Join My 2018 Productivity Experiment

December 27, 2017 ​- 33 Comments

Today, I'm turning my usual approach on its head.

What I normally do is test out different tools, systems and ideas in my own business and life and then report here (in articles and videos) what worked and didn't work for me.

Today, I'm inviting you to join me in my role of being a guinea pig for a new idea. I'm sharing a simple tool that I've developed to make me more productive in 2018, so you can start using it as well, right away.

As you'll see, it's perfectly suited for the start of a new year, which is why I wanted to give you the opportunity to join me in a year-long experiment.


Challenges, Focus Skills, Books

If you're a long time reader, you know that developing my personal skills, mindset and ability to focus are at the core of everything I do as an entrepreneur. The best way to succeed in business is to become an extraordinarily focused, gritty and highly skilled individual. And the surest way to fail is to focus on everything but your personal skills.

I already have many systems to track my habits, skill development etc. and for 2018 I'm adding a new tool. Specifically, my goal is to have a clean way to track 3 important aspects of my personal development: challenges, focus skills and books.

The best way to succeed in business is to become an extraordinarily focused, gritty and highly skilled individual. And the surest way to fail is to focus on EVERYTHING BUT those personal skills.

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The most common example of a challenge is a 30-day challenge. A challenge is committing to doing (or not doing) something every day, for a pre-determined amount of time. I like using this approach because it's a great way to build your skills in short bursts and it can help you solidify good habits. Examples of challenges:

  • Spend 1 hour writing copy every day, for 30 days.
  • Reach out to 5 individuals for potential collaborations, partnerships, guest posting,... every day for 30 days.
  • Don't visit your #1 online distraction site (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit,...) for 30 days.
  • Record and publish one video every day, for 30 days.

What's important is that you clearly define the time frame (30 days is good, but feel free to use longer or shorter periods) and that you pick something you have 100% control over. For example, it's up to you to reach out to 5 people every day, but it's not up to you whether any of them will agree to a guest post, podcast appearance or whatever you ask them for. Track the action you take, not the outcome you're hoping for.

Focus Skills

A focus skill is a skill you decide to work on, that doesn't fit the parameters of a challenge. You can think of a focus skill as a reminder to yourself. While challenges are specific things you do every day, a focus skill is a reminder to do something you do anyway, but in a slightly different way. Examples of focus skills:

  • Delegation work: focus on handing off repetitive tasks instead of doing them yourself.
  • Writing hooks: in whatever writing you do (blog posts, emails, copy), focus on developing a strong hook.
  • Distraction free, mindful work: spend as much of your working time as possible being fully focused and not giving in to the urge to check your phone or seek other distractions.

For each focus skill, try to define a clear goal, so that you know when you're "done" and can start a new focus skill. For example, for distraction free work, a goal could be to get to the point where your average deep work session lasts 90 minutes or longer.


For me personally, books have offered the greatest return on investment, both for time and money spent on them. It's hard to imagine what my life would be like without books, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be an entrepreneur. And I'd probably be miserable, too. I read books anyway, but I want to have a clearer view of what I'm reading and how long it takes me to finish the books I read. If you don't already have a reading habit, maybe tracking books you read will help as well.

How to Use the Spreadsheet

If you haven't done so yet, click here to open a read-only view of the tracking tool. It will open in Google Drive/Google Docs. If you use Google Drive, you can create an editable copy of the spreadsheet by creating a copy:

Alternatively, you can download the spreadsheet by using the "Downlad as..." function, further down in the same drop-down.

Next, simply set a reminder to check in and update the spreadsheet once a week. This will work best if you do it at the same time, on the same day of the week, every week.

To a Successful 2018!

I hope you'll be joining me in trying out this tool to keep track of some of the bigger picture actions you take in 2018. I wish you a successful and gratifying 2018 and if this simple tracking tool can contribute a little bit to that, it's done its job.

All the best,

Shane's Signature

P.S.: there's a follow-up to this post. A year after publishing this post about my experiment, I created a follow-up on how it went. Check it out here to see the surprising ways in which this experiment both failed and succeeded.

About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Its a great way to start 2018, and do the important things rather than the urgent ones. Thanks Shane.

    • Thank you, Cheefoo! Good point, yes: it’s important not to let urgent things drag us away from important things.

  • Hi, Shane. I wanted to create something similar myself during the New Year’s holidays and now you’re my Santa. :) It’s exactly what I think that can take my business and life to the next level. Thank you so much for posting this spreadsheet.

  • Thanks for creating and sharing this, Shane! I definitely want to do a better job of tracking the behaviors I want to be doing more often, and this will be very helpful. Thanks again!

  • Thank you for helping me shift focus and streamline. Looking forward to a more effective and consistent year of decision making.

  • JS Ritter says:

    Great idea should be helpful in tracking a broader sense of my activity and identify areas where I need to sharpen my Focus…I have a habit of getting too many irons in the fire, which hurts my productivity for certain. I’m all in!

    • Yes, I really hope this tool helps with focus. I think it’s a typical entrepreneurial thing to always want to do too many things at once. Definitely something I have to manage in myself as well.

  • Great idea for a project management type approach. It forces you to think about where you are wasting your time and where you can improve in order to become more efficient and productive.

  • Thank you for sharing this Shane, I am going to implement this! I was also looking for a simple solution to tracking the bigger picture goals and this weekly check in is a great solution

  • Might I suggest adding one more section?

    • Concerts to see
    • Artists to meet
    • Places to visit
    • Hobbies to try
    • Bucket list things to do now…

    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your comment! Since it’s a spreadsheet, you can add and remove whatever you like. :)

      From your suggestions, places to visit makes sense to me in the context of the spreadsheet and slow traveling. Because I’d be spending at least a month in each place and I could use this to track where I’m spending my time and plan for where else I want to go before the year is up.

      For one-off events like concerts, I’m not sure the spreadsheet will do a great job, though.

  • This is awesome! I am already tracking challenges using Sebastian Marshall‘s spreadsheet, this looks something I can add on to track the focus skills and books.

  • Shane, I can help you with your muscle up goal. Ask Hanne – she can vouch for me! All I need to know is whether you’re trying to do a bar muscle up or ring muscle up. I have a training guide (on a Thrive Themes site) that can help you out. :)

    Also, I love the idea of implementing 30-day challenges. As you’ve mentioned before, I need to make sure I prioritize output and content creation – NOT absorbing more information and chasing shiny objects.

    I’m going to try a 30-min writing session every day for 30 days, then perhaps try one-video-a-day for 30 days. Developing both habits would help my business!

    • Hi Ben,

      Hanne and Dave told me about you. :)

      Thank you for the offer! I’m working on a bar muscle up, simply because I can find a bar pretty much everywhere, but rings are less common. :)

      I think the writing and video challenges sound really good. Great way to build those skills.

  • Hi Shane, how are you?
    When i see you on the Video, i have the feeling that you are no Happy…
    How come?

    Have a good Time


    • Hi Raffaele,

      Thank you for your concern! I’m doing great, actually, so no need to worry. :)

  • By sheer coincidence, I am writing a blogpost about reading more books in the new year. If you permit, I will link to this article, so people can even have more value than “just” the book part.

      • Yes, and you’ll be looking for it in another 20 years. Right now, you’re invincible, youngster that you are!

  • Thanks Shane. I’m a long time customer of Thrive Themes and only just found your podcast. Really enjoying it.

    Thanks for the blog post and spreadsheet. Its so easy to think of a lot of things to do and then get overwhelmed and not do any of them. I like the big picture tracking idea because its only week 2 and I’m already struggling to remember what I’ve done since the year began!

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