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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 June 13, 2019

    10 Best Success Books You Need to Read to Be Great at Business

    10 Best Success Books You Need to Read to Be Great at Business

    Take a minute and think about some of the most successful people you know.

    I’d bet they’re great with people, are super-productive, and think differently than most. After all, that’s how they got to be where they are today.

    Jealous of them? You don’t have to be.

    You can learn these same skills by studying some of the best business and success books that can help you take your game to the next level. Here’re 10 of my favorites:

    1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

      Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book that helped to launch a personal growth empire should be required reading for everyone who wants to learn how to build and nurture relationships for a lifetime.

      Read this book and you’ll learn some simple advice than can help you build popularity points within your current network and just as important, expand it to others.

      Get the book here!

      2. Focal Point by Brian Tracy

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        Got a lot on your to-do list? Of course you do. But what separates productive people from others is their ability to focus on a singular task at a time, and getting it done before moving on to the next one.

        Sounds simple in theory, but this can be extremely difficult in practice. In Focal Point Brian Tracy offers tips to help build discipline and organization into your day so you can get more stuff done.

        Get the book here!

        3. Purple Cow by Seth Godin

          Creating a “me-too” product can be easy at the start but can doom you to business failure. That’s why marketing maverick Seth Godin recommends creating a product that is truly different from anything already available in the marketplace.

          In essence by making the product different you’ll be building the marketing into the actual product development…which just makes your actual marketing a helluva lot easier.

          Get the book here!

          4. The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz

            If you’ve struggled with procrastination or small thinking, this is the book for you. In it Schwartz offers practical advice that can help you get inspired and motivated to create a bigger life for yourself. And with it can be a more lucrative and rewarding career.

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            Get the book here!

            5. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel

              It can be difficult for lots of people to keep things in perspective, especially when working on high priority and urgent projects at work.

              Man’s Search for Meaning can be a life-changing book in the sense that it can open your eyes to a first-hand experience of one of the greatest atrocities in the history of mankind, while also teaching a valuable lesson about having purpose.

              Get the book here!

              6. The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

                Solo-entrepreneurs can learn a ton from the guy who made lifestyle design popular. But guess what? The 4HWW isn’t just for guys and girls who want to start a small online business.

                Smart moves like outsourcing, following the 80/20 rule, and automating processes should be made by entry-level workers and established executives alike.

                Get the book here!

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                7. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

                  I remember sitting on a couch and opening this book on a Saturday morning, thinking I’d get through a chapter and then get on with my day. Instead, about 12 hours later, I was finished with the book. The concepts in it were mind-blowing to me.

                  To think that thoughts can create your reality sounded a little far-fetched at first. But after going through the book and understanding that your thoughts create your beliefs, which lead to actions, which then lead to habits….well you can get where I’m going with this.

                  If you focus your thoughts on success, achieving it will be much more likely than thinking about obstacles, failures and everything else that can get in your way.

                  Get the book here!

                  8. The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard

                    If you’re going to read one management book in your life, this should be it. It’s simple. You can read it in an afternoon. And the advice works.

                    Get the book here!

                    9. The Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries

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                      Before you create any sort of business you’ll want to give Lean Start-Up a read through. Doing so can save you money, time and other resources you could have potentially wasted otherwise.

                      Get the book here!

                      10. The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar

                        The story Randy Komisar shares in the Monk and the Riddle offers advice about not just about how you need to think when starting a new business, but also about how to build a life you’re passionate about.

                        Understanding the technical aspects of launching a start-up is great, but if you don’t have the staying power to stick with it when the going gets tough then it’s not likely to work.

                        This book can help you understand this lesson before you spend blood, sweat and tears on a project that you’re heart isn’t into.

                        Get the book here!

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