If you’re anything like me you have a list of tasks a mile long you need to complete. This list might exist in your email, your calendar, or possibly even just a piece of paper you’ve scribbled things down on. Bottom line, you have tasks. I have a secret to share with you. The ultimate productivity tool.
Did I get your attention? Here it is. You. That’s right. The ultimate resource at your disposal for getting things done is quite simply yourself. Why is it then so difficult to get things done and to be productive? Why do we spend so much time searching for the perfect app or the perfect tool to do the job? We seem to hope as if by some miracle we’ll find the project management tool that organizes things perfectly! (and even do the work for us)
Procrastinating Is Easy
I have found myself doing the same thing. Procrastinating but pretending I’m actually doing something useful. Productivity means not procrastinating. Sounds simple but as humans we’re extremely good at fooling ourselves. (Sometimes it seems we only fool ourselves). We procrastinate by claiming we’re looking for a better tool. Again, the tool is not going to get the job done for you. The tool merely organizes information.
Of course you need to use tools and you need to be organized and yes, there are different tools with different focuses, but if you spend all your time looking for a different tool which will help you more you’ll never get anything done.
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: Don’t spend more than 30 minutes looking for a new tool. If you can’t uncover something better than what you’re currently using in 30 minutes stop looking and get back to working. You can always look again later.
Busy Does Not Mean Productive
We tend to trick ourselves into thinking if we’re doing something…doing anything…then we’re busy and we’re productive. In reality being busy is not productive. I often think the more I’m doing the less productive I actually am. Shouldn’t the most productive person be the one who does the least because when they do work they work efficiently and quickly? A productive person will be busy in short bursts rather than live in a continual state of busyness.
If you’re busy look at what is making you busy. Are you busy doing tasks or are you busy looking busy? If you’re busy doing tasks are you working smart? It takes thought to make sure you’re doing the right tasks and working effectively.
Practical application: Break your work time into distinct blocks of time and take breaks. Force yourself to stop and step away and come back. The goal is to get your mind disengaged and then re-engaged when you return. You want to make your time productive and work in short bursts of high efficiency instead of a continually busy frame of mind.
Don’t Chase Rabbits
There’s a number of other reasons why working in shorter time periods is smart. We’ve touched on one already. A second reason is the infamous rabbit trail. For me all it takes is a look up from my computer screen and I find myself hundreds of miles away and thinking about some completely random and totally unrelated topic. If you sit at your desk all day and never take a break you’re encouraging yourself to let your mind wander. Your brain needs breaks. If you don’t plan for breaks in activity then your brain will take its own break whenever it pleases.
There are numerous studies which outline the attention span for humans. And no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise – you need breaks. The key is not to try and fight the mental rabbit trails but to control when and where they occur. Enjoy the daydreaming. Great things can happen when you let your mind wander.
Practical application: Don’t attempt to keep your mind from wandering, instead try to keep your day dreaming to those times you have set aside as breaks. Stay focused on your tasks while you’re in your work block of time. If something drifts across your mind, write it down so you’ll remember it for later. Then get back to work. When your breaks do come, change your scenery (get up), change your posture (move around), and change your mind (chase those rabbits).
The last productivity tip we’ll talk about is doing versus talking. Of course planning is important and you must be thoughtful about what you do. But this does not mean you should spend your entire time discussing your options or reviewing every possible outcome. If you spend all your time analyzing and debating your course of action, you’ll never have a course of action. It’s a balancing act between discussing and doing. (I wrote about these two roles in a separate blog here.)
When you find your time being spent discussing and debating every task and the way each task should be completed; it’s time for a change. (Keep in mind the talking can be just with yourself!) Stop talking and start doing. Even if you find out later there’s a better way you could have done the task. The goal is progress (forward progress).
Practical application: Keep a close eye on the time you spend between discussing the task and doing the task. If you start to elaborate too much or plan for every possible unknown then force yourself to pick a path and start work. Don’t lose time worrying over each and every decision. You can always make changes later.
Here’s the bottom line.
Most of us already know what it takes to be productive. We understand the steps necessary to get things done and we absolutely know the importance of using our time wisely. What we often fail at is implementing and following what we know. Hopefully these productivity tips will help affirm what you already know and encourage you to re-examine your workflow. It’s not the tool or the app which will make you successful and productive. It’s you.
Remember we’re all in this together.