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A Success Story: Failed Experiments with Productivity

A Success Story: Failed Experiments with Productivity
    In order to succeed, you've got to fail along the way.

    As someone who has spent a lot of time tinkering with productivity – with both the various systems and tools that are available – I’ve come across a lot of successful ones. But I’ve come across a lot of things that just didn’t work, either. I found that these failures seemed to be more plentiful in my early days of studying the art of being productive, and as time progressed my chances of success did as well. It wasn’t often about the system or tool either.

    It was all me.

    When you’re trying to figure out what will work best in boosting your productivity, you rarely know what will work for you at first. You may be a paper person, but using it just isn’t practical to track all you’ve got going. Even a paper prophet like Patrick Rhone (of Minimal Mac fame) spends time in the digital world in order to keep on track. And while you may be excited about what your devices can do to make you a more productive person, there’s a chance that when it comes to actually being productive that a pen and paper are best suited for you. That’s why it’s so difficult to teach someone how to be more productive; there’s more to it than the old “Just Do It” assertion. A number of factors have to be weighed, making it a very subjective thing.

    So if you’ve tried to become more productive through trial and error, you’re not alone. You’re more than not alone. Here are 3 of my own failed experiments with productivity. You may relate to some because you’ve given them a go or you may be inspired to try one of them because maybe your mind can wrap your head around it better than mine could. This isn’t an intervention or a warning; it’s an admission that even those who have lived in the world of productivity have fallen down. The trick is to keep looking for something until you’ve found something that allows you to get back up a whole lot faster and easier.

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    1. Two Systems: Personal and Professional

    Since I didn’t want to bring my work home with me back when I had a 9 to 5 job, I kept a planner at work for work stuff and had a planner that went with me everywhere for personal stuff. Anything that was work-related never went in my personal planner and vice versa. Turns out there would be problems with this strategy.

    By keeping two planners I was unable to be very nimble. I actually handcuffed my productivity rather than let it flourish. Instead of having one place to put stuff, I had two. And I had to decide on them with every action that came my way. I was working smarter…and harder.

    In addition, I had essentially created a separation that really wasn’t there. There was no fluidity between work and personal stuff, and there needs to be. Work is part of life. So are personal matters that need attending. These feed off each other as well – maybe not in a technical sense, but certainly in an emotional one.

    Time spent on this failed experiment: 4 months

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    2. Colour-Coded Paper Planner

    This seemed like a good idea at the time. I used to use coloured pens and highlighters that were associated with a legend so I could tell what each task was associated with and how far along they were to completion. Different coloured pens were used for the “context” of the tasks (keeping in mind I had no knowledge of how contexts are defined in most productivity systems at the time) and the different coloured highlighters were used to signify the progress of the tasks.

    One of the biggest problems with this experiment was that I was carrying around a pencil case for the first time since school. I also wound up using one of those multi-coloured pens that you had to flick to change colours. Not exactly the most pleasant writing tool.

    Furthermore, I had to keep tabs on what each aspect of the colour-coding represented. I was either pulling out the legend regularly to make sure I knew what was going on with certain tasks or I inadvertantly would use a wrong colour and throw everything out of whack. Well, at least it felt like everything was out of whack. What it really was: not the best solution for my personal productivity.

    Time spent on this failed experiment: 1 year (yes…1 whole year!)

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    3. Things

    When I first dove into using apps for productivity purposes, Things won out over OmniFocus. The price was cheaper and it seemed to have everything I needed. The user interface was simple and elegant, the developers had built a complementary iPhone app and I was able to use it with relative ease and get a whole lot done.

    Until I was away from my Mac for too long with my iPhone. Then “Things” wasnt working out so well. It had no over-the-air sync at the time. That was a problem for me. Others felt the same way.

    So I ditched Things for OmniFocus. Moving stuff over took time, but not nearly as long as reconciling Things between two devices would’ve taken me over the long haul.

    Time spent on this failed experiment: 6 months

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    Fail FTW

    As I was writing this there were several other failed experiments with productivity that came to mind. I’ve made note of them (in the trusted system I use today, which is a combination of different tools I use) and may revisit them in the future so I can share them with you. There’s a lot of material to work with.

    As for what I’m using now…well, that’s another post as well. But I can tell you that through these failed experiments I’ve been able to concoct my own winning productivity formula. It’s been the failures that have led me to my successes, which – when you put them into perspective – could indicate that perhaps they really weren’t failures after all.

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    Mike Vardy

    A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

    Reference

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