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How Not to Impose Productivity Systems On Others

How Not to Impose Productivity Systems On Others
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    My baby sister visited me this weekend and brought along a stack of homework that I thought was unbelievable: she’s a junior in high school and her task list had something for every class — and projects in most of them. She keeps track of it in a planner that has such small spaces for recording appointments or tasks that I thought my eyes would fall out of my head from squinting so hard.

    So I did what any good big sister interested in productivity would do: I offered to set her up with something a little easier to use. Nothing fancy, of course: I was thinking of introducing her to Remember the Milk. I like RTM for a lot of reasons, although I know a lot of other people have their preferences — the fact that I can use plugins to integrate RTM with both Google Calendar and GMail do a lot for my productivity.

    My sister’s response? An immediate no. She relies on paper, not some fancy online gizmo. She proceeded to explain that she only goes online every couple of days, mostly to check her Hotmail email account. It was like an arrow straight into my Web 2.0-loving heart. Somehow, I survived and suggested that maybe a new planner — a bigger one — might be in order. I even offered a trip to the bookstore. I was again shot down, with a whole list of counter-arguments: she’d have to transfer everything over, she’s used to this particular planner and this planner was free, whereas a new one would cost money.

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    I don’t consider myself some sort of productivity evangelizer; I just think that her system could be improved upon, if only to protect her eyesight. It’s her schoolwork: she’s more than welcome to organize it however she wishes. I managed to keep my advice down to a short suggested reading list and making her promise to consider this whole newfangled internet thing.

    I did start thinking, though, about other situations where a person can be forced to adopt a productivity system that just flat out doesn’t work for her, and how to maybe work around it. It’s happened to me before, and I certainly didn’t like it. One of my past employers required us cubicle-dwellers to use a custom system based on Excel spreadsheets accessible across the network to track not only our ongoing tasks but our time cards, accomplishments and a host of other information. I was the employee who constantly forgot to update the spreadsheets and had to be reminded where to check for a given piece of information on a regular basis. It wasn’t a case of my not having the necessary data — I had everything my manager wanted at any given time — but I didn’t translate it into the company’s system very well. We finally managed to slip into an arrangement where I used my own methods to track my work and then filled out my spreadsheets once a week or so.

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    I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about calendars, task lists and other imposed time tracking and productivity systems (a surprising number of them include required use of Outlook, often in ways it wasn’t intended to be used). Most seem to boil down to the fact that a worker views the ‘productivity’ system as creating hours more work than he otherwise might face. A bad time-tracking system can quickly become as much of an aggravation as a payroll screw up.

    I’ve heard plenty of work-arounds, as well: there was the guy who wrote himself a little piece of software to translate between his employer’s task management system and his own, the girl who just refused to play along at a system that didn’t work for her and the guy who convinced his manager to change the whole company to suit his needs. There were varying degrees of success — the girl who wouldn’t knuckle under to her task manager wound up in a new workplace very quickly.

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    It seems like the best most of us can do with an imposed productivity system is to try our best to make it work for us — and often we can’t do much better than pretending to find it useful. My personal experience shows that most people have to find their own way of implementing time management — whether by adapting GTD to their lives or writing their own handbook. It’s a matter of knowing what solution works for your specific situation. Nobody else will face the exact same time management issues that you do, making your personal touch a necessity when implementing some sort of productivity system.

    For companies or organizations looking to create some sort of time management system, however, there is still hope. Bringing the people who will be using the system in on its planning can avoid a whole list of common problems: micromanagement interfering with work, requirements for recording minutia into the system taking up time that could be better spent on projects or poorly integrated systems that require time to shift between. Whether you’re tracking productivity, or just trying to make it easier for employees to get their work done, the employees will be the only people able to tell you if your system will help or hurt them.

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    And my sister? I managed to convince her to try out GMail since we both agreed that her 2cute4words Hotmail address might not impress college admissions offices.

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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