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Why It’s Necessary to Learn the Rules Before You Break Them

Why It’s Necessary to Learn the Rules Before You Break Them
Breaking the Rules
    Breaking the Rules by Before the Coffee

    Productivity is often seen as a rigid fun-free word that many people shy away from. Some say it’s the antithesis of creativity; maybe it’s because of this that so many creative types have chaotic tendencies.

    For others, productivity is necessary in order for creativity to thrive.

    I’m part of the latter group, productivity has been my savior. It has been the gap between stress and calm, the link between dreams and action and the catalyst that helped convert mediocre to successful.

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    Do we have to follow the rules?

    Learning to be more productive can be a chore — it can be daunting to try and adopt a new way of working. Stepping outside your comfort zone is never fun. But why do productivity systems have to be so restrictive and have so many rules attached to them?

    Many people ask me, “Can I not just pick and choose parts of different systems to suit my own life and way of thinking?” The answer is, “Yes, you can.” But to be able to choose the bits to use and the parts to leave behind, it is necessary to first learn the rules before you go breaking them.

    Getting Things Done

    Most people interested in productivity or reading this blog will be familiar with GTD (David Allen’s Getting Things Done system). GTD is a productivity system with a lot of detail and many rules. It is a system that works; it has been tried and tested by millions of worldwide users. When I started teaching GTD, I had no intention of using it myself. The detail was not for me; I thought I knew how to get things done! I believed the system would be great for people who liked detail and organization — I didn’t.

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    As I learned more and more, it started to rein me in. I saw the advantages first hand and for every block or barrier I came up against, GTD appeared to have the answer. For about two years I used the system religiously. I did my weekly reviews and my life got better by the day. After a while I started to try out different productivity apps and systems, and finally I adjusted my life and my work around a couple of systems and apps which work for me. I created habits and routines that work.

    I now have my own system, but GTD helped me to get to a different level of success in my life. I believe that without it, I would never have achieved all the things I have achieved over the last couple of years.

    Toss Productivity Out

    Some time ago, Leo Baubauta of Zen Habits wrote an article entitled “Toss Productivity Out”, advocating that there was no longer a need for rules, for setting goals, or for productivity systems. His approach can work — but I believe it depends on where you are in your life, what you have achieved and what you want to achieve.

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    If your life is chaotic, it is going to need some control, new habits and routines.

    I agree with Leo that we should all try and live more in the flow and not be totally dependent on structures, routines and systems. But there are stages one must go through for life to work effortlessly.

    Productivity is the stepping stone, a facilitator of achievement, a creator of space and time. Just like diets and eating programs such as Weight Watchers and Unislim (or training programs in the gym), you don’t necessarily have to follow them for life but they enable you to create positive habits which will the driving force for your success.

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    So go on and create the positive habit of productivity. And then toss it out, break the rules, have some fun, and live in the flow.

    More by this author

    Ciara Conlon

    Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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    Last Updated on July 27, 2020

    20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    Are you usually punctual or late? Do you finish things within the time you stipulate? Do you hand in your reports/work on time? Are you able to accomplish what you want to do before deadlines? Are you a good time manager?

    If your answer is “no” to any of the questions above, that means you’re not managing your time as well as you want. Here are 20 time management tips to help you manage time better:

    1. Create a Daily Plan

    Plan your day before it unfolds. Do it in the morning or even better, the night before you sleep. The plan gives you a good overview of how the day will pan out. That way, you don’t get caught off guard. Your job for the day is to stick to the plan as best as possible.

    Here’s How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity.

    2. Peg a Time Limit to Each Task

    Be clear that you need to finish X task by 10am, Y task by 3pm, and Z item by 5:30pm. This prevents your work from dragging on and eating into time reserved for other activities.

    3. Use a Calendar

    Having a calendar is the most fundamental step to managing your daily activities. If you use outlook or lotus notes, calendar come as part of your mailing software.

    I use it. It’s even better if you can sync your calendar to your mobile phone and other hardwares you use – that way, you can access your schedule no matter where you are. Here’re the 10 Best Calendar Apps to Stay on Track .

    Find out more tips about how to use calendar for better time management here: How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space

    4. Use an Organizer

    An organizer helps you to be on top of everything in your life. It’s your central tool to organize information, to-do lists, projects, and other miscellaneous items.

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    These Top 15 Time Management Apps and Tools can help you organize better, pick one that fits your needs.

    5. Know Your Deadlines

    When do you need to finish your tasks? Mark the deadlines out clearly in your calendar and organizer so you know when you need to finish them.

    But make sure you don’t make these 10 Common Mistakes When Setting Deadlines.

    6. Learn to Say “No”

    Don’t take on more than you can handle. For the distractions that come in when you’re doing other things, give a firm no. Or defer it to a later period.

    Leo Babauta, the founder of Zen Habits has some great insights on how to say no: The Gentle Art of Saying No

    7. Target to Be Early

    When you target to be on time, you’ll either be on time or late. Most of the times you’ll be late. However, if you target to be early, you’ll most likely be on time.

    For appointments, strive to be early. For your deadlines, submit them earlier than required.

    Learn from these tips about how to prepare yourself to be early, instead of just in time.

    8. Time Box Your Activities

    This means restricting your work to X amount of time. Why time boxing is good for you? Here’re 10 reasons why you should start time-boxing.

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    You can also read more about how to do time boxing here: Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

    9. Have a Clock Visibly Placed Before You

    Sometimes we are so engrossed in our work that we lose track of time. Having a huge clock in front of you will keep you aware of the time at the moment.

    10. Set Reminders 15 Minutes Before

    Most calendars have a reminder function. If you have an important meeting to attend, set that alarm 15 minutes before.

    You can learn more about how reminders help you remember everything in this article: The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    11. Focus

    Are you multi-tasking so much that you’re just not getting anything done? If so, focus on just one key task at one time. Multitasking is bad for you.

    Close off all the applications you aren’t using. Close off the tabs in your browser that are taking away your attention. Focus solely on what you’re doing. You’ll be more efficient that way.

    Lifehack’s CEO has written a definitive guide on how to focus, learn the tips: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    12. Block out Distractions

    What’s distracting you in your work? Instant messages? Phone ringing? Text messages popping in?

    I hardly ever use chat nowadays. The only times when I log on is when I’m not intending to do any work. Otherwise it gets very distracting.

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    When I’m doing important work, I also switch off my phone. Calls during this time are recorded and I contact them afterward if it’s something important. This helps me concentrate better.

    Find more tips on how to minimize distractions to achieve more in How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done

    13. Track Your Time Spent

    When you start to track your time, you’re more aware of how you spend your time. For example, you can set a simple countdown timer to make sure that you finish a task within a period of time, say 30 minutes or 1 hour. The time pressure can push you to stay focused and work more efficiently.

    You can find more time tracking apps here and pick one that works for you.

    14. Don’t Fuss About Unimportant Details

    You’re never get everything done in exactly the way you want. Trying to do so is being ineffective.

    Trying to be perfect does you more harm than good, learn here about how perfectionism kills your productivity and how to ditch the perfectionism mindset.

    15. Prioritize

    Since you can’t do everything, learn to prioritize the important and let go of the rest.

    Apply the 80/20 principle which is a key principle in prioritization. You can also take up this technique to prioritize everything on your plate: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    16. Delegate

    If there are things that can be better done by others or things that are not so important, consider delegating. This takes a load off and you can focus on the important tasks.

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    When you delegate some of your work, you free up your time and achieve more. Learn about how to effectively delegate works in this guide: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

    17. Batch Similar Tasks Together

    For related work, batch them together.

    For example, my work can be categorized into these core groups:

    1. writing (articles, my upcoming book)
    2. coaching
    3. workshop development
    4. business development
    5. administrative

    I batch all the related tasks together so there’s synergy. If I need to make calls, I allocate a time slot to make all my calls. It really streamlines the process.

    18. Eliminate Your Time Wasters

    What takes your time away your work? Facebook? Twitter? Email checking? Stop checking them so often.

    One thing you can do is make it hard to check them – remove them from your browser quick links / bookmarks and stuff them in a hard to access bookmarks folder. Replace your browser bookmarks with important work-related sites.

    While you’ll still checking FB/Twitter no doubt, you’ll find it’s a lower frequency than before.

    19. Cut off When You Need To

    The number one reason why things overrun is because you don’t cut off when you have to.

    Don’t be afraid to intercept in meetings or draw a line to cut-off. Otherwise, there’s never going to be an end and you’ll just eat into the time for later.

    20. Leave Buffer Time In-Between

    Don’t pack everything closely together. Leave a 5-10 minute buffer time in between each tasks. This helps you wrap up the previous task and start off on the next one.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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