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The Science of Increasing Productivity: The Magic Question

Hello again. Today, we'll be discussing a single question that could potentially help you create dramatically greater success in your career. But before I tell you what that question is, a bit of background: In 1995, I was desperately trying to promote my first book. I worked many hours a day, calling up individual bookstores with little success. At the end of several weeks, I had very few sales to show for all my hard work. Then a friend of mine suggested my efforts might be better spent trying to get on the Oprah Show. Since I wasn't having any success with what I was doing, I thought, "What the heck, it's worth a try." I researched as best I could how to get on Oprah's show. I learned exactly how to pitch her show, and what led to the best chance of success. Then, I sent Oprah my book, along with a pitch letter explaining why my book would make a great basis for a show. Lo and behold, an Oprah producer called me up soon thereafter and told me she loved the idea. It ends up Oprah devoted an entire show based on the material from my book called "Life's Big Questions." Eventually, I got on her show for several books I wrote, and my career as a self-help author became well established.

It's been said that 20% of our efforts at work lead to 80% of our actual results. When trying to become successful in your career, there are two paths you can take. You can work harder, or you can work smarter. Your job is to find that magical 20% of the work you do that leads to the greatest increases in your productivity. Working hard can sometimes be helpful, but it's even more important that you seek out and do the key actions that could really lead to amazing results. After all, no matter how many bookstores I called, I never would have sold as many books as I did by just researching how to get on Oprah's show.

So right now, sit up straight in your chair, take a deep breath, and then let it out with a long, slow sigh.


Open up a document on your computer or get something to write with and answer this simple question: "What action(s) could I take that, if they went well, could lead to a major advancement in my career?" I want you to really contemplate this question, and if possible, come up with many answers. So here's the question again. What actions could I take that, if they went well, could lead to a major advancement in my career?" Even brainstorm unlikely answers such as, "I could marry the boss's son or daughter—or whatever comes to mind." But also include practical answers such as taking a course on marketing, befriending your boss, or coming up with a bold new proposal that gets everyone's attention. Whatever ideas come to you, jot them down. Once you have various ideas written down, then you can evaluate which, if any of them, you hope to pursue.

In reading about people who have risen to the top of their field, I've learned that it's often due to some bold new idea or some very precise skill they learned that set them apart. So I ask you, "What new idea or skill could you come up with that would set you apart in your chosen field?" Once you have something that you think might help, commit to spending time, energy, and money pursuing this idea or skill. You never know when or how your big break may happen, and good fortune favors a prepared mind.

Tomorrow we'll discuss how to become more efficient at getting stuff done by eliminating things that are not a good use of your time.

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Written by

Jonathan Robinson