The Myth of Productivity Advice
I’ve got Jeffrey Gitomer on the brain, as I’m reading his LITTLE RED BOOK OF SELLING. In one part, he says that lessons on time management are pretty much a waste of time. It’s provocative, sure, but is he right?
Becoming more productive and learning to master the ways in which you spend time are skills, certainly, and can be taught by others, without question. By reading and following the practices laid out in books like GETTING THINGS DONE and reading sites like this one and the others, you are no doubt learning tips, tricks, and workflows that will improve what needs doing in a workday.
But is that the right medicine for the right sickness?
What if the problems that keep you from achieving better success are more in the realm of human interaction? Maybe you’re very abrasive with people, but don’t realize just how badly that’s impacting your life. Perhaps you lack a broad perspective on business, fundamental misgivings about how you fit into the bigger scheme of things around you. There are plenty of other ways in which your success requires something different than productivity skills.
Time Management is a tool. It is a framework. Learning new ways to deliver more of what you’re doing in the same amount of time is useful, but isn’t entirely the end-all solution, unless you are paid for piecework. This brings me to the myth.
Productivity skills alone will not dramatically improve your life.
Scan the last several pages of posts on this site, on Lifehacker, on 43Folders, or any other site devoted to helping you get through life with a little more ease. We are not writing about productivity a great deal of the time. Instead, we write about things we think will be helpful to your day. It might be ways to improve your computer, tricks to aid memorization, thoughts about budget vacations. We develop all angles of what people might be able to use to improve their lives, because through this approach, everyone has the chance to find something with which they connect.
So why are there so many posts and articles and books still devoted to productivity and time management?
Because it’s an easy concept to grasp, fairly easy to implement, and we can measure the results clearly and linearly. Also, because it relates to what we say out loud when we feel exhausted and flustered by all the work still left undone before us. If only I had more time. I have no time to deal with this. If only I could manage this time better, I’d get things done.
I believe this is one of the keys to the mystery. We say: “I need more time.” We mean: I need stronger focus and commitment.
When questioned about how he found enough time to accomplish so much, Gandhi reportedly told people that he had as many hours in the day as any man. Again, it’s all in how we use them. I believe what need addressing more often than not are these: ways to gatekeep our time, and ways to keep our drive and focus.
- If the real work that needs doing is offline, disable the internet for an hour at a time.
- Turn email checks into an hourly habit, not an “as the box gets mail” habit.
- Don’t answer your cell phone when working on something important. Call back later.
- If you can’t work at work, negotiate finding a new place to get things done.
- Television means: “I don’t need this time and it doesn’t matter to me.” (Almost always. Really.)
- Bugdet your entertainment time vs. production time. Never cheat the other.
- Examine every opportunity along the lines of time vs. projects already underway.
- Try working part of your day in “off-hour” times, to get more done with fewer people around.
Drive and Focus Tips
- Write your goals clearly. Post them in eyeball view of where you work most.
- Spend time with focused people. Meet and befriend those who are where you want to be.
- Consume as much material about your prime focus as you can budget.
- Analyze your past experiences. Be clear. List your successes. Examine your failures.
- Stay true to a particular vision of what you want to do.
- Don’t give up too early.
- Envision your success. Write about it. Then read that daily or weekly.
- Learn how to “chunk.” Hit each milestone and move to the next. Be methodical.
- Develop habits around success and drive.
- Recharge your batteries with good sleep and food.
- Develop your relationship with your family. It nourishes the other goals.
I think that the majority of folks reading post about productivity are just reaching around for new tools to add to their toolbox of ways they get things accomplished, but there’s a subset that thinks: if only… If only I could learn how to better manage my time, things would be better. If you’re of the second mindset, this article is aimed strongly in your direction.
Stop. Look at your world. Consider all the ways in which you’re using your time. Think about taking a time audit. But also, consider the fact that your needs might not be in the realm of productivity. Instead, you might need to work harder on your commitment to your goals, your habits, and the ways in which the structure of your day supports or detracts from your intentions. This might make a world of difference in your chances for being successful in whatever you set out to accomplish.
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