Just as salespeople might have monthly sales quotas to meet, you can apply the concept of quotas to your personal productivity as well. I use this technique often and have found it highly effective for certain types of projects. Here’s how it works:
For each project you want to tackle tomorrow, set a minimum output goal. The goal must be measurable. I usually use time as the unit of measurement because I can always measure the time you invest in a project, but I might not be able to clearly and consistently measure any other aspects. Also using time as the measurement factor makes it easier to plan my day.
For example, I have a daily quota of writing of 4 hours per day. This is for a book I’m writing — blogging or writing articles doesn’t count. So every week I’m doing a minimum of 28 hours of work just on the book. I could also have used a minimum number of words or pages per day for my quota, but I like doing it by time best, since a large part of writing includes research, outlining, brainstorming, editing, and other tasks aside from merely cranking out text. I find my daily quotas highly effective at keeping me moving this project forward. I also put a restriction on myself that I never check email until after I’ve hit the quota. Most days I’ve reached it by noon, sometimes by 10am. The nice thing about having a daily quota for this type of project is that I know that if I simply meet my quota every day, the book will eventually ship. Guaranteed.
Using quotas is similar to timeboxing, but with timeboxing you’re only dealing with a single box of time all at once. With quotas you can split up the time investment throughout the day. And you can also use a measurement factor other than time if you find it appropriate.
You can also use maximum quotas when you want to limit the amount of time you spend on certain activities. For example, you could set a maximum quota on the time you spend web surfing, watching TV, or reading forums.
I’m sure you can think of many other ways to use quotas in your life. If you have a clogged inbox, you could set a quota of clearing out 10-20 emails per day until your inbox is empty. If you have a messy filing cabinet, you could set a quota of updating 5-10 files per day. Quotas work best when you use them every day (or every weekday), and you make the target highly controllable. This is why I like basing it on time, since all I have to do is put in the time, regardless of how creative I’m feeling and how productive I am that particular day.
How can you use quotas in your own life to fast-track a slow-moving project?