It’s taken several years and thousands of students for me to figure out how to predict the productivity potential of an entrepreneur. I don’t have a crystal ball of course, but no matter what personality you have, what niche you’re in, how much money and time you have at your disposal, there are six foundations to creating a productive life and business.
We’re going to dive deeply into these six foundations in coming posts (for those of you who don’t know, I’m currently blogging my book on productivity), but I wanted to give you an overview here now, so you can see the view from 35,000 feet. As we go deeper into these six, I will help you create new beliefs, new systems, and new mindsets around each of the six, until productivity is as natural as breathing.
That’s the goal of this whole thing anyway. You don’t want productivity to be a “thing” you have to look at, work around, or get interrupted by.
It should be a default way of thinking and working and living.
Ultimate productivity flourishes when you have all six. I say “productive in life” because in order to achieve the kind of productivity you’re looking for, this will have to take effect in your entire life – not just your business.
The seed of productivity begins here. I could write a whole book on creativity (and maybe I will), but for the purposes of this book, creativity is the nucleus of productivity. It’s the seed. The idea. The thoughts that come flying into your head when you’re inspired by something you see or frustrated by a problem you can’t solve.
Creativity is one of those things that feels hard to grasp or harness right? It’s a tough word to even describe.
But I find when I think of creativity like a burst of electricity that appears when conditions are right, then for us, it becomes about creating the environment for creativity to happen.
What environments activate creativity? Well, one environment isn’t one we love to create, but it often happens to us so we don’t need to go seeking it out.
The environment of pain. Frustration. Limitation. If you are in a crisis or if you have a problem, you are in a ripe environment for creativity to occur. How many new inventions and innovations were created in hardship? A lot.
That’s my way of saying, don’t dismay if life is hard. You are ripe for creativity. (Learn more about the green hat of creativity, on my podcast episode about the six hats).
The second environment that activates creativity is the environment of inspiration. Freedom. Love. How many times did you come up with a great idea when you finally stepped outside your office and went for a long walk on the beach or in the woods?
It is our job as entrepreneurs to HARNESS the environment of pain and CREATE the environment of inspiration in order to fuel creativity and spark the productivity machine in our lives.
Vision is the ability to see that which hasn’t materialized yet. It’s a close cousin of creativity for sure! Vision is also closely tied to planning (the practical side of creativity and imagination that we’ll discuss next).
Someone who has vision will be able to set goals and plans more effectively than someone who’s just reacting to the environment without an end destination in mind.
I love the story of the Israelites in the Bible. Moses had the vision of the promised land and was put in charge of leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey.
Incredible vision right? But Moses had to remind his people over and over again of the vision because every time an obstacle appeared, they wanted to run back to the comfort of slavery! The vision fell out of their brains at least 100 times. When you read the story of the Exodus, you want to smack the Israelites…until you realize that we are ALL just like them.
We lose our vision so fast! We need constant reminders and encouragement to stay the course. If you think your vision is just something you etch on a cute plaque in your office, you’ll lose your way the minute you hit an obstacle.
Vision is the container that holds the goals, the plans, and the contingencies.
This is where most productivity products live. Think about the last several techniques you tried. S.M.A.R.T goals anyone? Bulletproof journals. Timer techniques. Planning is a necessary principle of productivity for sure, but just like any good thing, too much of it and you’re crippled again, just in a different way.
Many of you don’t know that I LOVE Disney World. Whenever I go to Disney, I have a plan…without a doubt. Why? Because I know if I want to have a productive day at the parks and not stand in line for hours and hours, I need a plan.
However, over planning (which often happens to people trying to be productive), can make things really annoying and difficult. Take for example dining reservations. If I reserve a breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the Magic Kingdom- I am not taking into consideration that maybe we all wanted a Mickey ice cream at 4pm and none of us are hungry at five. Now I have to cancel the reservation last minute and incur a $50 cancelation fee. In this case, the plan cost me, it didn’t help me.
Another problem with planning is that it’s fun. So fun in fact that people prefer to stay in planning mode, rather than execution!
One of the keys to this particular pillar of productivity is teaching you how to create plans that you don’t feel or see. They are so flexible and helpful, they are like oxygen. You need it to breathe but you don’t spend all day thinking about how oxygen is getting in your way.
A plan takes creativity and vision, and lays out a roadmap to get there!
Nobody likes the word control, which is a shame. If you’re in the passenger seat of a race car speeding 200mph around a track, you want the driver to be 100% in control of the vehicle right?
Once creativity strikes, it is absolutely useless if we have no ability to control the idea. Think about the elements: fire, water, air, and earth. Unbelievable power right? Uncontrolled water destroys everything in its path without boundaries. Uncontrolled air is a tornado snapping trees like toothpicks. Uncontrolled fire turns everything to ash. Uncontrolled earth results in earthquakes and mudslides and volcanos.
But when you take each of these elements and control it? Civilization.
Control is about having power and influence over something, and in the quest for ultimate productivity, you must be in control of two somethings if you want your ideas to go anywhere. You must control:
- Your time
- Your mind
As we’ll come to see here soon, both of these things are like the elements – notoriously difficult to control. Which is why the person who masters controlling both their time and their mind, is literally…unstoppable.
Pillar #1 – Creativity sparks the idea.
Pillar #2 – Vision sets the destination.
Pillar #3 – Planning is the roadmap to get there.
Pillar #4 – Control of your time and your mind allows you to harness it.
Pillar #5 – Momentum is the movement you need to set everything in motion…and keep it in motion.
How many times have you gotten a great idea, written out the plan, and then didn’t do anything to actually execute it? Assuming of course you were in control of your time and your mind, what happened? Why didn’t it materialize?
You stopped moving. Momentum is strength or force gained by motion.
The problem with vision and planning without momentum is that there is a strong tendency to stop moving and relish in your plans.
It’s safer. You feel accomplished by writing out your plan. Much like eating a meal and taking a nap afterwards, when the entrepreneur is in planning mode, there is the temptation to rest. To let the plan fill your belly and dampen your appetite.
Momentum is so critical to productivity because it’s the difference between biking up a hill after racing down the previous one, vs. starting at the bottom of the hill at rest.
The last pillar of productivity is focus. Focus is the epicenter of the activity. As you can see, productivity means there is a lot going on. Focus is that super power that pushes all that momentum onto ONE activity or task.
So many people in their quest for productivity try to improve their concentration and focus, thinking that will make them able to get more done. The problem is that focus isn’t helpful without the other four principles in motion.
Imagine if you’re focusing on how dirty your office is when you have only two hours to build a presentation you’re about to share with 10,000 of your ideal customers? That focus on the dirty office is WILDLY unhelpful huh?
If you have Attention Deficit Disorder, you might struggle with focus. Or…it might just be that your focus is not pointing in the right direction. You hyper focus on the wrong things at the wrong time. Every new emotion or distraction in your environment simply moves your focus to the wrong thing.
(I wrote a whole post on this called The Art of Refocus – you should read it)
Imagine focus is like a little red laser light. Wherever that light hits, it creates a hole. You’re using this laser to drill some holes in the wall. Hole one goes great. Hole two goes great.
Then your dog barrels into the room chasing a cat and instead of staying focused on your task, your focus gets diverted and the laser moves quickly to the floor. Now there’s a hole in the floor.
You still had focus, it was just pointing at the wrong thing.
When Something Is Missing
These foundations match up in pairs. Which means, when something is missing, it’s usually at least two things.
The most common problems are a lack of:
- Creativity & Vision
- Planning & Control
- Momentum & Focus
As you read the profiles below, you might identify with one or more of them.
1. Lacking Creativity & Vision
Michael just left his 9-5 to become a consultant. He was so tired of the rat race and just up and quit one day. Now at home, he knows he has experience in marketing and is ready to build his consulting business. There’s just one problem – he doesn’t really know how to structure his offer, how to stand out, who he’s talking to, and what to do next. He’s ready to work hard if someone could just help him figure out how to get unstuck. His office and planning tools are at the ready as soon as that inspiration hits.
Creativity & Vision are the most difficult foundations to lose because it literally affects everything else. Without creativity and that nucleus of an idea, there can be no vision. It doesn’t matter how much focus, control, planning tools and momentum an entrepreneur has, if it isn’t directed at SOMETHING, they will feel like a race car without a driver or a track.
2. Lacking Planning & Control
Jamison is a creative entrepreneur. He runs a profitable business selling his custom made wooden toys. People LOVE his stuff and recommend him all the time, but he is always behind on production. Q4 in his business creates massive anxiety because of the influx of customers. Q1 also produces anxiety because business drops a ton. He wishes for more stability in production and finances both. Jamison has all these ideas of non-profit projects for kids and toys, and he also wants to teach other artists how to grow a business selling handmade items, but he never has time to get any of it done.
Like many of us, Jamison has plenty of creativity, vision, focus, and momentum to go around. Most entrepreneurs do. What he lacks is planning and control. This is a classic scenario, and the reason why so many people reach for those quick hacks and tricks to change behavior and implement goals. However, the plans and tricks only work in the “right” environment, and the minute something goes awry, like a bad diet, all the attempts at planning and control go out the window.
3. Lacking Momentum & Focus
Will is a talented web designer with a busy agency. He’s known for great design and gets a ton of work from referrals and word of mouth. Will knows that he wants to eventually teach a course on web design, and with every spare minute he has, he’s planning it all out. His team is just waiting for the go ahead to get started, but every time they are about to start, Will thinks of something that needs changing. Consequently, the idea has been collecting dust on the shelf for the past six months because it’s never quite ready to implement.
Will has creativity, vision, planning, and control. What he lacks is momentum and focus. That sense of movement that keeps something in motion. Often driven by fear and perfectionism, Will is more comfortable keeping his dream on paper where he can control it. Where it can’t fail. Momentum would give him the inertia to take action on his plan and see it through to the end. His inability to keep his focus on the next thing he needs to do, means he’s focusing on all the wrong things (the tiny details that make him FEEL like he’s making progress, when he isn’t).
There are two other classic combinations that you might identify with as well.
4. Lacking Vision & Planning
Abigail is a charismatic coach and speaker. She has a bestselling book and an audience in the millions. Everything she puts out makes her money, but she’s not fulfilled. She struggles with feeling “all over the place” and “off brand” and is known for shutting things down randomly. She’ll start a challenge and then never run it again. She’ll start a book and not finish. She hops from idea to idea, and some get off the ground, and some don’t.
Abigail has creativity coming from every angle, but she struggles to see the end goal. The “why” behind it all. Without vision, planning becomes nearly impossible so everything is done last minute and with pieces missing. Because she does have control over her time, she has momentum, and she has focus, her products do launch but they don’t have staying power. They don’t become legacy products because they are either not built correctly or not built with an end vision in mind.
5. Lacking Control & Focus
Harriet owns a franchise. She’s got six coffee shops all over New York City that are super successful. Every time she comes back from her yearly planning retreat with her executive team, she is fired up to implement all the new marketing ideas. Somehow though, within a few weeks of her “State of the Union” address to her team, things have fallen apart. All the plans and ideas are in a half-done mess. Nothing is finished, morale is low, frustration is high.
The problem here is that Harriet is not in control of her time and she isn’t in charge of her focus. Even with her creativity, her vision, her plans, and her momentum, it can’t get done. She comes into a room, gets everyone fired up and excited, but doesn’t have the bandwidth or focus to see the idea to the end. She either has meetings and events to attend to that keep interrupting her, or her focus gets shifted every ten minutes as she puts out fires all over the place.
Where to Go From Here
I hope you’re starting to see how these six foundations work together to create a productive life. In an ideal world, with all six in motion, an entrepreneur has BOTH the freedom and the structure to change the world.
- Creativity is abundant. There is space and freedom to get ideas and let them percolate.
- The vision is set once the idea takes root, and from there…
- Plans are made.
- Because the entrepreneur is in control of their time and their mind, executing on those plans can happen effortlessly.
- This sparks momentum, which gives the project the movement it needs to get done.
- Lastly, the entrepreneur is in charge of his focus, and uses it like a laser at each step in the plan so things get done efficiently and quickly. That creates more momentum along the plan, and before you know it, the idea is now a launched product ready to change the world.