind schedule. We are so focused on what else is on our list, we barely take time to acknowledge what we've accomplished. Yet I find that the single best action any of us can take to improve our productivity - and our attitude - is to answer this simple question: What's working?

I was first introduced to this approach when I read Time Management From the Inside Out almost a decade ago. In the book, author Julie Morganstern provides a number of sentences to finish. My favorites include:

  • No matter how busy I get, I always find time to...

  • I am never late for...

  • Meeting deadlines is easiest for me when...

  • I'm able to tackle difficult projects when...

Taking a few minutes to celebrate what's working well makes you feel better about what you've accomplished. And it greatly helps you identify how to improve the areas that aren't working well. Let's look at four examples.

Example 1. Let's say you identify that no matter how busy you get, you always find time to brush your teeth. If you're trying to incorporate taking a vitamin into your daily routine as well, why not keep your vitamins with your toothbrush and check two items off the list at the same time? Or if you want to remember to write in your journal each night, keep your journal in the same drawer as your toothpaste.

Example 2. Are you never late when it comes to submitting payroll? Why? If it's because you know your employees are counting on you, can you work with an accountability partner, someone who's counting on you, to accomplish dreaded tasks? Or if you're on time with payroll because you know you'll have to pay additional fees to the payroll company if you're late, create deadlines and negative consequences if you don't finish a project on time.

Example 3. Is meeting deadlines easiest for you when you receive a reward for finishing a project? Then build in a reward system for yourself, so that when you complete a difficult task, there is an immediate positive consequence. Is it easiest when you start well in advance? Then put time on your calendar to get started soon after you are assigned a project.

Example 4. I'm better at tackling difficult projects when I set my intention at the end of the day that I will begin work on that project first thing the next morning (a.k.a., eating a frog). I've had time to think about it overnight (both consciously and unconsciously) and on the drive in to work, and I'm ready to dive in when I get to work. So when I see something on my to-do list from one week to the next, I know it's time to follow this same approach.

One time in a small group conversation, I lamented that while I was very organized at work, I was quite disorganized at work. A fellow attendee encouraged me to use the strategies that made me successful at work in my home life. Although it sounds obvious in hindsight, it was a really great piece of advice that worked well for me.

Try it. The next time you're angry at yourself for not accomplishing your goals or frustrated with your lack of productivity, switch your focus from what's not working to what's working. Celebrate your accomplishments and victories, and then use what you learn from those to help you resolve other challenges.

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