3 Fundamental Rules of Personal Efficiency

There is a phenomenon known as “induced demand.” For example, if you have a congested road network, widening highways will not ease congestion sustainably; often the congestion gets worse, because of the “induced traffic.”

You may have experienced this phenomenon yourself: you have already reduced your sleep time, your TV time, your “quality family time” — but there’s never enough hours in the day to complete your scheduled tasks. Forget about leisure.

Still, for obvious reasons, we continue looking for ways to widen the roads and to increase efficiency.

Although there are thousands of instructive articles on efficiency, here’s why this one is different: it does not contain tips, tricks or inspirational quotes, and it will not urge you to develop new character traits.

The three rules are fundamental in a sense that all other rules of personal efficiency roll up into them.

Although they require some character, these rules are easy to follow. Better still, you do not have to abide by them: just being aware of these fundamental rules will improve your personal efficiency and eventually make you their champion.

photo © S. Brovkin

1. Define Your Goals.

Think of your mission in this life and get all the way down to the objectives and tasks for today. To be efficient, you must know the “why” at any given moment. If you are serious about being efficient, then reading this article should have been planned somehow, to be later accounted for.

So, why are you reading this? You may be reading this because (a) you want to be efficient and therefore you have been looking for some new ideas that would help you get ahead; (b) you want to know what’s latest on Medium, and for this purpose you have 15 minutes of your lunch break allocated; or (с) you are waiting for your flight to take off and have decided to take it easy on the plane in order to be more efficient and ready for the battle right after the flight.

Attention: If you do not have a clear “why” for reading this article now, then your problem with personal efficiency is worse than you think.

Depending on your higher-level goal, your immediate reason for reading this article may be different, but there must be at least one. Therefore it is important to maintain a hierarchy of goals — the goals breakdown structure (GBS), if you will, that allows you to position every activity in conformity with its respective goal.

If you are familiar with project management, you may prefer to think in terms of your personal WBS. You may also use a fishbone (Ishikawa) or similar diagram, eventually going all the way down to a detailed To-Do List.

You may use any approach building — but, most importantly, visualizing! — your GBS, so that at every moment you know the “why” for your current activity, thereby making your presence on this earth meaningful.

Nobody needs to review or approve the GBS except for you, but you need to maintain a good visual structure of your goals and objectives in order to improve your focus and awareness.

2. Dream

First, dream — but with dates attached. This is close to planning but you will see that it does not stop there. Instead of “hustling”, “getting busy” or “just doing it” start planning how to complete the tasks on your To-Do List in order to achieve your immediate objectives.

Lay out and pave the next stretch of your road to success, then let your imagination go wild, and dream widescreen. With the Goal structure clear in your mind, visualize your next steps in powerful detail, all the way to your supreme Goal. Imagine your great future, see and feel your success as well as possible obstacles on the way. Touch them and you will see that as they can’t stop you in your dream, they will not stop you in real life.

For every obstacle, you will find a “how to” solution well in advance. Never accept a “why not” response.

Dream in color. Good thoughts displace negative thoughts; sometimes that helps to fight stress and escape the burnout.

Do this exercise at least daily. It will help you keep going efficiently in the fast lane today, and get better prepared for what is coming behind the corner tomorrow, at the same time bringing you closer to the desired success — your top-level Goal. Call it the Law of Attraction, or whatever you think it is, but it works. Thoughts are things.

3. Keep a Journal

This rule comes last on my list but it is at least as important as the other two. Unfortunately, the perception of journaling is similar to that of Lessons Learned at work, at best. But if you are an advanced professional, you should have experienced the benefits of collecting and analyzing lessons learned. If you have not, then simply accept this fact: some of the most influential personalities used to keep detailed journals.

Finally, if you are dead sure that you have neither the time nor the need to maintain a diary on a daily basis, then you are one of those individuals who need to do that more than anybody else.

There are countless benefits to journaling, from simple recording of important facts for later reference and updating your internal “To-Do List” — to cathartic release of emotions and stress accumulated over the past 24 hours, or since your previous entry, helping to sort out your feelings and get rid of anxiety, and sleep better as a result, dreaming in color (as discussed above). Writing improves your communication skills, helps solve problems and resolve arguments with others more efficiently, gets you better prepared for the next challenge and helps to step over the mishaps already passed, through improved self-awareness and self-regulation.

Get yourself an app or keep a secret black book. It must be kept securely private because journaling works only when you are honest, and you can be 100% honest with yourself only. Forget about grammar etc. — nobody will see it— and write quickly, in order to free your mind and soul. Stopping for a better word or to improve style may cause “writer’s block,” and although you have committed to spend 20 minutes on this activity on a daily basis, you want to do this at least as efficiently as everything else.

Regular journaling is the modern day version of meditation and prayer. Like with the other two rules, you may call it whatever you prefer — just apply it: it works.

Exercised together, these three rules will bring you to the next level of personal efficiency, getting you closer to the result that you could otherwise achieve only with a personal coach.

Of course, working with a coach, at least a remote one, will help you advance faster, so contact me for further help — and share your thoughts in comments below, because your thoughts are as good as mine.

PS: Remember to share with your peers if you like it. Thanks!

Also published on LinkedIn.