I recently spoke to Erin Falconer about the importance of working smart and other productivity ideas and tips. Falconer is the Editor In Chief and Co-owner of PickTheBrain, one of the most widely ready and well-respected Self Improvement Blogs on the Web. This year, Forbes Magazine listed her blog on the prestigious "Top 100 Most Influential Websites For Women" list. Erin is also the co-founder of LEAF.tv, a brand new lifestyle destination for young women. In the following brief interview, Falconer talks about working smart, the best way to find your flow so that you stay motivated, how to create the right productivity habits, stop procrastinating and ensure you finish what you start.
Dan Schawbel: What is your opinion about working hard versus working smart? How can you best use your time to get the important things done in your life every day?
Erin Falconer: It's the only way to work. Working smart is one of the biggest factors separating those who succeed and those who fail. When you just work hard, often you waste time, which leads to a growing frustration and a diminished motivation. Working smart on the other hand, allows quicker more meaningful results and a sense of accomplishment, conversely increasing motivation. It's a snowball effect.
For me, it's all about planning. I really believe in the mantra: 'People don't plan to fail, they fail to plan.' And this starts for me, right at the beginning of each day. Clearly having a plan for each day, and a specific set of goals to accomplish each day, is how things get done. Every night or every week, I do a full audit of the things that got checked off the list, what didn't, and why they didn't. Really understanding how and why you are getting things done, is the only way to really get things done and move forward.
Schawbel: What's the best way to find your flow so that you stay motivated and can reach your goals?
Falconer: I think this starts at a base level - asking yourself the questions: 'What do I really want?' What makes me happy?' Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to do jobs they completely love their whole life, but you can find joy and inspiration in everything you do - whether it's a simple 9-5 job or your own business. What you have to do is identify what you really want to do and where you want to be in 2, 5 10 years from now, and chip away at that goal day after day - with the knowledge that you're working towards something bigger. The idea here is, that you must have those goals in place though, otherwise you're just floating through life as a passive passenger, rather than an active driver - which is where true motivation comes from.
Schawbel: How do you create the right habits that allow you to be highly productive?
Falconer: Self discipline and the truth.
Again, you have to find something you love in what you're doing - this is the only way to be truly productive. If you can't find it - you either aren't looking hard enough or you need to move on and find something else to do. At a certain point, if you can't find some joy in what you're doing, there's no way to be productive.
Secondly, you have to be very disciplined. You have to create a set of personal goals that you know will make you happy, give you a sense of pride and accomplishment, keep your eye on the ball, and every move you make has to be moving the needle in someway towards accomplishing those goals. There has to be a commitment on your part to always be checking in with yourself and your progress. A commitment to analyze that progress, in an honest way, retool, reconfigure, as needed and then to keep pushing forward.
Schawbel: What are some ways to stop procrastinating and start focusing?
Falconer: I really believe in a 2-plan solution. A written out list or game plan for long term goals and a day to day list (being audited at the end of each week) of things to get done every day - all of which support your long term goals. When you write this stuff down on paper you become instantly accountable. You've either checked things off the list or you haven't. You're responsible. It always amazes me at the end of each week, to be able to see just how much I've actually accomplished. It's those weekly accomplishments that are the essence of motivation.
Schawbel: How do you make sure you always finish what you start?
Falconer: Again, write it down. It's easy to make excuses or put things off when they're floating around your head - but when tasks are staring right back at you from the written page or a computer screen, it's very compelling.