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What’s Missing in Productivity Today?

What’s Missing in Productivity Today?
What’s Missing in Today’s Productivity?

This month, we asked Lifehack.org contributors — and you, our readers — to think about the things that are missing in today’s productivity systems. Not only the areas where the "Big Name" systems fall short, but the gaps in our own systems, the places where we as individuals fall down.

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The Lifehack.org community rose to the challenge, offering a variety of thought-provoking posts and comments that hopefully gave us all something to mull over before we embark on yet another round of system-tweaking.

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In chronological order, here are all the posts from Lifehack.org this month that set out to answer the question, "What’s missing in today’s productivity systems?"

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  • My Redundant Productivity System (Joel Falconer)
    While "touch it once" might be a good rule for inbox processing, having multiple, redundant copies of your crucual work and reference documents is an important part of staying productive — even when (especially when) disaster strikes.
  • 10 Tips for Improving Your Appointment Setting Skills (Thursday Bram)
    Setting an appointment means more than jotting a time and name in your calendar; here’s 10 things to think about to avoid wasting time before or during scheduled appointments.
  • Why doing nothing may sometimes be the best action of all (Adrian Savage)
    Your brain is wired to act, even when the facts aren’t all in. Slow down and make sure you have all the information you need before you act — and consider whether doing nothing might be your wisest course of (in)action.
  • Personal Productivity in the 21st Century (Dustin M. Wax)
    In their attempt to reduce everything to discrete chunks of doing, today’s productivity systems don’t leave space for the kinds of work that characterize most of our jobs today. How can we open more space for creativity, reflection, and just being?
  • The Gaps in the Standard Address Book (Thursday Bram)
    7 ways to improve the off-the-shelf address book or contact management program.
  • Simplify Your Information Intake (Joel Falconer)
    Productivity starts with the things we choose not to do — and limiting how much email and web content we handle, and how we handle it — can go a long ways toward creating more productive days.
  • Audiobook Review: David Allen’s "GTD > Weekly Review" (Dustin M. Wax)
    The weekly review is far and away the red-headed stepchild of David Allen’s GTD methodology. Arguably the most important part of the system (the thing that makes it a system), the weekly review is the most likely part ot be skipped or minimized. Allen’s new 3-CD set offers help getting back on track and rethinking the role and importance of the weekly review.
  • The Real Trouble with Productivity (Lisa Gates)
    Productivity as an aim in and of itself is an empty thing, indeed. True productivity lies in the ways we make meaning in our lives, and is grounded in a vision worth pursuing. What’s yours?
  • Small Projects Generate Good Feelings (Karl Staib)
    Productivity needn’t be only about marketing campaigns and writing best-sellers; little projects give us the opportunity to plan, carry out, and finish, creating satisfaction in a job well done that will carry over into the rest of our lives.
  • There’s More to Productivity Than Time Management (Dustin M. Wax)
    Being productive doesn’t mean getting the most stuff done in the least amount of time, it means doing the necessary stuff as efficiently as possible so we can focus on the things that add meaning to our lives. Make time for the most useless thing you do!
  • Self-Discipline: The Foundation of Productive Living (Joel Falconer)
    "Self-discipline is the power to act on ideas." Learn to get yourself from thought to action — especially where all this productivity talk is concerned!
  • What are the aids for increasing GENUINE productivity? (Adrian Savage)
    There are literally hundreds of software products out there that claim to increase productivity, yet all of them do basically the same thing: categorize todo lists. What might a program that really increased productivity — that helped us do more or better in the same or less time — look like?
  • Look for the Solution within the Problem (Paul Sloane)
    Systematic Inventive Thinking is a way of thinking about problems that sees a problem as a chain of unwanted effects and seeks to break the chain. It offers inventive solutions to problems where resources are limited.
  • 10 HARD Ways to Make Your Life Better (Dustin M. Wax)
    Too many people promise an easy way to wealth, fame, and happiness. Doing something hard, even if you fail, is often far more satisfying — and truth be told, probably a lot more certain.
  • Change Your Day, Change Your Life, Change the World: A Review of “New Day Revolution” by Sam Davidson and Stephen Moseley (Dustin M. Wax)
    One way to create more meaning is to direct your actions towards changing the world. Davidson and Mosely’s book offers a few ideas to help you start bringing your day-to-day activities in line with your vision of a better world.
  • Go on a High-Information Diet (Dustin M. Wax)
    The key to productivity isn’t to minimize the information you take in — you need as much of that as you can get! Rather, the key lies in reducing the amount of superfluous junk, to go on the intellectual version of a high-fiber, low-fat diet.
  • Getting to Good Enough (Dustin M. Wax)
    Get things done by accepting less than perfection. 80% good is better than 100% nothing.
  • Productivity maybe . . . but for what purpose? (Adrian Savage)
    By every emasure, we’re more productive today than a generation ago — yet we have less leisure, less connection, and less happiness. Why? For most of us, it’s because the time we free up weighs on us, and we seek desperately to fill it with even more work. There are other choices!
  • How to Maximize Efficiency by Grouping Tasks (Joel Falconer)
    An antidote to "Cranking widgets"? Tips on thinking and working at the "big picture" level by grouping tasks.
  • Welcome Failure (Paul Sloane)
    If you want innovation, you need to learn to embrace failure.

There you have it. 20 takes on what it might mean to be productive in today’s world and what our systems fail to take into account. What do you think? What’s missing in your system?

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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

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

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

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

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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