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Personal Productivity in the 21st Century

Personal Productivity in the 21st Century
Knowledge Worker

What does it mean to be productive? The “gurus” have given us a few ideas — it means to “get things done”, to be “highly effective”, to know who it was, exactly, who moved your cheese. What things, effective at what, and who is bringing cheese to work anyway are questions that these books don’t — and can’t — answer.

There’s something profoundly old-fashioned about much of our productivity literature today. I’ll admit — I’m quite a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, but there are aspects of his work and his philosophy that bug me, that hearken back to the Industrial Psychology of the early 20th century. Whenever he talks about “cranking widgets”, I can’t help but see in my mind Charlie Chaplin the Modern Times haplessly wielding a wrench against an ever-increasing onslaught of bolts that need tightening. And from there, I’m led inevitably to the famous image of Chaplin being dragged through the cogs and wheels of the machine — a fitting metaphor for how many people feel when they try to put all Allen’s ideas into practice.

The others — Covey, Drucker, and the flood of personal development books aimed at managers and executives that fill the business shelf at Borders — bring to mind the business world of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. I see Covey and my mind flips to Darren Stephens heading off to work at the ad agency, or men with hats whistling at the pretty girls in the secretarial pool in some madcap ’50s comedy. I see ZIg Ziglar’s books on the shelf (tons of them!) and imagine Willy Loman out there on the road, desperate for one more sale.

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The productivity gurus of the last century seem to be describing a world where water coolers and coffee breaks still rule, where the non-smokers are the outcasts, where short-sleeved white shirts are matched with white, chest-length ties and topped off with neatly parted hair. They’re not describing worlds I’m familiar with — they’re not describing worlds I suspect most of us are familiar with.

The 21st Century Worker

While I’m sure there are still Old School corporate executives out there, and boiler room salesmen, and more than a few factory workers (though they’re rare in the US, where less than 10% of our working population is involved in production), the professional of today isn’t likely to be any of those. Work in the Western world has been redefined as knowledge work — the production of ideas, not goods. We’re paid to think, not make.

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What does that mean in terms of productivity? In the 20th century, a worker’s productivity was measured in terms of how many widgets s/he cranked in a day, an hour — even a minute. Employers set up cameras and filmed workers at their machines, allowing them to time the steps taken to complete a task down to 1/28th of a second (most of the early development of film-making technology came from manufacturers, not artists). How do you measure the generation of ideas? How do you reduce thinking to a widget you can crank?

The answer, of course, is that you can’t. Which is why, I think, so many people balk at much of the advice offered by the likes of Allen, Covey, Drucker, and the lesser luminaries of the personal productivity world — and why creative people tend to be especially suspicious of their systems. It seems unnatural to, say, schedule a block of time when we can think uninterrupted — ideas tend not to respect our schedules very much.

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It’s why, too, the idea of writing things down when they occur to us and following them up during our scheduled processing time also puts many people off — when we get a really good idea, we want to follow up on it now. Even if that means putting off whatever work’s in front of us.

Getting Creativity Done

There is a place in even the most creative person’s life for the kind of discipline offered by the systems of the productivity gurus. In fact, I’d say that a lot of us need those systems even more than the executives and managers that they’re aimed at. Getting places on time, forcing ourselves to handle our household necessities, keeping on top of our income and outlay — these are things that don’t come naturally to a lot of creative people, and following a productivity system can make that part of our lives a lot easier — which should in theory help us free up more time and energy for doing the creative stuff that gets us going.

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But I think there’s also an empty space, a lacuna (a favorite word of mine that I almost never get to use!) that we need to deal with. How can we keep our schedules rigid enough that we know what we need to do when we need to do it, but flexible enough that we can focus on the things that feed our passion? How can we educate the people around us who see us sitting in our office (or den, or on a bench at the park) staring into space and think we’re goofing off, so that they understand that this still time is part of our work — the most important part of our work? How can we break free from the economic model that posits time as a spendable thing, and measures only successful outcomes — when we learn most from the failures?

Tomorrow, we’re posting an interview of Guy Kawasaki, a man I agree with totally about 50% of the time (and the other 50% of the time utterly disagree with). In the interview, Guy says “People should stop looking for grails and start looking for personal enlightenment.” What he means — or what I mean when I quote him — is that the idea that there needs to be a financial payoff to every idea, the idea that the “return” is more important than the “investment”, all too often keeps us from pouring ourselves into things that we don’t see any way to measure. And yet those are the things that are the things we should be most willing to invest ourselves in: family, friendship, beauty, truth, trust, community — enlightenment.

So what’s the answer? Where’s the “hack”? To be honest, I don’t know. I have infinitely more questions than solutions right now. But this month, I’ve asked our writers (including myself) to take on some of the issues I’m raising here. I’ve asked them to consider what’s missing in the productivity systems we have today, and what have we missed in them that’s especially valuable? Stay tuned throughout the month as we explore these issues, and feel free to bring up your own questions — and your own solutions — in the comments.

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Last Updated on October 30, 2018

How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now

How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now

Who needs Tony Robbins when you can motivate yourself? Overcoming the emotional hurdle to get stuff done when you’d rather sit on the couch isn’t always easy. But unless calling in sick and waking up at noon have no consequences for you, it’s often a must.

For those of you who never procrastinate, distract yourself or drag your feet when you should be doing something important, well done so far! But for the rest of you, it’s good to have a library of motivational boosters to move along.

Whether you’re starting a buisiness, trying to los weight or breaking a bad habit, you’ll learn how to motivate yourself with different techniques in this article.

13 Simple Ways to Motivate Yourself Right Now

Despite your best efforts, passion, habits and a flow-producing environment can fail. In that case, it’s time to find whatever emotional pump-up you can use to get started:

1. Go back to “why”

Focusing on a dull task doesn’t make it any more attractive. Zooming out and asking yourself why you are bothering in the first place will make it more appealing.

If you can’t figure out why, then there’s a good chance you shouldn’t bother with it in the first place.

2. Go for five

Start working for five minutes. Often that little push will be enough to get you going.

3. Move around

Get your body moving as you would if you were extremely motivated to do something. This ‘faking it’ approach to motivation may seem silly or crude but it works.

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4. Find the next step

If it seems impossible to work on a project for you, you can try to focus on the next immediate step.

Fighting an amorphous blob of work will only cause procrastination. Chunk it up so that it becomes manageable. Learn how to stop procrastinating in this guide.

5. Find your itch

What is keeping you from working? Don’t let the itch continue without isolating it and removing the problem.

Are you unmotivated because you feel overwhelmed, tired, afraid, bored, restless or angry? Maybe it is because you aren’t sure you have time or delegated tasks haven’t been finished yet?

6. Deconstruct your fears

I’m sure you don’t have a phobia about getting stuff done. But at the same time, hidden fears or anxieties can keep you from getting real work completed.

Isolate the unknowns and make yourself confident, you can handle the worst case scenario.

7. Get a partner

Find someone who will motivate you when you’re feeling lazy. I have a friend I go to the gym with. Besides spotting weight, having a friend can help motivate you to work hard when you’d normally quit.

8. Kickstart your day

Plan out tomorrow. Get up early and place all the important things early in the morning. Building momentum early in the day can usually carry you forward far later.

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Having a morning routine is a good idea for you to stay motivated!

9. Read books

Read not just self-help or motivational books but any book that has new ideas. New ideas get your mental gears turning and can build motivation. Here’re more reasons to read every day.

Learning new ideas puts your brain in motion so it requires less time to speed up to your tasks.

10. Get the right tools

Your environment can have a profound effect on your enthusiasm. Computers that are too slow, inefficient applications or a vehicle that breaks down constantly can kill your motivation.

Building motivation is almost as important as avoiding the traps that can stop it.

11. Be careful with the small problems

The worst killer of motivation is facing a seemingly small problem that creates endless frustration.

Reframe little problems that must be fixed as bigger ones or they will kill any drive you have.

12. Develop a mantra

Find a few statements that focus your mind and motivate you. It doesn’t matter whether they are pulled from a tacky motivational poster or just a few words to tell you what to do.

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If you aren’t sure where to start, a good personal mantra is “Do it now!” You can find more here too: 7 Empowering Affirmations That Will Help You Be Mentally Strong

13. Build on success

Success creates success. When you’ve just won, it is easy to feel motivated about almost anything. Emotions tend not to be situation specific, so a small win, whether it is a compliment from a colleague or finishing two thirds of your tasks before noon can turn you into a juggernaut.

There are many ways you can place small successes earlier on to spur motivation later. Structuring your to-do lists, placing straightforward tasks such as exercising early in the day or giving yourself an affirmation can do the trick.

How to Stay Motivated Forever (Without Motivation Tricks)

The best way to motivate yourself is to organize your life so you don’t have to. If work is a constant battle for you, perhaps it is time to start thinking about a new job. The idea is that explicit motivational techniques should be a backup, not your regular routine.

Here are some other things to consider making work flow more naturally:

Passion

Do things you have a passion for. We all have to do things we don’t want to. But if life has become a chronic source of dull chores, you’ve got a big problem that needs fixing.

Not sure what your passion is to get you motivated? This will help you:

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

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Habits

You can’t put everything on autopilot. I’ve found putting a few core habits in place creates a structure for the day.

Waking up at the same time, working at the same times and having a similar productive routine makes it easier to do the next day.

This guide will be useful for you if you’re looking to build good habits:

Understand Your Habits to Control Them 100%

Flow

Flow is the state where your mind is completely focused on the task at hand. While there are many factors that go into producing this state, having the right challenge level is a big part.

Find ways to tweak your tasks so they hover in that sweet spot between boredom and maddening frustration.

Easily distracted and hard to focus? Here’s your solution.

Final Thoughts

With all these tips I’ve shared with you, now you know what to do when you’re feeling unmotivated.

Find your passion and develop a positive mantra so when the next time negativity hits you again, you know how to stay positive and motivated!

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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