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How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip

How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip
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It may have come as a shock. As a college graduate, you entered the workforce to discover that your new colleagues are… well… a bit slow.

Not that they aren’t smart. They have the credentials and the experience to prove they are an impressive bunch. It’s just that they have become accustomed to a slower pace of working that, compared to what you just left behind at college, is leaving you bored.

People tell you to “be patient” and that you have to “spend time learning the ropes.” Of course they are right, but does it have to happen so slowly that you lose interest and start to fill your life with other interests?

Relax for just a moment. There is a way out. You don’t have to force yourself to adapt to a style of work that resembles elementary school rather than college.

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Step 1: Own Your Type A Tendencies

In a recent article here on Lifehack, I gave some good reasons to own the productive side of Type-A tendencies. If you have some of these traits, you are probably organized, time conscious, internally demanding, driven, and likely to commit to more than you can comfortable handle.

Even though people around you (especially at work) cannot understand your Type A productive behaviors, it’s OK… you are different. Own this fact and move on to the next step. It’s good news.

Step 2: Stop Winging It

Your ability to push yourself hard, while ignoring adverse symptoms such as physical and mental fatigue, is a plus. However, it needs to be harnessed in the right way as to not waste a single, precious ounce of motivation.

Like lots of other Type A individuals, you chase down tips, tricks, and shortcuts, as long as they promise a scintilla of improvement. You are a veritable expert compared to the average person in the office who probably couldn’t care less.

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However, there is a more efficient method. Instead, establish a baseline for your current, core practices and a custom plan for steady, continuous improvement. The idea is to pour your improvement energy into the  handful of areas that will yield the greatest improvement, rather than directing it at random at the latest idea in a flashy infographic, cool video, or listicle. The result will be more progress for less effort in a shorter time. It’s the difference between following a custom improvement plan that fits your existing habits, practices, and rituals, rather than something generic.

Step 3: Follow The Pathway To Managing More Tasks

The most important tasks for Type A individuals are those which are self-generated. They are called “time demands,” and each one is an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future.

Research shows there is a path that must be followed in order to deal with an increase in time demands, much in the same way that you might upgrade the engine of your car in order to achieve faster speeds. Here’s a summary in a nutshell.

You can probably remember being a preteen who managed time demands using your memory, but at some point, like most Type A individuals, you graduated to using written lists. If you attended college, however, and faced an even bigger time crunch, it’s likely that you switched over (or tried to switch over) to using a calendar to manage all your non-habitual tasks.

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Unfortunately, you may have realized the hard truth: it’s hard to keep such a calendar viable. Even if you kept it on a smartphone, it was still difficult because inevitable, daily disruptions made the ambition impossible. (A few people do power through, teaching themselves the custom habits required, but most quit somewhere along the way.)

However, once you graduated and joined the workforce, you discovered that some of your colleagues didn’t even keep a written list — they were back to using their memories to manage time demands… just like kids do. At that point, like all recent college graduates, you had a choice.

When your new colleagues asked you “Why are you working so hard?” in a tone that was a bit unfriendly, did you buckle to peer pressure and delete your calendar and To-Do list, joining the “Hakuna Matata” club of memory users? Or did you resist?

Thankfully, downgrading your capacity isn’t the only feasible choice. Your colleagues have just forgotten what it’s like to willingly put oneself under high pressure. Instead of limiting or slowing down the time demands you create, like they do, keep on creating just as many. You’ll still have the problem you had before, but the good news is that there are better tools available to help be as productive as you want to be.

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Remember that problem you had of trying to put all your time demands in a single calendar? Well, there is a new class of tools that’s tailor-made for Type A individuals who routinely create lots and lots of tasks… far more than can be fit in a day or a week.

These tools are called “auto-schedulers.” Back in the 1970s, a few programmers had the idea that you could use computing power to reschedule your tasks. It was an impossible dream at the time and the first attempts were quite limited. Now, recent advances in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and the existence of multiple calendars on platforms like Outlook and Google are changing the game for Type A personalities.

Last year, Lifehack.org covered Timeful, one of the first of these apps, just before it was purchased by Google in a deal worth several million dollars. They immediately took it off the market. I use an app that’s in Beta called SkedPal, and it’s one of a few emerging programs that do the same thing — allow you to get over that problem you faced trying to schedule everything. SkedPal and other apps do the job for you.

Now, as a Type A personality, you have the tools to manage a dramatically increased number of tasks. Instead of lowering your capacity just to fit in, you can prepare yourself for what is likely to come: marriage, owning a home, managing your finances, and having children. Plus promotions at work as you climb the career ladder.

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At the moment, you are in the post-graduation dip, but it won’t last forever. Rather than dipping like everyone else, stay as productive as you want to be using this new kind of app, while preparing yourself for the future. Others may not understand, but that’s OK — these three steps aren’t meant for them. They are meant for you, and match your high energy and extraordinary commitment.

Featured photo credit: picjumbo.com via picjumbo.com

More by this author

Francis Wade

Author, Management Consultant

The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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