7 Tips for Achieving Your Goals From a Productivity Expert

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The beginning of a new year is quickly approaching, which makes now the perfect time to take stock of your priorities and set goals for your future. Setting goals helps you focus your attention, get more done, and change your life. Robert Pozen, MIT professor and author of Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, shares his top tips for honing in on your goals—be they to live a healthier lifestyle, advance in your career, or prioritize your relationships—and seeing them through to fruition.


Just brainstorming your goals isn’t enough—you need to write them down. To give you one place to organize and categorize your goals, Pozen partnered with the Wall Street Journal to create the Productivity Planner for their Journal Collection. “If you don’t write down your goals and prioritize them, you are not likely to achieve them,” Pozen writes in the foreword to his Productivity Planner.

“Begin by jotting down all your goals for the next year, both personal and professional,” Pozen writes. “Use your notebook to then divide both sets of goals into ‘high priority’ and ‘secondary priority.’” The planner then helps you translate your goals into monthly objectives, and uses a two-sided schedule to help you manage your time. For every appointment you pencil in to your planner (meetings, phone calls, lunches, etc.), you also provide its purpose, or what you want to get out of it. “This will help you actively manage your day,” Pozen writes.


Pozen’s Productivity Planner starts by asking you to list your yearly goals, but coming up with these can seem like a monumental task, especially when you’re young. “Start with your goals for a relatively short period—like the summer or a semester,” Pozen tells mental_floss in an email. “Those periods are easier to see as relevant.”

Once you have your list of goals, “divide your goals into personal and professional,” Pozen says. “When you think about personal goals, start with the easy ones such as what type of social life would you like to have? When you think about your professional goals, similarly, start with something like what new skill would you like to develop?”


“It is often easier to think about your professional goals because most people have an idea of a career path,” Pozen says. “Do you want to advance to a higher level in your current organization, or get a job someplace else? Do you need to go to a short training course or get a new degree or simply do a lot more networking? In this process, you can consult a colleague at work or a professional mentor.”

Personal goals often get the short shrift since it’s more difficult to nail down what it is you want and how to get there, but they shouldn’t be neglected. “When you try to generate personal goals, you should try to think through your daily life and needs. If you are single, do you want to meet a girlfriend or boyfriend? If you are married, do you want to have children?” Pozen says. “Then you might focus on your free time. Do you want to become better at playing a physical sport or start a new hobby or go on a special vacation? In this process, you can consult your partner or a friend.”


Pozen recommends you live by the principle OHIO: Only Handle It Once. “OHIO means that it is most efficient to deal with important matters right then and there, instead of waiting a week,” Pozen says. “If you wait a week, you may forget the important matter or it may take you a hour to get back up to speed. So if you receive an important email from your boss, only handle it once—answer it right then and there.”


You need a solid seven hours of rest for more than just your beauty. “Without enough sleep, your performance will decline on complex tasks without you even realizing,” Pozen writes in the Productivity Planner.

Without a doubt, this is something you’ve heard before. But it can feel impossible to put in the hours you need at work, get your chores and errands done, exercise, eat dinner, and hit the hay at a decent hour. While Pozen notes that there are tricks you can try to fit more in—“routinizing low priority tasks like eating breakfast, trying not to procrastinate by getting started with an easy part of a large project, and limiting meetings to 90 minutes at the most”—the most important thing you can do is de-emphasize the number of hours you’re putting in at the office. “The key points are to set your priorities and focus on getting them done, rather than just staying long hours at work—that is a false sense of productivity,” Pozen tells mental_floss.


“Devote at least 15 minutes each day to exercise,” Pozen writes in his planner. This will help you feel more alert and eager to tackle the day. But again, how do you fit this time into your busy schedule? “You should try to exercise in the middle of the afternoon when your energy is low – that will help you be more energetic and productive for the rest of the day,” Pozen tells mental_floss. Moreover, an afternoon workout won’t cut into your dinner prep or sleeping time.


To increase your productivity and work more efficiently, Pozen recommends making five easy changes to your daily routine—right now.

1. Get prepared the night before so in the morning you can quickly dress, eat a standard breakfast, and leave for work. 2. Use a two-sided schedule where you list your appointments on the left and what you want to get out of them on the right. 3. Don’t call a meeting unless you need to discuss something and keep all meetings to 90 minutes at the maximum. 4. Skip over two thirds of your email—you can tell they are not worth reading by the subject matter and sender. 5. Think about your purpose before reading anything, then read the intro and conclusions to decide if you need to read more.