Advertising
Advertising

Toward a New Vision of Productivity, Part 9: The Trouble with People

Toward a New Vision of Productivity, Part 9: The Trouble with People

 

Toward a New Vision of Productivity
    This is the ninth part of a 12-part series I am posting from the end  of December and into 2009, examining the current understanding of productivity and where the concept might be heading in the future. I invite Lifehack’s readers to be an active part of this conversation, both in comments here and on your own sites (if you have one). For more discussion along these lines, be sure to check out Beyond Productivity: Living from the Inside Out, a new series of discussions featuring Charlie Gilkey, Andre Kibbe, Duff McDuffee, Jonathan Mead, Sara Pemberton, and me. There are currently five episodes posted, with more to come.

    Here they come! Hear them? Their thundering footsteps pounding down the hall? Their greedy little fingers stabbing at their mobile phone keys? Their hands flailing away at email? The squeals of pain, of terror, of worry, of immediate need?

    In other words, people.

    Or as David Allen and a lot of others in the productivity world call them, “inputs”.

    Advertising

    If productivity is, as Allen insists, about managing attention, then every person you interact with, whether face-to-face or mediated by phone, email, webconference, memo, tweet, status update, shared calendar, or a thousand different other high- and low-tech means is yet another strain on your productivity system, yet another piece of attention to manage.

    We can’t get around that, of course. Even Thoreau had a steady stream of visitors during his “isolation” at Walden Pond.

    The problem is, people are sloppy. They’re disorganized. They’re random, chaotic. They are, many of them, unproductive.

    Most systems deal with this by conflating interpersonal demands with the rest of your work – “Call Rashid to discuss 3rd quarter sales estimates” is another next action or task, alongside “Replace hard drive” and “Look up lockdown facilities for Junior.” Allen’s latest book is very explicit on this front: make it all “work”.

    Advertising

    I said at the beginning of this system that one reason I thought there was a lot of resistance to productivity systems is that people are loathe to treat the people that matter a great deal to them the same way they treat their coworkers and their clients or customers. Indeed, Allen writes very much as if he has never had to deal with children (I don’t know whether he has or not), as if he’s never had his day intersect with a task list that looked something like this:

    · @someday/maybe: Fy like Superman

    · @home: Throw self down stairs. P: Achieve flight

    · @home: Smack head on banister.

    Advertising

    · @home: Bleed freely.

    · @agenda (Mom): Discuss great pain in long, ragged sobs.

    · @out and about: Get stitches.

    In principle, when GTD and other systems are working, dealing with emergencies is easier – you have the mental energy and capacity to respond quickly and decisively. But no system can handle the emotional strain that “inputs” from people close to us can put on us.

    Advertising

    Which makes me think that the next great piece in the productivity puzzle with be added by the folks studying the psychology of happiness, positive psychology. I imagine a system in which stress is managed not just using paper lists and effective filing techniques but with tools that encourage positive reflection and techniques of centering and regaining focus.

    Too, I imagine systems that are more explicitly social. I find it interesting that although Allen, Covey, and thousands of other productivity experts regularly address corporate groups and counsel them on both individual productivity and habits for more effective teamwork, few of the major productivity leaders have expanded their personal productivity works beyond the individual (Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families is an important exception).

    As the world gets more social online – even as we physically interrelate less and less – I expect to see a more social productivity literature emerging. What that will look like I can only guess, but it will necessarily be grounded first and foremost in the psychology of groups and of interpersonal relationships.

    How do you reconcile your personal productivity with the demands of people who have no inkling of how disorganized (and disorganizing) they are? How do you manage your system in the face of inputs from those who have no system? Do you ever wish for a way to bridge the gap between your own efforts to keep things functioning and other people’s lack of such effort, even open hostility towards it?

    More by this author

    Back to Basics: Your Calendar Learn Something New Every Day 10 Tips for More Effective PowerPoint Presentations How to Improve Your Spelling Skills 11 Ways to Think Outside the Box

    Trending in Featured

    1The Gentle Art of Saying No 26 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick 3Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials 4Back to Basics: Your Calendar 550 Ways to Increase Productivity and Achieve More in Less Time

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

    Advertising

    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

    Advertising

    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

    Advertising

    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Advertising

    Read Next