John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins were the stuff of legend. In their last 12 seasons, they took home 10 NCAA titles, including seven in a row from 1967 to 1973. His UCLA teams also established an incredible 88-game winning streak and four perfect 30-0 seasons. The secret to their success was Wooden’s belief in focusing on fundamental concepts.

In this day and age, people often fall prey to the shining object syndrome, thinking that some new, sneaky strategy is the secret to dominating their opponents or making millions. In fact, from studying from the likes of Dan Kennedy, Tony Robbins and Brendon Burchard (all at the top of their profession), one thing is clear – fundamentals are where it’s at. They form the foundation upon which everything is built. A shaky foundation means that over time, your chances of failing only increase. Just ask ex-billionaire Elizabeth Anne Holmes, the founder and former CEO of the now-defunct Theranos.

Every elite athlete understands the importance of fundamentals. Swimmers swim hundreds of thousands of miles to perfect just four strokes. Martial artists spent hundreds of hours practicing a single move or kick.

It’s the same for learners of a foreign language. It takes months or even years of practicing basic sentences before they stick.

So, the question every business should ask is this – What simple strategies can we employ to boost the productivity of our key performers? I’ve got three.

#1 List It

The concept of a to-do list is nothing new. There’s a good reason that Ivy Lee got paid $25,000 by Charles Schwab back in 1918. Lists work. They allow us to maximize our time each day by analyzing what we need to do and put them in order of priority. And yet, I’m amazed how few people actually work from a list.

I suppose the problem is we think we’re smart enough. That we can get everything done without writing it down. I know I sure did. That is until my wife asked me to go to the store to pick up two things. I hopped on my bike and five minutes later I was walking around the store and guess what? I’d forgotten one.

The sheer amount of information we are being bombarded with today makes it essential we work from a list. Our minds are so busy trying to make sense of it all that it’s so easy to forget something relatively small.

#2 Fax It

This is something that was taught to me many years ago by a mentor of mine. He taught me that when most people ask for help, they aren’t just asking for help, but rather trying to pawn off a task they don’t want to do onto someone else. Worse, they make the tasks seem relatively innocuous with requests such as:

  • “Could you do me a small favor and call so-and-so regarding XYZ?”
  • “Have you got a few minutes to spare?”

Whatever the question they come up with it’s designed to seem like a piece of cake. The problem is once they have gotten you to commit to doing it, you’ll quickly learn what they “conveniently” happened to leave out. I had one person ask me to help them “fix” their translations (I read and write Japanese). I ended up doing everything for them and spending over 4 hours on it. Another person asked me to call their client to explain the situation, only to get roped into a 3-hour meeting.

But that was in my youth. These days I rely on “the fax” technique. Essentially, when people ask for my help with anything, I request to get it in writing. Back in the days that meant sending a fax, today an email will suffice. For every request I am given, I simply say something along the lines of “Sure. I’d be happy to help you with that. If you could just send me over an email explaining everything you need me to do.” Those people who sincerely need your help will do just that. However, the time-wasters or as I like to call them time-vampires will hit back with “Oh, it’s really easy. I can tell you right now.” I simply stick to my guns, “I’m sure it is. I just don’t want to make any mistakes so just shoot me over a quick email.” Using this simple strategy has freed up more time than almost any other technique.  

#3 Pareto It

Economist Vilfredo Pareto back at the turn of the 20th century observed something peculiar. 20% of his pea pods resulted in 80% of the peas. He later discovered that a similar observation could be made regarding the division of land in Italy. Pareto’s principle or as it’s more commonly known, the 80/20 rule, has wide-ranging implications in business and in life. Understanding and implementing its secrets can double or even triple your productivity.

The key to uber-productivity is understanding what the critical 20% are in your position and then working them day in and day out. Sounds easy? Well, yes…and no. Most people seem to attribute the same weight to all their tasks. That’s dead wrong. No matter what your position is or what field you’re in, some tasks carry much more weight than others. It’s your job to figure out what those are and then work on becoming really good at them.