9 Bulletproof Self-Improvement Techniques

Illustration of a man watering a garden, on top of another man's head

Which self-improvement techniques will make a noticeable difference in your work output? How can you work on yourself in ways that increase your personal productivity? Are you using (or even aware of) the best self-growth techniques for bettering yourself as a professional?

Remember, you only have 8,760 hours in the year. How will you spend them to get the most productivity, pride, health, wealth, and happiness?

Time-management is the best-kept secret of the rich.

Jim Rohn

1) Getting Things Done

David Allen’s popular self-improvement system helps people simplify their goals and get to work.

If you’re like me, you love work-related tasks that feel productive but eat up time and energy. Indulge in these low-priority activities only when you’re overwhelmed by big projects.

You can’t go full-speed all the time, or you’ll burn out. However, you won’t get anywhere without taking on meaningful work. You need to smooth out your overwork/underwork cycles.

If you’re wondering how to better yourself (and your work/life balance), remember to block off time on your calendar and follow through on your promises.

Give yourself that break you planned.

Take time to listen to music, follow your passion, or just take a walk.

Use time-saving measures like food delivery, online shopping, and Uber/Lyft rides to turn your “running errands” time into work/passion time.

Most of all, be patient with yourself.

Set concrete goals you can achieve with a little time to spare. In that extra time at the end of your time block, squeeze in one or two low-priority tasks. Then, use (some of) your break time to feed your long-term, non-work ambitions.

Remember, the break time you dedicate to your passion can eventually add up to mastery!

Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax.

David Allen

2) The 2-Minute Rule

You can tackle massive to-do lists and create healthy habits with David Allen’s 2-Minute Rule.

Look at your task list. As soon as you identify an item that will take less than two minutes to complete, do it. Don’t keep looking at your list, wondering what to do next. Avoid “analysis paralysis” and do something right away.

Next, examine your larger goals.

Pick one (hopefully a high-priority task) and determine a first step you can take in 2 minutes.

This technique works extremely well for habit-forming. For example, I once worked as a piano teacher. When people asked me how long to practice, I would say 1 minute a day – but do it every, every day. Kids and parents alike looked at me like I was crazy.

The trick is this: I know how hard it is to start and maintain habits. I also know that no one sits at the piano for one minute and gets up. They feel like playing a little longer than their goal.

Most importantly, people who follow this method always stand up from the piano bench feeling proud. They practiced longer than the minimum they set.

Give it a shot and see what habits you can create by taking these tiny first steps!

Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.

Jonathan Kozol

3) Form/Join a Mastermind Group

First introduced by Napoleon Hill in his classic Think and Grow Rich, the mastermind group idea has become a self-improvement standby.

By meeting on a regular basis and sharing your progress with others, you can get the feedback, contacts, and resources you need to get ahead. For entrepreneurs and small business owners, these meetings represent a rare opportunity to talk with true peers and colleagues facing similar challenges.

If you decide to create a mastermind group, consider many factors before sending out your invitations.

Successful groups can stay together for years—and even decades—so make your plans with care.

Think about your members’ experience in business, the size of their companies, and their number of employees. Determine if you want to group up with people in a specific niche or gain perspectives from across various industries. You may want to designate a leader, have a rotating president position, or create a hybrid of these approaches.

Most of all, consider whether or not you plan to meet in person.

Online meetings can give you more flexibility (and access to out-of-town members).

However, you may prefer the intimacy (and privacy) of meeting face-to-face with your mastermind group.

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Jim Rohn

4) Create a Junto Club

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin describes his Junto Club, a “club of mutual improvement”.

Much like mastermind groups (but less formal), Junto Clubs focus on the overall development of their members. In these safe spaces, members discuss business, life, politics, the meaning of success, mortality, and many other topics.

When forming a Junto Club for the purposes of self-improvement, don’t simply invite your closest friends out for a beer and some chit-chat.

Think about the qualities you want in group members, such as diversity, congeniality, humility, and confidence. Yes, someone can be both humble and confident; the best among us keenly balance these virtues.

Who is wise? He that learns from everyone.
Who is powerful? He that governs his passions.
Who is rich? He that is content.
Who is that? Nobody.

– Benjamin Franklin

5) Pomodoro for Procrastination

A modern classic, the Pomodoro Technique can help you structure your work/break time simply and effectively.

Once upon a time, Francesco Cirillo (“tomato” in Italian) used a popular tomato-shaped kitchen timer to manage his study time. He named the method he discovered after his timer – and became a time-management superstar.

Today, Toggl provides an Online Pomodoro Timer that also tracks your time and helps you create time-analysis reports.

You can fight procrastination with a Pomodoro timer by committing to work for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break. Some self-improvement gurus suggest variants on this system, so feel free to experiment a bit and find what works for you.

Many people this system of manageable work times and short breaks (repeated many times before a larger break) creates the right amounts of work, play, structure, and freedom.

One day we will be more creative, more productive and yet more relaxed.
Unleash Innovation!

Francesco Cirillo

6) Track Your Productive Work Hours

You do much of your most productive during specific parts of your day (and your week).

Use Toggl time-tracking reports to identify peak-performance periods for you and your team. Once you’ve determined your best, most-golden work hours, protect them by strategically blocking off your time.

Time management means self-awareness. You don’t have to be a hero, working at top efficiency and productivity during every second of work time.

Human beings don’t work that way. Some of us work best in the mornings; others have lots of energy right after lunch. Some of us work hard just before 5 pm; others stay late and work in quiet evening offices.

Watch out for office patterns. Some of your team members work well on Monday mornings, and others take hours to ramp up their motivation. Certain people work well before weekends and holidays; many lose productivity in anticipation of time off.

Get the right data, run time-tracking reports, and accept this fact: productivity and motivation ebb and flow.

  • The question is: how will you manage it?
  • Will you assign intense tasks to high-productivity times-of-day?
  • Will you choose low-priority tasks for your team just before holidays?

Take the time to learn about yourself (and your employees).

You’ll stop swimming upstream.

You won’t force people to work hard at the wrong times.

You’ll increase your productivity by demanding less forced effort from yourself and your team.

Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action; rather, it is “timing.”
It waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles and in the right way.

― Fulton J. Sheen

7) Set Smart Goals

You can use the classic SMART Goals system to better yourself—and your team—in 2018:

  • Specific – Break large, long-term goals into small, actionable steps.
  • Measurable – Build trust by allowing people to demonstrate their success.
  • Attainable – Set goals within people’s skill sets and capabilities.
  • Relevant – Keep your goals in alignment with your corporate mission.
  • Time-Bound – Set an appropriate deadline for each specific goal.

Of course, management experts differ on the value of SMART Goals. In particular, they often feel the Attainable facet of this system hold people back and discourages risk-taking. When setting goals for 2018, take care to differentiate between long- and short-term goals.

I appreciate the wisdom of HARD Goals for strategic planning, but not task-based work. Personal development involves slow, steady progress.

Pushing yourself beyond your limits in the hopes of increasing your productivity in 2018 could end in a mid-January crash.

Dream big.

Set incredible yearly goals that stretch your definition of what’s possible.

However, set daily productivity targets that suit you where you are today, not where you hope to be in a year.

Don’t change anything right away. Instead, track your time for a few days (or a few weeks).

Create and analyze time reports and identify your current productivity range.

  • For example, does your team do 4 hours of intense, focused work in an 8-hour day?
  • Do you see productivity spikes on Tuesday afternoons or Thursday mornings?

Once you know your current productivity level and schedule, set attainable productivity targets. Increase your expectations by 10%. Add in another 30 minutes of productive work time before lunch on Thursday. Ask your team to stay late on Tuesday afternoon and come in late on Wednesday morning.

SMART Goals mean more than just a snappy mnemonic device; you must set smart targets.

Grow steadily toward your goals throughout 2018. Stay on target the entire year by slowly raising your expectations. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish by giving yourself time to expand your capacity. Self-improvement is slow improvement over days and fast improvement over months and years.

The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.

Leo Tolstoy

8) Take Mindful Action

Self-improvement doesn’t have to mean pushing yourself to greater (and often unsustainable) productivity. You need to bring calm, steady mindfulness into every action you take. Squeezing more productivity out of every minute might seem like a good idea; however, it’s also a recipe for overwhelm and burnout.

Of course, taking quality breaks can return you to a state of mindfulness after a busy work session.

Quality breaks have more substance than “get food and binge-watch Netflix” sessions.

  • Go for a quiet walk in the woods.
  • Get up from your desk, look out the window, and pay attention to your breathing.
  • Create something, practice an instrument, or turn on some music and dance.
  • Develop a personal development routine that involves healthy activities – not just a “work hard all the time” mentality.

However, you want to feel good all the time, do you? You don’t want to feel over-stressed and use your break/weekend/vacation time just to recuperate, right?

Instead of simply taking mindful breaks, make your work time peaceful and empowering.

Be that chef who stays calm in the midst of a chaotic dinner-rush kitchen. Sit at your desk and work, not thinking about what you’ll do when you get done – but how good it feels to do the job you do.

Stock cans at the grocery store, paying attention to the little physical efficiencies of your work – and the beauty of each completed display.

Self-improvement means constant calm, not unpredictable swings between motivation and laziness.

No matter your profession (or area of study), breathe. Don’t hold back your energy, waiting for a future time of enjoyment after work. Don’t regret the past, and the events that led to your current situation. Simply breathe. Feel the pleasure of a full, honest, open breath. Feel your hands and body as they make the world a better place. Watch your mind going about its work, guiding your efforts with the least possible amount of critical thinking.

Work mindfully, avoid over-thinking, and save up your mental/emotional resources for the most difficult times. With practice, you can handle yourself in any situation – and feel as good working as you do during your off hours!

The past has no power over the present moment.

― Eckhart Tolle

9) Master your Time Management

As you may have noticed, many of the top self-improvement methods involve making the most of your time.

More than anything, managing your time (and your team’s work hours) means two things: getting the right data and not spending too much time managing your time.

Toggl’s time-tracking software integrates into over 85 popular productivity platforms like Gmail, Asana, Google Calendar, and Trello.

Create reports in seconds and identify your most productive times of the day (and week).

Learn how you (and your team) can tweak your workflows. Learn the right self-improvement skills and get the most out of every minute in 2018!

January 3, 2018